I wrote in April about a group of intrepid travellers who’d ventured into Iraq on an organised tour.
Now the Iraqi authorities are making a concerted effort to market the country as an up-and-coming tourist destination.
A delegation has come to London this week to attend the travel industry’s showcase event of the year, the World Travel Market (WTM) exhibition. It will be the first time Iraq has attended such a gathering for more than ten years.
WTM chair Fiona Jeffery said that in the past, tourism had played a major role in helping to regenerate a number of countries affected by war. “It may be in its infancy, but Iraq has the potential to become a viable tourism destination, just like Vietnam, Cambodia and, closer to home, Croatia and the other former Yugoslavian countries,” she said.
The specialist adventure travel firm Hinterland Travel is the only European company currently offering escorted tours. Managing Director Geoff Hann said:
“Obviously there are security problems in the country and the infrastructure is poor. But Iraq appeals to entrepreneurial and adventurous travellers who wish to see something special.”
The chairman of the Tourism Board of Iraq, Hammoud al-Yaqoubi, gave a flavour of what might attract tourists back:
“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 [Iraq] is the cradle of civilization,” said Mr al-Yaqoubi.
by Andy Moreton