Syria is heading towards a civil war that could drag in surrounding countries, a senior BBC journalist has warned the travel industry.

BBC Middle East correspondent Frank Gardner told the Institute of Travel and Tourism (ITT) conference: “I’m afraid Syria is heading for civil war. If there is no intervention, I fear it could drag in other countries.”

Gardner said: “Syria is central to the region so it will affect Lebanon, it could affect Israel, it could affect Jordan, it could affect southern Turkey. The countries around are getting jittery.”

He told the ITT: “Syria is a real tragedy. It was a lovely place with such friendly people; very safe, with amazing ruins, fabulous places. Now it’s tearing itself apart. The violence is getting worse and the United Nations can’t agree on intervention.

“Will it affect the travel business? I don’t think so immediately, but it could draw in other players. It can’t be good for world peace.”

Gardner was ambushed in Saudi Arabia in June 2004 and shot six times, leaving him partially paralysed. His colleague Simon Cumbers was shot dead. Gardner returned to work for the BBC in 2005 following 14 operations.

He told the ITT the Arab Spring had dealt a great blow to terror group Al Qaeda. Gardner said: “Al Qaeda is noticeably weaker, but like a rock that shatters into a lot of small rocks.

“The biggest threat to Al Qaeda is the Arab Spring because it completely bypassed them. Al Qaeda said the only way to overthrow the Arab regimes was by violent revolution and the Arab Spring made them irrelevant.”

However, he said: “There isn’t really an Arab Spring yet in the Arab kingdoms.”

Gardner suggested the war in Afghanistan had failed to remove the Taleban from the country.

He said: “The Taleban will come back in Afghanistan, at least in the south. They have no beef with Britain other than that Britain has forces there. I’m not sure we will be able to keep them out.”