Summer heat, open roads, ISIS days bring busloads of Iraqi tourists to Kurdistan
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region- An unprecedented number of tourists from Iraqi provinces poured into the Kurdistan Region during the Eid holidays, tourism officials report, as hotels and restaurants were instructed to cater to the busloads of visitors who chose Kurdish summer resorts as their destination of choice.
According to Nadr Rustay, spokesperson for Kurdistan Region’s Tourism Board, in three days alone, Aug. 18-22, more than 181,000 Iraqi tourists arrived in the Kurdistan Region.
Rustay revealed that the number shows a %24 increase from last year’s 145,000 during the Eid al-Adha holidays.
He added that despite the end of Eid tourists from Iraq, many of them from Mosul, continue arriving in Erbil, Duhok and Sulaimani.
Hotels, motels and small-scale guesthouses in Sulaimani city were sold out during the Eid holidays and tourism officials had already threatened hotel and restaurant owners with hefty fines if they closed their business during the holidays.
“Previously, the fine for restaurants that closed on the first day of Eid was IQD 75,000, but this Eid we will increase the fines and go as far as closing them down for a period,” Ako Ahmed, director of inspections at Sulaimani’s department of tourism told Rudaw.
“The arrival of large numbers of tourists has left no vacancies in Sulaimani’s hotels,” “In Sulaimani there are 255 hotels, motels and tourist guesthouses and they are packed with tourists,” Ahmed added.
The timely reopening of the Erbil-Kirkuk road that was closed for almost a year on a day before Eid helped the dramatic increase in tourist numbers as it shortened a trip to Erbil by four hours.
Nearly 25,000 tourists arrive in Erbil through the Kirkuk road on daily basis, city officials report.
“There was a difference of four hours on the old road,” Abdullah Mohammed, a tourist agent told Rudaw. “Of course this has a big impact on tourism whether internal tourism to Kurdistan or tourism with us as tourist companies,”
Despite the hopeful signs some still lament the fact that Iraqi tourists must pay an entrance of IQD10,000 ($8).
“There is something, which is residency,” said Sara Karim, a tourist visiting Erbil province’s Bekhal resort. “We have to pay for residency when we first enter. Each person pays IQD10,000. I don’t think this is called for as this is all one Iraq.”
A remarkable number of the tourist buses arriving in the Kurdistan Region hail from Mosul with more than 30 tourism company operating in the war-torn city.
“On a daily basis about 10 to 12 busloads come to us, not to mention the other companies, and in Mosul there are 30 [tourism] companies,” Hisham Sabah, owner of a tourism company, told Rudaw.
“Why did we establish companies in Mosul? Because we know they are deprived,” Sabah said of the rise in tourist numbers out of Mosul. “We would like to compensate them with something joyful. InshAllah we will make them forget the Daesh phase thanks to Kurdistan’s government.”