Taxi drivers in Erbil, the capital of the semi-autonomous Kurdistan region in northern Iraq, are keen to tell every non-Kurdish person they give a ride to that there are more hotels in their city than in Paris. The drivers proudly list hotels’ names and the services they provide.
Erbil is the fourth-largest city in Iraq, after Baghdad, Basra and Mosul, and is nearly 360 km (224 miles) from the capital. Its population: 1 million. Erbil province is bordered by Turkey to the north and Iran to the east; its total area is 15,074 square km (5,820 square miles).
It is widely rumored that Erbil is the oldest continuously inhabited city in the world.
The media and public relations director at Erbil’s governor’s office, Hamza Hamed, said the issue is not about competing with Paris in the number of hotels, but rather in the city’s plan to accommodate the huge number of visitors who come in the summer.
Hamed told Al-Monitor, “There are more than 200 hotels in Erbil, ranging from three-, four- and five-star hotels.” He added: “In addition to the hotels, there are camps, resorts and tourist complexes that provide housing for the province’s visitors, if they want to [take advantage of these offerings]. There are no accurate statistics on these facilities for now, because they are continuously increasing.”
The Kurdish official added, “The number of visitors in summer places tremendous pressure on Erbil; thus, hotel room occupancy rates reach 100% in most of the city’s hotels during this season.”
The three [main] cities of the Kurdistan region — Sulaimaniyah, Erbil and Dohuk — have enjoyed a stable security situation unseen in other Iraqi cities since the collapse of the late President Saddam Hussein’s regime in 2003. This has turned the city into a place of refuge for thousands of Iraqis who have come from the central and southern cities, fleeing violence. The mountainous province also has a large number of summer resorts and tourist facilities.