Kurdistan Region Tourism Minister, Samir Abdullah Mustafa, yesterday called on British investors to make the most of the opportunity to invest in Kurdistan’s tourist sector at a conference in London. Setting out plans to build 2,500 new hotels to accommodate another 1.35 million visitors annually by 2015, the Minister also highlighted existing success stories within Kurdistan’s already booming tourist industry.
Approximately $388 million has already been invested in Kurdistan’s nascent tourism market and a number of projects are already underway, including: the renovation of the ancient citadel in Erbil; the countless new shopping and retail destinations and new hotels.
Since 2007 the number of tourists visiting Kurdistan has risen from around 380,000 to over 1.3 million in 2010 (a 242% rise). The number of hotels, resorts, restaurants and beds available has also grown exponentially alongside real improvements in the quality of the facilities available.
Much of the current growth has been from within Iraq and Kurdistan itself so Erbil’s gleaming new international airport and Sulaimaniya international airport, alongside plans for a new airport at Dohuk, look set to boost international tourism further, and bolster Kurdistan as the gateway to Iraq.
Samir Abdullah Mustafa, Minister for Municipalities and Tourism said, “Hotels and motels in Kurdistan already reach capacity quickly at peak times and a combination of Kurdistan’s growing prosperity, new attractions such as shopping malls and theme parks and the region’s rich cultural and natural heritage are causing this demand to increase still further. We have set out an ambitious plan to meet this challenge but to do so will take investment.”
He added, “I believe the tourism sector is as important to Kurdistan as its oil and gas sector so I am in London today to extend an open invitation to the international business community to join us and help us turn what is already emerging as a domestic and regional tourist hub into a leading international tourist destination.”
Nadhim Zahawi, Conservative MP for Stratford-upon-Avon and Co-Chair of the All Party Group on the Kurdistan Region, said, “Kurdistan is a beautiful and cultured Region with much to offer the world so it is not surprising to me that after many years of hardship it is now prospering. Business friendly investment rules combined with growing prosperity, security and such a rich heritage make a compelling business case for investment and I would urge UK businesses to make the most of the invitation to invest that the KRG has offered today.”
Tourism sector projects:
- The ancient citadel in the centre of Erbil city is currently under renovation by a team of local and international experts, in an attempt to register it as a world heritage site with UNESCO after renovations are complete.
- The Kurdistan Regional Government’s Ministry of Municipalities and Tourism is responsible for the tourism strategy and has set a goal by 2015 to build 2,500 hotels to accommodate 1.3million visitors annually.
- Ministry of Tourism figures show 102 tourism projects have been completed in the Kurdistan Region, with an approximate value of $388 million.
Opportunities for investment in tourism:
- Safeen Master Plan, near the town of Shaqlawa, about 50 kilometres from the capital Erbil, will become a tourist complex with hotels, chalets and other activities located at the base of Mount Safeen of nearly 2,000 meters high.
- Other proposed investment opportunities are Dukan tourism project and Erbil Green Belt master plan.
- In Sulaimaniya, hotel chain Millenium and Copthorne has made an agreement to operate a trio of four- and – five-star hotels that are being built by the Kurdish company Faruk Group Holding.
- In Erbil, Rotana Hotel, a Lebanese – UAE joint project has been completed, and Turkish operator Diwan will manage another new hotel that is currently under construction.
Travelling in Kurdistan and Iraq
To highlight opportunities in the Kurdistan Region for tour operators and travel agents, specialist adventure and culture travel companies, which offer cultural sightseeing holidays in the Kurdistan Region, include:
- Babel Tours, a subsidiary of Terre Entiere, a French tour operator specialising in cultural tours and Christian pilgrimages;
- Kurdistan Adventures, an Australian/Kurdish local company that specialises in small group adventure travel and operates escorted tours;
- Hinterland Travel, a UK-based travel company;
- Distant Horizons, a US-based travel company;
- The Other Iraq Tours, a local tour company based in the Kurdistan Region; and,
- Spiekermann Travel , specialist US tour operator offering guided tours of the Kurdistan Region.