Tourists outside Istanbul's Blue Mosque. Photo: Ozan Kose/AFP
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region— An increasing number of Kurdish holidaymakers are again travelling to neighbouring Turkey after the number of visitors dropped in the last two years mainly due to visa restrictions and harsh economic times on both sides of the border.
According to tourist companies in Zakho near the Turkish border, travel to Turkey over the first three months of the year has increased by nearly 50 percent, an upward trend which has also affected the price of tickets and visa applications.
“We sold around 15 to 20 tickets a day last year, now we sell maybe 60 to 70 tickets a day, which of course means that the tide has turned and people spend money,” said Maalouf Khalil who runs a tourist firm in Zakho.
According to the Ministry of Municipalities and Tourism, the rising number of vacationers is only partly due to the modest economic recovery in the Kurdistan Region and mainly because of incentives that tourist companies have received from the Kurdish government this year, allowing them to make larger profits and boosting the Region’s own tourism economy.
“If a Kurdish tourist company cooperates with tourist companies abroad and brings them to the Kurdistan Region, then the government will relieve both companies from paying taxes and tariffs by almost 90 percent, which has of course encouraged many Kurdish companies to connect with foreign tourist firms,” said Chia Amin Usman at the ministry.
Usman said so far the incentives have led to a 60 percent increase in foreign tourist firms in the region. Authorities hope more vacationers, especially from the Middle East, choose Kurdistan Region as their destination.
Authorities have planned to invest millions in modern infrastructure and build hundreds of new tourist attractions across the Region, which they hope will bring back their missing vacationers.
Over 200 domestic and international firms showcased their services earlier this month at one of the largest tourism exhibitions in Kurdistan, 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 was part of a long-term government plan to attract vacationers to the Kurdistan Region.