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Iraq’s top tourist destination prepares to welcome the world | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Kurdish men stand at the citadel of the northern Iraqi regional capital of Arbil in this file photo of October 12, 2013 (AFP PHOTO / SAFIN HAMED)

Kurdish men stand at the citadel of the northern Iraqi regional capital of Arbil in this file photo of October 12, 2013 (AFP PHOTO / SAFIN HAMED)

Kurdish men stand at the citadel of the northern Iraqi regional capital of Erbil in this file photo of October 12, 2013 (AFP PHOTO / SAFIN HAMED)

Erbil, Asharq Al-Awsat—The city of Erbil in Iraqi Kurdistan is preparing to celebrate its appointment as 2014’s Capital for Arab Tourism, beginning on New Year’s Eve, say officials.

Nawaz Hadi, the governor of Erbil, told Asharq Al-Awsat that the committee supervising the celebrations began preparing for the celebrations under the supervision of the regional government.

In addition, the US-based National Geographic Traveler magazine, has named Erbil as one of its “Best in the World” destinations for 2014 saying that it will make visitors “forget everything you’ve heard about Iraq.”

Asked about the importance of such classification for the city’s tourism industry, Hadi said: “The US magazine’s report came at a very important time, as Erbil is being prepared for the 2014 Arab Tourism Capital events. Indeed, such promising reports should definitely attract numerous observers from the Arab world.”

“We are looking forward to attracting the largest number possible of tourists from across the Arab world and the world at large,” he added, “particularly as the inflows of visitors from inside and outside Iraq to Erbil is on the rise . . .This is thanks to the urban expansion and the political and security stability Erbil is now witnessing.”

On the subject of the activities and carnivals being organized by the city and provincial authorities, the governor said: “The start of our program will coincide with the New Year celebrations. Activities will be divided between all seasons of the year, according to the nature of each season. Erbil will witness [celebrations of] folklore and economic and social activities, as well as from a variety of marketing festivals, workshops and conferences.”

An official in the province said: “Discounts will be offered to natives and Arab tourists who visit Kurdistan Region at the beginning of the New Year.”

Rashied Mohamed Al-Mansouri, the United Arab Emirates’ consul in Erbil, told Asharq Al-Awsat that his country will have a strong presence in Erbil’s celebrations of the 2014 Tourism Capital title.

Mansouri said large numbers of Emiratis will travel to Kurdistan at the beginning of the new tourism season. The consul said Emiratis were drawn to the area by “geographic proximity, the cordial relations between the two nations, and the political and trade cooperation between the region and the UAE.”

Molawi Abdul-Jabbar, Chief of the Kurdistan Public Tourism Authority, said there will be a variety of cultural and sporting events held in the city.

He added that the authority would promote “skiing and singing carnivals, and competitions to choose the best tourist agencies and hotels in Erbil, apart from other activities.”

Abdul-Jabbar also said that a comprehensive promotional campaign will be launched jointly by the governorate of Erbil, the Iraqi Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities and the Tourism Authority of Kurdistan.

He added: “We are hopeful that a committee will be able to visit a number of Arab states in order to make the city of Erbil known, demonstrate the progress being made there and show the real face of the city and the reality it lives.”

When asked about the Arab Tourist Ministers’ Conference planned to take place in the city on the sidelines of the festivals, Abdul-Jabbar said: “The conference will discuss the tourist situation in the region, and there will be sessions and proposals put forth for discussion with the aim of giving a boost to the tourist sector in the Arab region in general.” He also considered the conference “a good opportunity for Arab ministers to get to know Erbil and participate in its tourist activities.”

The Erbil citadel and the Shanidar Cave, an important archaeological site noted for its Neanderthal remains, will be among the historical sites that authorities hope will be open for Arab visitors by early next year. Work on the Shanidar Cave was completed last summer, and it is now open to tourists. Asked about the Erbil Citadel, one of the oldest continually occupied sites in the world, Abdul-Jabbar said the governorate’s Supreme Committee for Reviving the Citadel “is continuing with its work to redesign the citadel’s old gate that was removed in the 1960s, and expressed his hopes that “the committee will be finished with its work soon so that the citadel will once again open to visitors.”