DAMASCUS: The reception area is quiet at the Beit Zaman boutique hotel in the Christian Quarter of Old Damascus and the staff is visibly bored.
Bellhops loiter in the lavishly decorated corridors of the $200-a-night hotel and a receptionist stares idly at his computer screen.
Four months ago, Beit Zaman was full of European tourists, but after anti-government protests swept across Syria and security forces responded with a brutal crackdown, which human rights activists say has killed more than 1,400 people, tourists fled.
Rami Martini, head of the Federation of Chambers of Tourism, told a news conference recently that occupancy rates for hotels were “15 percent across Syria… and close to zero percent in Aleppo.”
Hotels grudgingly have sliced prices but few foreign visitors are willing to brave the unrest and venture to Syria, despite its magnificent ruins, bazaars and exotic atmosphere.
It is the eve of the summer high season but many souvenir shops are closed. Dozens of boutique hotels in the old town that were converted from traditional Damascene houses and were an instant hit with visitors stand empty.
“The tourists are too scared to come, but it’s not unsafe in the capital,” Abu Salah, who sells carpets, shawls and jewelry from a shop near one of the old walls encircling the city, said.
Sheltered from the sun by the massive walls, he passes the time playing backgammon and drinking tea with other salesmen.
“Tourists just believe everything they hear on the news, but most of the problems occur in poor areas,” he added. read more