Erbil Citadel Granted World Heritage Status
In the first 8 months of 2013, approximately 2.2 million tourists visited the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, a figure similar to the whole of the previous year. Understandably, the Board of Tourism was making the customary wild predictions and even the more sober Euro monitor filed a report last year estimating a 22% year on year rise in visitors. We know that the picture has changed since ISIS moved into Anbar Province at the start of the year, and the events of the last few weeks have radically redrawn the picture – are tourists going to keep coming or will they rethink their position?
Hêja Baban, Co-founder of Meydan PR & Marketing has recently completed a project for the Board of Tourism, taking five journalists on a week-long tour of the three Kurdish provinces. “If we had talked about this six weeks ago, we'd probably discuss what the KRG (Kurdistan Re- gional Government) can do to be more attractive to people from all over the world. The recent situation has brought that to a halt, it affects how the rest of the world sees Iraq as a whole. The first thing you think as a tourist is <Am I going to be safe?' And if that is not 100% clear, you will have second thoughts. Even though it is safe, it's not considered as safe as it was two months ago, and that's enough.”
Of course, with the situ- ation to the south of us looking ever more as if it will dissolve in civil war, prospects for capitalising on recent developments in the tourism sector have been damaged. Will anyone other than people living here consider the Korek resort during the winter? Admittedly in its first full season only the greatest optimists would believe that people would fly in just for its limited facilities, but maybe there will be fewer backpackers passing through and taking the opportunity to fall over in the snow. An attraction that has had a greater international pull already is the Citadel in Erbil. With the recent award of UNESCO World Heritage status, Dara Al-Yaqoobi, head of the High Commission For Erbil Citadel Revitalisation (HCECR) wants to capitalise, but has reservations about its chances, “Tourists are sensitive people, they are aware of their security. When you talk about Erbil or Kurdis- tan they are still thinking about Iraq. As they hear about problems and conflicts in Iraq, maybe they will postpone. Because it is so recent we don't have any clear statistics and we won't know the effect for some time.”
Oil will keep flowing, but plans for the continued expansion of the tourism industry may have to be put on ice, for Korek and beyond.