Er­bil Ci­tadel Granted World Her­itage Sta­tus

The Kurdish Globe - - FRONT PAGE - By Luke Cole­man

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.

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