The new bus terminal in Erbil. Photo: Rudaw
By Rekar Aziz and Alexander Whitcomb
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – Erbil’s first proper bus terminal signals that the bad-old-days of difficult road journeys to Iraq, Iran, Turkey and Syria are over.
The noise of buses making daily trips to the Turkish city of Istanbul is especially welcome in Iraqi Kurdistan. Not long ago, it took lots of time, energy and patience to make this trip. Ill-tempered border guards could refuse crossing after long and expensive drives.
Erbil International Terminal, located in the northeastern corner of the city, will officially open soon. Its lots are already filling up with buses shuttling passengers to Turkey and Iran, as well as domestic destinations. Shopkeepers and restaurateurs busily set up their stalls and kitchens. Cabbies chat outside the station, waiting to take tourists into town, and bus conductors shout out their destinations to waiting passengers.
Iraqi Kurdistan has long been a transit route for traffic between Iraq, Iran, Turkey, and Syria. According to the Association of Tourist Companies, 224 travel agencies are registered in Kurdistan, most of which are local. These are typically small bus companies that have been operating in the region for years.
In the past, however, they operated informally and without coordination. By building dedicated terminals in Erbil and Sulaimani, the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) seeks to incorporate these businesses into a rapidly growing tourism industry.
Lawan Transportation Company is one of these small businesses, taking five buses (70-100 passengers) to Turkey and Iran every day since 2007. Like other such companies, the ministry of transportation requires them to move into the new terminal.
Company employee Arkan Najat is pleased with the new real estate.
“We are very happy to have a terminal, because passengers don’t get lost here, unlike the old locations in the inner city. We used to spend a lot of time giving directions to customers or the taxi drivers where to find us.” These tasks have been outsourced to Information Desk attendees, who also help tourists find hotel rooms and restaurants.
Fuad Muhammad Mustafa frequently travels by bus to Turkey. “This is my first trip north, stopping at the Erbil International Terminal. The bus station is beautifully designed,” he said. “It’s a lot like Turkish bus stations. It’s very comfortable and safe, with rest seats for passengers. It shows the growth and development of Erbil as a city.”
The transportation ministry reveals that construction is underway for a second terminal in the city. This will be on the southern side of the city, and is already 30 percent complete. Both located on the perimeters of Erbil, these terminals are part of initiatives to decrease the flow of traffic through the center of the city, which is already suffering from high levels of congestion and pollution.
Nadir Rosty at the Kurdistan Region’s Board of Tourism thinks regional tourism is a big part of Kurdistan’s future. All you have to do is look at the multitude of new hotels and resorts springing up across the country.
“Facilitation of transportation is one of the key factors in attracting tourists to the region. Erbil International Terminal is not one of the biggest in the world, but it does a great job, especially accommodating the tourists from Turkey and Iran.”
Over 2.2 million tourists visited the Kurdistan Region in 2012, a figure surpassed in the first eight months of 2013. Erbil was named the Arab Tourism Capital for 2014.