The Most Dangerous Country in the World
We travel for a variety of reasons: business, pleasure, recreation. With both domestic and international travel being a regular part of modern life, we need to be aware of which countries we need to stay away from, or at least enter with caution.
Several nations are presently embroiled in civil wars, experiencing political unrest, or simply becoming more violent, and tourists aren’t always exempt from it all. One country that features prominently in travel warnings is Syria, which is now arguably the most dangerous country in the world.
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Syria in 2015: an Overview
For years, Syria has been embroiled in one of the bloodiest wars in recent memory. Different militias and groups hold sway, all of them accused of human rights violations such as kidnapping or torture. Rather than being shielded from the fray, foreigners are routinely kidnapped and some are even killed. There’s even a “worst of the worst”: the much-feared Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has committed acts so heinous that other terrorist groups such as Al-Qaeda keep away from them.
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The Current State of Inbound Tourism
Syria’s tourism industry is of the biggest casualties of the war that has been described as this century’s bloodiest conflict. Popular tourist attractions like the old city of Damascus and the Citadel of Aleppo have been destroyed by shelling. Other nations have imposed travel bans, called on their citizens to leave the country, or both.
When violence erupted inside airports in Damascus and other major cities, all international airlines suspended flights into and out of Syria. At present Syrian Air is the only airline serving the country’s airports, its existence sustained by expat Syrians traveling to and from their birthplace.
A high number of Syrian hotels have been demolished by airstrikes and shelling. Some luxury hotel chains like the Sheraton and the Four Seasons remain intact in Damascus, where they offer refuge to wealthy Syrians fleeing the war-torn areas. Everyone else who has been displaced stays at small accommodation outlets, where distressed families can rent a room for $5 US per night.
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While inbound tourism has come to a halt, outbound tourism in Syria is still alive — barely. Around half of all outbound departures can be classified as “religious tourism,” which includes Hajj and Umrah pilgrimages to the holy cities of Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia. Syrian travel retailers admit that religious tourism is one of the only reasons why they have been able to stay in business during the years of armed conflict and economic hardship.
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Even in the most war-torn areas, smiling and casually-dressed men can be seen posing for photographs while U.S. airstrikes take place in the background. Rather than be affected by the horror, they set out to document it on their mobile phones and digital cameras. A lot of them are day trippers from neighboring countries like Turkey, caught up in the ages-old pastime known as war tourism.
War tourism is not new to the Syrian conflict. It has been around for millennia: many of history’s greatest battles were written about by spectators. During the 1860s the British travel agent Thomas Cook arranged “war holidays” for English tourists who wanted to journey to the American Civil War battlefields to watch the conflict unfold. Guided tours were also organized for those who wanted front row seats to the Crimean War.
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It is anticipated that if (and hopefully when) the civil war ends, Syria will take years, if not decades, to recover from its ravages. A lot of serious investment will be necessary to bring its tourism and travel industry back to life, but it’s not necessarily mission impossible.
Jonny Bealby, owner of tour operator Wild Frontiers, told the Telegraph that Syria had once been one of his company’s most popular destinations. “You really had everything you needed to make a really good cultural holiday there,” he said.
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Asked if he would ever arrange tours there again, after the war ends, Bealby answered in the affirmative.
“Believe me, as soon as there is a sniff of an opportunity, Wild Frontiers will be there,” he said. If other tour companies and their clients feel the same way, the Syrian people may one day see their home live down its long-time reputation as the most dangerous country in the world.
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