STEMMING FROM A RICH YET TURBULENT BACKGROUND, IRAQ, IN A JOINT EFFORT WITH ITS TRAVEL PARTNERS, IS TAKING STRIDES TO

RESTORE FAITH AND REVITALISE ITS TOURISM INDUSTRY.

"There is no doubt that Iraq has an immense tourism potential, due to its major archaeological and historical sites, and that the sector can play a key role in the reconstruction of the country and its socio-economic development," noted Taleb Rifai, secretary general, World Tourism Organization.

Indeed, in accordance with the economic impact report by World Travel & Tourism Council, the sector's total contribution to Iraq's GDP was 6.9 percent in 2014, and is forecast to rise 1.4 percent by year-end.

Rifai continued that for this to be a possibility however, the country needs to address the existing challenges of infrastructure and product development, human resources capacity building and the perception on safety and security.

Not fazed by its surroundings, Douglas Layton, founder, Kurdistan Iraq Tours, whose entire clientele derives from international markets, stated that the company still enjoys substantial business related visits and hosted several VIP guests in 2014.

PROACTIVE APPROACH

The General Board of Tourism, Kurdistan Regional Government, Iraq has been actively working to attract visitors from Turkey, Iran and the GCC, and is also looking towards the possibility of luring in tourists from Europe and the US.

Concerning the authority's action plan to promote the region, Hagob Ghazarian, public relations manager, General Board of Tourism, Kurdistan Regional Government, Iraq, pointed out its presence at a number of international tourism exhibitions in 2014.

Despite challenging circumstances, the tourism board has also put forth a number of marketing campaigns, most notably the upcoming implementation of the International Conference on Travel Agencies and Tourism Investment (ICTATI) in Erbil between December 1 – 2. ICTATI will seek to advance the destination in regards to its culture, investment possibilities and as a viable location for hosting conferences and exhibitions.

"We hope that this event will open a new horizon for local and international traders, businessmen and investors [...]," Ghazarian enthused.

Among the country's major airfields, Erbil International Airport witnessed ample growth in the first half of the year pertaining to passenger movement, with average daily flights increasing from 17 in January to 30 in September.

In anticipation of an economic expansion in the area, Andrew Jones, commercial adviser, Erbil International Airport, noted that the air hub has prepared an extensive development programme.

GROUP EFFORT

Lending a hand with the destination's advancement, The Rezidor Hotel Group is set to launch Radisson Blu Hotel, Erbil in the first quarter of 2018, and expects to welcome guests from a host of source markets including Europe, the US and the Middle East.

"Once the situation and investor sentiment returns, [Iraq will] become one of our main markets for expansion across major cities as well as secondary cities across the country," assured Elie Milky, senior director, business development, Middle East and Africa, The Rezidor Hotel Group.

"We trust that with stability, tourism in Iraq will flourish and the country will become a key tourism destination in the region as tourists from all over the world will want to discover its immense cultural richness.

[...] It is highly important that the international community supports Iraq in terms of cultural heritage protection, preservation, interpretation and presentation of cultural sites," Rifai concluded.