Syria has witnessed a bigger uptake in the number of visitors from the Gulf in 2007.
According to Julian Crane, marketing manager of the Four Seasons Hotel in the Syrian capital Damascus, around 65% of the hotel's visitors originate from the GCC.
And a change in perception of Syria as a holiday destination among the expatriate population in the Gulf States is one of the forces driving the increase.
"The Arab traveller from the UAE, for example, has known about Syria for quite a length of time - they know it's accessible," said Crane.
"But it's taken longer to change the perception of Syria among expatriates. They've heard about it, but they don't really know much about it."
The opening of the Four Seasons - the first five-star hotel in Damascus - late last year, has been a key driver in attracting more foreign visitors, said Crane.
"It's almost like a psychological safety thing; they can go and see the old city and the ruins, while knowing they can retreat back to the hotel in the evening," he explained.
A visa and ‘meet and greet' service operated by the hotel has lured more visitors.
"There's an immediate assumption that it's difficult to get a visa for Syria, especially if you hold an American, Australian or European passport," said Crane. "Once a reservation is made with the hotel, we ask for a scanned copy of their passport, and then process the visa within a few days. We also have a team at the airport to help clear guests through customs and passport control."
Crane said a visit to Syria would mean an experience of the ‘unseen' Middle East; from the ancient allies of Damascus to the Roman ruins at Palmriya, visitors are generally left fascinated by Syria, he said.
"This really is the Middle East ‘uncut'," Crane added.
"Our main reason for opening a hotel in Damascus was to get into the marketplace early and put a footprint on a destination that many people would never have considered going to in the past."
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