Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Is Baghdad's tourism future looking brighter?

Iraq's tourist board have returned to World Travel Market in London, for the second year in a row, hoping to encourage ongoing investment in the country's tourism infrastructure. Their attendance begs the question: realistically, when can travellers look forward to worry-free tourist tours of Iraq and its ancient historical sites including the biblical city of Babylon?

At the moment, it's an impossible question to answer. Trips to former war zones such as Vietnam, Beirut and Sarajevo have become the norm but Iraq obviously has a long way to go in tourism terms. The UK Foreign Office's advice for travellers is that the situation in Iraq remains 'highly dangerous with a continuing high threat of terrorism throughout the country' and they advise against all and all but essential travel.

That said, details from World Travel Market's Global Trends Report indicate that Iraq's travel and tourism infrastructure has shown signs of recovery since the end of the war in 2003. There are direct flights to Iraq from European countries such as Austria, Germany, Greece, Norway, Sweden and the UK. For example, international airlines Lufthansa and Austrian Airlines operate flights into Iraq's fourth largest city, Erbil in Kurdistan. This region in the north of the country has experienced less violence than the rest of the country and its attractions include adventure tourism, mountain resorts and a mild climate. The fact that the Ministry of Tourism in Kurdistan employees around 500 employees might also be considered evidence of increasing inbound travel.

The travel agencies Sharaf Travel (from the UAE) and Terre Entière (from France) are also reported to have set up in Iraq early this year, and 700 hotels are also expected to be open by 2014.

World Travel Market Chairman Fiona Jeffery said, “Iraq’s decision to bring a delegation to World Travel Market last year was well timed for the destination’s tourism resurgence. The country offers a diverse mix of history, culture and unique experiences all paving the way for its place as an exciting up and coming destination.”

UK-based tour operator Hinterland Travel arrange tours of regional highlights including Baghdad, Babylon and the Mesopotamian ancient cities, in minivans with armed security guards. According to their website, 'the mood in Iraq is upbeat, vibrant with the security aspects improving all the time'.

Have you already travelled in Iraq? Or are you planning to visit soon?