Iraq tourism gets aggressive with a little help from London


Iraq will be attending this year’s edition of the World Travel Market (WTM) in London with its partner Dunira Strategy to investigate market development opportunities, Iraq tourism officials revealed on Wednesday, November 4.

According to a release from the Tourism Board of Iraq (TIB), the delegation will also participate in the World Tourism Organization’s Ministers’ Summit and meet leading British experts.

“We have decided to come to London this year, because we recognize that WTM is the world’s premier travel fair and we already know how much expertise there is in the UK,” TIB chairman Hammoud al-Yaqoubi said.

Iraq tourism says it recognizes “British expertise in the field.” According to TIB, the British Museum has for some time been leading the way in supporting the research and interpretation of Iraq’s cultural heritage, which is such a key part of the country’s emerging tourism product. “The ancient cities of Babylon and Ur are key sites, whilst Baghdad was for centuries the intellectual capital of the Islamic world, leading in astronomy, literature, mathematics and music. According to some historians, the Garden of Eden is 50 miles north of Basra, the city from which Sinbad set sail in The Thousand and One Nights. With 5,000 years of history, Mesopotamia is the cradle of civilization.”

“More recently Iraq has of course been in the news for other reasons, but here too Britain is contributing to the recovery, helping translate the country’s extraordinary range of cultural and natural heritage into economic benefit and social opportunity through tourism,” TIB said. “The only European tour operator offering a full Iraqi programme is based in Yorkshire, England.”

Hinterland Travel’s managing director Geoff Hann, a key person in pioneering the return of tourism to Iraq, said: “Tourism is in its infancy after the problems of recent years, but the sites are worth seeing and this really is where civilization began”. Following his most recent tour last month, he commented: “The mood in Iraq was upbeat, vibrant and improving daily. The security situation ensured that we could see almost all of the important sites, but for the foreseeable future all visitors should pack some patience and flexibility.”

With many of the country’s 784 hotels in a poor state, the TIB has said it is keen to speak to investors that share its vision and ambition and is also seeking assistance with hospitality and other training.

Added Benjamin Carey of Dunira Strategy: “Security remains the greatest challenge, but tourism in Iraq has the potential to be transformational, contributing to national identity, helping to rebuild confidence and tackle some of the sectarian scars and creating enduring social and economic opportunities, especially for young Iraqis. Although Iraq will for some time be for specialists and intrepid travelers, it is a destination waiting to be discovered by tour operators and individual tourists.”

Iraq’s WTM attendance will mark the country’s first visit to a European travel fair in more than a decade.