Erbil – For over three years, the Kurdistan region has been suffering from an economic crisis driven by the Baghdad-led embargo, drop in oil prices, war against ISIS and the increase of Iraqi refugees. Yet, its tourism sector has started to recover, said the General Board of Tourism of Kurdistan.
Last year, Kurdistan hosted over 1.6 million mostly Iraqi tourists, along with an increased number of foreign tourists compared to previous years.
On Thursday, the Kurdish capital Erbil hosted the first Middle East Tourism Expo 2017 with the support of the Ministry of Tourism and Municipalities and in cooperation with the General Board of Tourism. The event saw the participation of 200 companies, restaurants and hotels from 16 Arab and foreign countries.
The director of Erbil’s tourism authority, Mawlawi Jabbar told Asharq Al-Awsat: “Through this event, we sought to enhance tourism relations between companies, restaurants and hotels in Kurdistan and the world.”
“This will have a major impact on tourism in the Kurdish region in general and open doors for job opportunities in the sector in Kurdistan,” he added.
The region province has strong potential for tourism, as besides its security stability, it has thousands of historic monuments and a beautiful nature with many rivers, wells, mountains, plains and natural reserves. It enjoys a mild summer and the winter season offers tourists the chance to practice sports like ice skating.
Sales manager at Erbil’s Ankawa Royal Hotel Shirine Ibrahim said that the tourism sector in Kurdistan needs more attention.
She told Asharq Al-Awsat: “The economic situation in Kurdistan has improved and the number of tourists has increased over the past months. Kurdistan is a beautiful country and has great touristic areas. We hope that more attention will be shown towards the sector, because tourism means investment and a revived economy.”
The General Board of Tourism of Kurdistan revealed that along with the projects it implemented in the last months, it intends to organize dozens of new activities to stimulate the sector.
The board’s spokesman Nadir Rusti told Asharq Al-Awsat: “We organized an ice skating festival in January, a car race on ice in March, the Middle East Tourism Expo 2017 took place last week and more projects will see the light in the future.”
He highlighted the contracts which were inked by local tourism companies and with Arab and global firms on the sidelines of the Middle East Tourism Expo, adding: “Companies from the region inked 203 contracts and memoranda of understanding with global companies to attract tourists and activate the sector.”
The official also revealed that the revenues of the Kurdish tourism sector are generally poured into the markets, meaning the citizen and the private sector.
Citizen Ali Hamed, who comes from Baghdad, said that he visits Kurdistan every year with his family to enjoy its tourism and beautiful nature. He added that he likes the Kurdish heritage, art, and music and hoped the Kurdish government would exert more efforts to promote tourism in the region in order to attract more tourists every year.