Last tourist in Syria and other news

It’s been an unusually busy year for big bad news stories so far, and where there’s natural disaster or violence there’s doubt about tourist safety. Here’s the latest updates in five countries:

1. Syria is the latest No Go Zone for travellers, with President Bashar al-Assad’s punitive regime slaughtering protesters in their thousands. Journalist Emma Sky has posted a poignant, eloquent story at Foreign Policy called The Last Tourist in Syria. “Turning on to a narrow cobbled street, I pass two men sitting on chairs, drinking tea. One turns to the other, asking: who says there are no tourists in Syria? There’s one! I turn around and tell them that I am the only foreigner I have seen. They invite me to join them, and bring me a chair and tea. One is a hotel owner. He recently converted an old Arab house into a boutique hotel. Last year, he rented rooms for $400 a night. Now he has reduced the rate to $100. But like all other hotels in town, his hotel is down to zero occupancy,” she writes.

2. Japan is desperately trying to lure tourists back after the quake and tsunami in March which killed and swept away more than 20,000 people and created the worst nuclear crisis since Chernobyl. The Travel Volunteer in Japan project aims to sponsor one lucky person to travel around the country from September to December, blogging about how Japan is actually fine and running normally for visitors. To enter you must be aged over 21, and be fluent in English and have not lived in Japan before. Go to: for details.

3. Christchurch, the New Zealand city devastated by two major quakes in the past 12 months and thousands of aftershocks, and a death toll of 161, is getting back on its feet even though it has lost thousands of residents who have migrated. Tim Hunter, CEO of Christchurch and Canterbury Tourism, says:  “We have made excellent recovery progress in the last five months and now have at least 98 per cent of our tourism operators back in action and ready to offer visitors a hearty Canterbury welcome.”

4. Bomb blasts in Mumbai, India in July scared a whole lot of people off. Several countries issued travel warnings for Mumbai, after three bomb blasts rocked the city’s centre, killing at least 19 people and injuring 131.  Mumbai was the scene of mass tragedy in November 2008 when when Pakistan-based militants fought a 60-hour siege that left 166 people dead in attacks on the downtown Taj Palace and Tower Hotel, Leopold’s Cafe and the main railway station of Chhatrapati  Shivaji Terminus. The travel warnings remain.

5. Egypt is struggling to get visitors back, as unrest continues following the ouster of Hosni Mubarak. Travel warnings are still in place for Australians although the US has lifted theirs. Al Jazeera has reported many tourist places are struggling. Some stores don’t even bother opening every day. Any new face is suddenly besieged by offers from guides and stores, offering cut price rates. The US Embassy in Cairo has brought together a group of Egypt’s leading tourism professionals, academics, and Ministry of Tourism officials for a workshop on developing volunteer tourism in Egypt, to encourage people back. But there are also stories of tourists enjoying Egypt with the lack of usual crowds.

Have you been to any of these places recently, or travelled to other troubled spots in the world?


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