Kur­dis­tan and the Tourist In­dus­try

The Kurdish Globe - - NEWS - By Luke Cole­man

"Er­bil Named Arab Cap­i­tal Of Tourism of 2014" and “The Kur­dis­tan Re­gion Ex­pects 7 Mil­lion Tourists By 2025”. Just two of the many head­lines over the last year, seem­ingly declar­ing that tourism may be as im­por­tant to the Re­gion as oil in the com­ing decades. It's not un­ex­pected that the KRG is mak­ing plans for dif­fer­ent rev­enue streams, and tourist in­dus­try is def­i­nitely one of them. Af­ter all, the re­liance on oil seems al­most to­tal; the trickle- down process of the in­come it pro­vides must foot the bill for the huge num­ber of the govern­ment jobs, es­pe­cially af­ter the Iraqi govern­ment stopped send­ing Kur­dis­tan's share of the budget. Tourism seems a strong op­tion to de­velop the pri­vate sec­tor and re­duce the bur­den on the 'state'. We know that the re­gion is be­ing vig­or­ously pro­moted around the Gulf States and that many people are wel­comed to our cooler cli­mate from the south of Iraq. But who are the rarer people that ar­rive from fur­ther afield? What are they look­ing for and why do they find them­selves in South Kur­dis­tan? My ex­pe­ri­ence is var­ied. I've met a few pass­port stamp col­lec­tors, back­pack­ers more thrilled with their fu­ture boast of hav­ing been to Iraq. They're fairly un­com­mon though, and I've also hosted people trav­el­ling on a tight budget who know a great deal about the area and the wider world, mak­ing for ex­cel­lent di­ver­sions from my daily rou­tine. I flew my mother from the UK over here for her 80th birth­day present – and we spent a week over Newroz pic­nick­ing and vis­it­ing towns and vil­lages. We spent time in Hawa and were given an in­sight into the Kakayi re­li­gion. And with that we un­der­stood one of the greater tourist favourites – his­tory. There are now tours for people who have an in­ter­est in ar­chae­ol­ogy, re­li­gion, an­cient cul­ture and an­thro­pol­ogy, guided by people who for years have stud­ied the scores of civil­i­sa­tions that have left their foot­prints on the land. I've had cof­fee with many aca­demics, pass­ing through to com­plete the­ses on ev­ery­thing from gen­der pol­i­tics to oil eco­nom­ics. Amongst these groups I've met people who didn't like Kur­dis­tan. I've met people who ex­tended their visas. I've met people who went home and re­turned shortly af­ter­wards to open a new chap­ter of their life in this place that has them cap­ti­vated.

Of­ten, it's the people who come with no pre­con­cep­tions or agenda that are most deeply af­fected. A friend's par­ents vis­ited re­cently. I met them at the end of their week-long whizz around Kur­dis­tan. Hav­ing a chat over some tea, they listed the mem­o­rable sights and events of their hol­i­day. But they also men­tioned that theirs was some­thing 'other' as well – an in­de­fin­able qual­ity that they wished to ex­pe­ri­ence fur­ther. I feel like that about the place and its people some­times. Just how will the Min­istry of Tourism bot­tle that and sell it around the world?

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