"In the past, Arab tourists filled the hotels but now they are being replaced by journalists,"said one receptionist
Guests sit in one of the many hotels in the central Turkish province of Antakya near the Syrian border. The Syrian conflict has largely driven tourists away from Antakya, but hotels are full due to an influx of journalists that some say is too good to last. © Adem Altan - AFP/File
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Fulya Ozerkan, AFP
Last updated: August 8, 2012

Syrian conflict fuels hotel boom in Turkey's border province

The Syrian conflict has largely driven tourists away from Turkey's border province of Antakya, but hotels are full due to an influx of journalists that some say is too good to last.

"Hotels are making profits out of the Syrian crisis. We are currently 70 to 80 percent full even on the worst day," said Evren Hamasoglu, chief receptionist at a hotel in the province that forms the western-most part of the Turkish-Syrian border.

"In the past, Arab tourists filled the hotels but now they are being replaced by journalists to a large extent," he added.

Tour buses carrying tourists from Saudi Arabia, Lebanon and Jordan via Syria used to stopover in the Antakya region that hugs the Mediterranean on their way to Turkish cities like Istanbul and Antalya.

The uprising against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has brought to a halt this flow of tourists, and local officials are worried Antakya may be bypassed as they shift to air travel unless they move to bring flights into the region.

"It is true that there has been an increase in hotel guests who are mostly journalists, and Syrian opponents including those fleeing from Syria and the ones who were in exile, but this is an artificial increase," said Sabahattin Nacioglu, front office manager in another Antakya hotel.

Nacioglu, who is also the head of the Antakya Tourism Association, is concerned as tourists "were much more profitable, not only for our region but also for the country."

The rental housing sector is also enjoying a boom thanks to well-heeled Syrian refugees, according to Turkish media.

Well-off Syrians fleeing the unrest in their home country are moving to Turkey's Gaziantep, Kilis and Antakya provinces near the border, said the daily Milliyet, resulting in a three-fold increase in rentals with prices doubling to tripling.

Turkey, which shares a border stretching nearly 900 kilometres (560 miles) with Syria, is providing sanctuary to over 45,000 Syrian refugees in eight tent camps and one container city in its border provinces, where rebel fighters made up of army defectors are also based.

But Syrians who can afford to are renting furnished houses, as well as some journalists who use Turkey's border provinces as a base to travel into Syria for their coverage.

Happy with the flood of local and foreign journalists to his hotel, Hamasoglu is sanguine.

"Arab tourists are not coming any longer, but we now have local and foreign journalists," he said.

"The hotel is now ninety-nine percent full. Only two rooms are vacant and one hour later it will be full."

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