Karbala relies heavily on Iranian pilgrims to important religious sites in the area. But hotel owners are crying foul: they say Iranians are openly monopolizing tourism in Karbala and covertly buying up local properties, according to this article from Niqash.
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Every week the central Iraqi city of Karbala hosts thousands of visitors, most of them on religious pilgrimage from Iran and on their way to visit some of the most important destinations in the world for Shiite Muslims, inside and around the city. Most of the Iranians are on package tours and spend time in Karbala, Najaf and in Baghdad.
One might logically conclude that the Iraqis working in the tourism sector in these cities would benefit financially from their Iranian visitors. However many local tourism operators in Karbala say that one Iranian firm, with a virtual monopoly on Iranian tourism to the area, is making all the rules and all the profit.
Founded in 2003, after the fall of former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein’s regime, Shamsa, which is described as a central agency for Iranian pilgrimages to Iraq, has over a thousand branches all over Iran. And as such, Iraqi hotel owners and tourism operators in the Karbala area say that Shamsa is directly, and indirectly, monopolizing religious tourism in their country. “Due to this company’s cunning methods, a huge amount of the revenue from Iranian visitors is just going back to Iran,” they complained.
There are around 300 hotels in Karbala, many of them concentrated in the city centre near two important shrines. And almost all of them make their money from Iranian tourists. Statistics indicate that tourism is the major source of income in the area. Some private citizens in Karbala also get in on the act, providing accommodation in their own homes – however in general, these do not meet the standards set by Shamsa and are used by individuals travelling privately.