When in Damascus

Now that the Syr­ian con­flict ap­pears to be wind­ing down, Tarek Ham­moud, off­shore team man­ager and con­sul­tant at Hodema Con­sult­ing Ser­vices, breaks down the city of Damascus, while map­ping out its path to re­cov­ery

Hospitality News Middle East - - ISSUE IN THIS - Hodema.net

Syria’s cap­i­tal city is home to four main food and bev­er­age (F&B) and re­tail zones. Right at the heart of Damascus, you’ll find the area com­posed of Abou Rem­maneh, Raw­dah and Malki. Home to the up­per class, em­bassies and cor­po­ra­tions be­fore the war, this area is now try­ing to re­gain some of its lus­ter. An­other well-known zone, Mazzeh sits above the bustling Fayez Man­sour high­way, head­ing south-west. Over­looked by the pres­i­den­tial palace, the well-to-do neigh­bor­hood at­tracts crowds of stu­dents who at­tend the Univer­sity of Damascus. How­ever, un­for­tu­nately, in re­cent years, Mazzeh has been the tar­get of shelling and mul­ti­ple at­tacks, with the hos­pi­tal and in­fa­mous mil­i­tary air­port also lo­cated there. A few blocks fur­ther on marks the be­gin­ning of Ka­far­souseh, the for­mer agri­cul­tural sub­urb of Damascus and now one of its most de­vel­oped dis­tricts, host­ing of­fi­cial build­ings and two shop­ping malls: Cham City Cen­tre and Da­m­as­cino Mall. Bab Touma, the fourth zone, named af­ter a fa­mous his­tor­i­cal quar­ter of the old city is enough to re­mind us what Syr­ian hos­pi­tal­ity does best.

Some­thing for ev­ery­one

Each of these zones of­fers a spe­cific ex­pe­ri­ence. Venues lo­cated in res­i­den­tial ar­eas such as Malki – and even Bab Touma – of­ten tend to open next to each other, form­ing a group of res­tau­rants that grow or­gan­i­cally. Many also con­vert ground­floor res­i­den­tial and com­mer­cial units into res­tau­rants and cafes. In con­trast, along Mazzeh high­way and the city’s av­enues, the premises are larger, with many of­fer­ing a seat in the sun. The global trend for malls is also ev­i­dent, with these cen­ters pro­vid­ing a wide range of F&B con­cepts.

It goes without say­ing that the city’s F&B in­dus­try has seen bet­ter days. Be­fore the war, Syria’s hos­pi­tal­ity sec­tor was ben­e­fit­ing sig­nif­i­cantly from the coun­try’s grow­ing sta­tus as a must-visit des­ti­na­tion for trav­el­ers from across the globe. How­ever, this good for­tune came to an abrupt end with the 2011 up­ris­ing and en­su­ing

For those now eye­ing the Syr­ian mar­ket, the po­ten­tial for de­vel­op­ment is enor­mous, with de­mand high

con­flict, which has closed scores of out­lets. Pro­fes­sion­als were forced to nav­i­gate a highly chal­leng­ing econ­omy for the next few years un­til 2015, when busi­ness started to pick up again. This re­bound was ex­plained by the slight im­prove­ment in the econ­omy and the con­ver­sion of many re­tail units to F&B venues.

What’s on your plate?

The vast ma­jor­ity of venues fall into the cafe-restau­rant seg­ment, serv­ing Mid­dle East­ern cui­sine, and more specif­i­cally, Syr­ian, with a pref­er­ence for Alep­pan dishes. Shisha is on ev­ery menu. One of the big op­er­a­tors in the mar­ket is Gem­ini Group, which owns and op­er­ates Naranj and Nata, among oth­ers, and has many F&B brands across the coun­try. How­ever, most cafes and res­tau­rants are still run by small in­de­pen­dent own­ers, which means a high de­mand for brands and fran­chises. In terms of cui­sine of­fered, many venues pro­vide menus fea­tur­ing dishes from stan­dard in­ter­na­tional recipes along­side lo­cal ones, but very few have de­vel­oped themed or eth­nic cuisines, such as sushi or In­dian food.

Be­fore the con­flict, some global brands had started to take an in­ter­est in the Syr­ian mar­ket, but un­sur­pris­ingly, both in­ter­na­tional and re­gional brands have since shelved their plans, at least for now. For those now eye­ing the Syr­ian mar­ket, the po­ten­tial for de­vel­op­ment is enor­mous. Re­gional Mid­dle East­ern op­er­a­tors and fran­chises, along­side some Euro­pean brands, may well want to con­sider ex­plor­ing these promis­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties. When it comes to the F&B side, it’s worth not­ing that what­ever your con­cept is, in terms of out­let cat­e­gory, po­si­tion­ing and type of cui­sine, Damascus will wel­come you with open arms. One mixed-use project is al­ready in the pipe­line in Yaafour, the new Royal Res­i­dences, which in­cludes a com­mer­cial com­po­nent with a built-up area of 26,400 sqm., and will be home to more than 50 F&B and re­tail re­gional and Lebanese brands. Ori­en­tal res­tau­rants and a su­per­mar­ket are al­ready planned.

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