Syrian tourism sector seeks UAE investors
Syria is offering investors in the UAE and other Gulf Cooperation Council states an opportunity to develop tourism projects on a build, own, operate and transfer (Boot) basis.
Boot is a type of financing in which a firm obtains a franchise to finance, design, construct, and operate a facility for a specified period. At the end which, ownership reverts to the body that issued the franchise.
Wasem Sultan, a senior official at the Syrian Ministry of Tourism, told Emirates Business 80 potential sites had been identified. The aim was to develop tourism projects – including five-star hotels and infrastructure – worth between $100 million (Dh367m) and $500m.
The total investment would hit several billion dollars.
The Syrian Government is showcasing the opportunity at the Tourism Development Projects and Investment Market Exhibition in Dubai.
“We are here to invite UAE companies and investment funds to invest in tourism projects. The sites located in Damascus and other parts of Syria will be available to foreign investors on a Boot basis for 45 years. A number of UAE and GCC companies are already operating in Syria and we want more to join in,” said Sultan.
Emaar and Al-Futtaim from the UAE, Intrados from the UK, Deyaar from Qatar, Senaro and Olympic Tourism from Russia and Al Khurafi of Kuwait are currently operating projects in Syria. Syria is also encouraging its citizens living overseas to invest in the projects.
Schemes approved recently include the $217m, 900-bed InterContinental Hotel in Kiwan, Damascus, which is backed by Al Khurafi. The Kuwaiti group is developing a five-star complex and a tourist leisure project comprising shops, restaurants, entertainment facilities, three cinema houses and a business complex comprising 20 offices and a convention centre.
Ghiyath Farah of Syrian Travel and Tourism said other current projects include the $137m InterContinental and Holiday Inn Hotel in Aleppo being developed by a consortium of Syrian, Kuwaiti and Saudi investors and the $80m Eastern Meridian Project at Lattakia being built by Olympic Tourism.
Many new eco-tourism, winter tourism, religious tourism, heritage tourism and river tourism projects are open to foreign investment.
They include the 640-square-kilometre Al Mustaha area on the banks of Al Assad Lake. Tourism infrastructure to be built there includes hotels, hotel apartments and several entertainment and sport venues, including golf courses.
Farah said: “The government will lease the land and foreign investors will build the projects on a 45-year Boot basis. The contract can be renewed and there is no tax for the first seven years.”
Developers can import construction materials such as cement, steel and equipment without paying duty. However, the companies have to employ Syrians in the projects.
“Syria is famous for heritage and religious tourism and six million holidaymakers visit the country per year. The government’s aim is to increase that figure to eight million. However, improved infrastructure and additional hotel rooms are required to meet this target.
“Many Iranian tourists visit Syria for religious purpose. Foreign tourists visit Syrian churches. There are several churches and mosques located close to each other and Muslims and Christians live together in harmony. In fact, the unrest in Lebanon is not a big issue for tourism in Syria. There is no threat to tourism projects,” said Farah.
Syria’s annual tourism growth rate is 15 per cent – double the average in the Middle East – and income from the sector topped $2.3billion in 2005. There is an acute shortage of rooms – there were only 43,000 classified hotel beds at the end of 2006.
Around 75 per cent of visitors to Syria come from GCC states and these travellers prefer to stay in villas or serviced apartments for a month or more. The Ministry of Tourism is investing heavily to promote the country to tourists and attract investment opportunities from companies abroad.
Over the past two years Syria has held two tourism investment forums and has offered a number of prime tourist areas for development to investors. Further investment opportunities will be presented in April at a forum in Damascus.
One location earmarked for development is South Lattakia – an area comprising forests, lakes and fields of citrus fruits that overlooks the Mediterranean and is close to archaeological sites. The weather is moderate throughout the year, which encourages continual tourism activity.
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