Tourists visit location in Qaradagh, Sulaimani, Kurdistan Region.
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – In an effort to attract more tourists from Iran and its Kurdish region and to help boost the local economy, the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) is extending visa validity from 15 to 30 days.
Nadir Dosti, spokesperson of the Tourism Board in the Kurdistan Region, told Rudaw that the decision will not only increase the number of Iranian passport holders visiting Kurdistan, but also facilitate bringing capital into the Region already suffering from an economic crisis.
“The longer tourists are given the opportunity to stay in the Kurdistan Region, the more profit they bring in terms of spending money. With each day they stay, they spend more,” said Dosti.
Hotels, motels, and resorts on the border areas of the Kurdistan Region and Iran have pinned much hope on Iranian tourists as the main source of their income. They have welcomed the extension of the visa validity.
“The number of our guests has considerably increased as Soran area has shared borders with Iran," said Ahmed Ghafar, a motel owner in Soran.
Abdulwahid Shahryar, a holidaymaker from Iran, was happy with the decision to issue longer visas. “Indeed 15 days was short, because when we used to come to the Kurdistan Region we could not visit some cities and areas of our preference,” he said.
According to officials in the border areas, before the decision was made, there were just 16 buses entering the Region on a daily basis. The number has now doubled.
The slow but steady return of holidaymakers to the Kurdistan Region has nearly sextupled incomes from tourism in the first quarter of this year compared to the same period in 2016.
According to the Kurdish Ministry of Tourism, the number of travelers visiting the Region has increased by around 60 percent since last year. That has led to six-fold revenues for an industry which was almost stagnated over the past three years following the ISIS war in northern Iraq.
Authorities have planned to invest millions in modern infrastructure and build hundreds of new tourist attractions across the Region, which they hope will encourage the return of the tourists.
Kurdish authorities have planned to spend an estimated $100 million in the coming years to revive and develop an industry many believe will be profitable in the long-run.
The ministry has also said it will work to facilitate the entry of Iraqi visitors into the Kurdistan Region after recent tightening of check points for security reasons limited the arrival of Iraqi travelers.