ERBIL, Kurdistan Region— Over 200 domestic and international firms have showcased their services at one of the largest tourism exhibitions in Kurdistan in a government-sponsored effort to revive the ailing but promising tourism sector in the region.
The three-day Middle East Tourism Expo 2017 in Erbil, which will conclude today Saturday, is part of a long-term government plan to attract vacationers to the Kurdistan Region.
Authorities have planned to spend an estimated $100 million in the coming years to revive and develop an industry which is likely to generate jobs and incomes for the heavily oil-dependent country.
“This is my first time attending a tourism show in Erbil. And after seeing the city I think I will open an office here,” said Mohamed Elwy from the Builder Travel, an Egyptian travel agency.
According to the Kurdistan Tourism Board, around 1,6 million holidaymakers visited the region in 2017 of whom 23 percent were travellers from the regional countries.
“The numbers are growing and we remain very optimistic, but of course security and services are crucial for any long-term tourism sector,” said Kurdish Minister of Tourism and Municipality Newroz Mawlood.
According to the ministry there are 841 hotels in the country but only 18 of them carry international brands.
“There are dozens of tourist projects that have the potential to attract floods of vacationers, but unfortunately no one has so far been interested to invest in them or fund them,” said Siamand Hasan the owner of a tourist firm.
The government has said it plans to reduce the dependence of the Kurdish economy on oil revenues through investment in private entrepreneurship and tourism.
“Kurdistan’s beautiful nature, mountains, rivers and ancient sites, tolerance, openness and hospitality and its different seasons are basis for and encourage of tourism.” Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani said as he inaugurated the exhibition Thursday.
“We have the chance to make this an international tourist destination.”