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Syria may not be on any itineraries, but the travel industry can still help

In 2017, it's clearer than ever before that we in the travel industry have a deep desire to change the world by doing the thing we love most - travel.

In 2017, it’s clearer than ever before that we in the travel industry have a deep desire to change the world by doing the thing we love most – travel.

We book tour providers based on their values, we select activities that protect wildlife, avoid operators that emotionally impact young children and we do research to ensure that the money we put towards our holidays will in some way contribute to local communities.

But what happens when a country doesn’t appear on any itineraries?

Do we, as an industry, step back and avoid taking on some responsibility to assist those suffering from years of unjustified attacks?

While individually our hearts may break over the devastating images appearing on our Facebook walls and yes, many are actively making personal donations, but where’s that unified concern and shared passion to make a difference?

Nepal Earthquake 3

The industry came together to support Nepal after the 2015 quake.

You may recall back in April 2015, a destructive earthquake hit Nepal, killing nearly 9,000 people. Mother Nature’s fury made headlines and tour operators active in the country, such as G Adventures and Intrepid, graciously launched fund raising campaigns and helped rebuild.

Their swift response and donations will never be forgotten and I can only imagine the number of lives they touched in the process.

Or how about when Cyclone Pam tore through parts of Vanuatu in 2015. The industry anxiously awaited updates from the South Pacific nation and operators such as P&O Cruises jumped in to ensure locals received emergency supplies. Again, incredible, inspiring work from all parties to ensure the destination and its people would recover.

We as an industry have the power to not only make a difference but raise awareness for those in need. Just have a look at how quickly Hawaii shut down Donald Trump’s travel ban (twice) after highlighting how it would affect local tourism.

We recognised the terrible impact elephant rides were having on the large mammals and unified we’re shutting down the practice across Southeast Asia. AND we, through generous donations, helped arrest of a man accused of sexual exploitation in a third world country. Many more arrests have since followed.

Donald Trump

Hawaii helped shut down Trump travel ban twice by highlighting how it would affect locals and tourism.

While I’m not proposing that we as an industry have the power to stop the tragedies occurring in countries such as Syria, there has to be something we can do to raise awareness of the situation and assist those desperately in need.

If you need a travel angle to get involved, how about how in 2010 tourism to Syria was drastically on the rise, increasing by an incredible 40 percent to 8.5 million compared to 2009.

Of those, there’s no doubt Australians made up a generous number of arrivals considering we had 8,713 Syrians living in Australia in 2011.


Image: Jetaround Holidays Sydney’s Owner Zaia Bazi said prior to 2011, Syria had a lot to offer tourists.

Jetaround Holidays Sydney’s Owner Zaia Bazi told KarryOn that prior to 2011 he believes he was selling roughly 10-or-so trips to Syria a month. That figure has plummeted to zero in 2017.

Zaia said of those booking through him six years ago, the majority were Middle Easterns visiting family and friends, while the rest were leisure travellers taking in cities such as Damascus and Aleppo.

Umayyad Mosque (before destruction) - Damascus (UNESCO World Heritage Site), Syria

Umayyad Mosque (before destruction) – Damascus (UNESCO World Heritage Site), Syria

“Tourists would sometimes combine their trips to Syria with Jordan or Turkey,” he said.

“I went to Syria in the 90s and I loved it. It was incredible, it had a mixture of everything from history, beautiful beaches and entertainment. It’s dreadful what’s happened.”

Zaia Bazi, Jetaround Holidays Sydney Owner 

Even as I write this I’m searching for a way the industry can help.

Sadly, I don’t have an answer. But maybe it’s as simple as putting a petition together and asking the Australian government to light up the Opera House in memory of the millions killed, severely injured and displaced over the last few years.

Or as Mamamia suggests, flying the Syrian flag on top of the Harbour Bridge just as we did after the Paris terror attacks. Show the world that the lives of these Middle Eastern victims mean just as much as the lives of westerners.

If you have any suggestions, please send them through below. In the meantime, for those who want to genuinely help as an individual, Mamamia has these three great tips:


1. Do your research and ask questions


Agents have the power to educate and influence people’s opinions

Stay in the loop with the situation and back track your research to where it all began, especially if you’re going to jump in on the ‘we need to bring their leader down’ campaign.

Ask questions! At times of war, there’s so much propaganda it’s hard to distinguish between truths and lies – it’s hard to know who to believe.


2. If you can donate – do it

Pic: World Vision

Pic: World Vision

Donate to recognised charities operating in Syria such as CARE Australia’s Syria Appeal or World Vision.

The Intrepid Foundation works with Support To Life, a humanitarian aid agency working with communities in Turkey and surrounding regions to meet basic needs. The Syrian Refugee crisis is their largest focus right now and they’re assisting by providing basic goods and services as well as cash assistance programme to refugees unable to settle in camps.

Key initiatives supported by The Intrepid Foundation include a new community centre in Istanbul and a child labour project that aims to support migrant farmworker children, providing stationary for their school work and educational material. The Intrepid Foundation matches all donations dollar-for-dollar.

Intrepid also works with The Olive Tree of Istanbul on its Urban Adventures In Focus tour. The operator supports the social enterprise by taking travellers there on the Urban Adventure. As part of the tour, travellers share a Syrian meal and talk directly with people who have had to flee Syria. All proceeds go directly towards local projects and support a local NGO helping Syrian refugees to find their feet in a new home.


3. And finally, spread the word

Don’t let these devastating stories disappear after a couple of days, keep sharing reports on the tragic situation, not just in Syria but of those around the world.

As the collective travel industry, it’s our duty to do our bit to help where we can and support the very product we promote – The world, in all its entirety.

Do you have any suggestions on how the travel industry can come together and help? We’d love to hear your thoughts.