Despite many difficulties, Syria’s economy is blossoming, luxury being one of the most promissing sectors

Known throughout its eventful history as ”the garden of earth”, world famous for its jasmine (jouri) and the Damascene rose, the Syrian capital of Damascus is nowadays blossoming. The international flower exhibition is just one of the many attractions of Damascus, which is gradually claiming back its remarkable reputation as a top tourism destination of the Middle East. 

Despite its political isolation and its battered international image, Syria has been making clear steps towards rebuilding its economy. The road to recovery has been paved by its young president Bashar Al Assad, the son of Hafez al Assad, recognized by most Syrians as the founder of modern Syria. His studies took him to London in 1992, yet he was recalled in 1994 to join the Syrian army following the sudden death of his brother Basil who had been previously designated to take over the Presidency from their father.

Since the war between Israel and Lebanon in 2006, in which Syria had a decisive indirect role, President Bashar Al Assad has successfully started rebuilding Syria’s international image, his first priority being the relationship with France, which he made an official visit in 2008, meeting with President Sarkozy. Although political tension in the region has not been diminishing, Syria has managed to improve its relations with the United States, which now has an ambassador to Syria.

CPP Management Consultants Ltd first made a review of the Syrian luxury market in 2006 and has identified a tremendous potential for growth in all luxury sectors. The long term potential of the Syrian luxury market is not only given by its current underdevelopment but also by the fact that all major luxury industry sectors (except hospitality) rely on sales to local nationals. This is essential to the solidity and health of any luxury market worldwide, both in mature and emerging countries. One of the best examples of such volatile luxury markets is Dubai, a market known for its dependence on sales to foreign travelers rather than local nationals. The recent decline in foreign travelers visiting Dubai has had a direct negative result on luxury sales, in all sectors, including luxury. Another such similar market is Hungary, once seen as the leading economy of Central and Eastern Europe. Traditionally, Hungary was a luxury market depending more than 70% on foreign travelers. The current economic crisis diminished dramatically the number of foreign travelers to the capital city of Budapest, which concentrates most of the luxury market. This has directly translated into heavy declines in sales of all luxury sectors.

Currently, with the exception of fashion/accessories, jewelry/watches, all other luxury industry sectors of the Syrian market are virgin. The only two players of the luxury retail market in Syria are Villa Moda (locally owned and franchised with Dubai based Villa Moda) and Lebanese owned Aishti. Both companies operate multi-brand shops with a  limited selection of collections.  

As for hospitality, the only international luxury player which is present on the Syrian market is Four Seasons, with a property in the capital city of Damascus. Despite numerous challenges, the Four Seasons Damascus has become a landmark of luxury hospitality in the entire Middle Eastern region. The hotel has been improving constantly on services and product offering, maintaining an impeccable reputation.

The contribution of the Four Seasons to the local luxury market goes beyond its services and facilities. The hotel has been for us, at CPP, a showcase of the very high level of customer service skills of the Syrian people. In comparison with their counterparts in most Middle Eastern and GCC countries, Syrians are modest, reliable and fast learners. The service they provide is always genuine and sincere, lacking the ‘’attitude’’ factor. Even though since our first visit in 2006 the hotel has had constant changes to its staff, the level of service has remained very high. For me, personally, its has been most impressive to discover after almost 5 years Rana, a proud member of the Four Seasons staff serving as a breakfast waiter in the main restaurant. It was in 2006 that I first notice her as she was walking with difficulty because of her shoes. I saw her every morning for 11 days with the same difficulty in walking, yet she was always smiling. I asked her why she would not change the shoes and she told me she had not enough money but she said she was so grateful to work at the Four Seasons. On my current visit, I saw her again, with the same smile, yet with a much more comfortable pair of shoes…  

Oliver Petcu