The economy of Iraq is revolving significantly and apart from its oil revenue government has started to find some other ways for bagging some extra revenues to get rid of the country’s too much leniency over the oil revenues. One of the best sectors in Iraq right now is definitely the tourism sector. Though, the country has not been started yet to invest in this sector, but according to the experts possibilities are there.
In fact, the country is not futile for the tourists who want to explore different parts of the world. It offers countless pilgrims visit to its religious shrines, but now the country that touts itself as the "cradle of civilization" also wants a different kind of visitor.
The country plays an important role in hosting to millions of Shiite Muslim pilgrims annually who visit its multiple shrines and holy sites, from Samarra in the north to Basra in the south. Keen to ease a reliance on Iranian pilgrims -- most of the population of its enormous eastern neighbor is Shiite -- officials in Baghdad want to promote tourism from elsewhere, and believe visitor numbers can be increased threefold.
Though, problems are there with a higher magnitude. First of all the security problems within the country is matter of concern and along with that the poor infrastructure of the country has been a constant problem that pulled back this nation to become an auspicious tourist hub.
"Every area that we've been to has been totally, totally, different," said Lynda Coney, one traveler on a trip organized by Britain-based Hinterland Travel. The Briton told AFP while trudging through Baghdad's main railway station, “The Arab people, history, the archaeology... have absolutely grabbed me with interest.”
Since 2009, Hinterland has been taking visitors on tours of Iraq lasting nine and 16 days, with prices starting at around $3,000 (2,265 Euros) for the shorter trip, plus flights and visas.
The group travels in an unmarked air-conditioned van with Geoff Hann, Hinterland's owner who has himself been making trips to Iraq since the 1970s, an Iraqi policeman for security, and a small team of drivers and guides. In most of the case, they remain unnoticed, outfitted with very low profile securities around them.
By contrast, officials, diplomats and foreign company staff typically travel in heavily armed convoys of vehicles with tinted windows that zoom through Baghdad's streets. They travel from Iraq's north, where they take in the ancient cities of Nimrud and Hatra, down through Baghdad to Babylon and on to the port city of Basra, before returning to the capital.
In Iraq, the customers of Hinterland stayed in hotels, though the quality of the establishments varies enormously. Interestingly, none of the tourists has shown his or her grievance over the accommodation and in fact they quite liked staying at those hotels. Hann's tour operator is one of the few that has approval from the government to organize trips. Individual tourists often struggle to obtain visas to the Arab-dominated parts of the country.
It has been not a secret that much of the places of Iraq are under prepared and not suitable for the Western tourist as the security condition is too bad in these sectors. While moving through Baghdad, for example, Hann's group was stopped at a checkpoint outside a cemetery, with federal policemen demanding authorization papers, typically only required of journalists, from the capital's security command centre for the tourists' cameras.
For "most of our tours under the Saddam Hussein dictatorship, we were restricted with minders", Hann said. More recently, "it's been difficult here because of the security situation. We've had to have a different sort of minder", he said, referring to the policeman escorting the group.
He further remarked, "That's still there, it hasn't gone away, because the security position for everybody here is difficult."
Officials admit that while they hope to promote tourism, they also lack the funds for advertising campaigns, since much is budgeted for physical reconstruction after decades of war, and resources are also lost to widespread corruption and incompetence. Visas, meanwhile, are the domain of security officials, who are loathe to reform a complex system that prioritizes entry permits for pilgrims over other tourists. But that is all almost academic when compared to Iraq's main problem -- its reputation for poor security.
Iraq, the country of strong heritage and culture, has seen a lot of disputes and war situations. In spite of its strong heritage, it could not been able to stand out for the back to back wars within the country.
Baha al-Mayahi, a senior adviser to the tourism ministry, stated "When Iraq is mentioned in Europe, the first things that people think of are terrorism and violence." He further added, "We need to put in place major efforts in order to change this, and to tell people that Iraq is not terrorism and killing, that Iraq is history and civilization."
Maya said Iraq averages around two million tourists annually, but that with some basic improvements that figure could increase to six million. By contrast, Hong Kong, with a population less than a quarter the size of Iraq's, brought in more than 48 million tourists last year, according to its official data.
A private house cleaning company worker in Iraq, Zain Ali remarked that the advent of foreign tourists in the country will surely rejuvenate country’s image for the world. He illustrated, "I think tourists should come more often. There is violence here of course, but you can be killed anywhere in the world," and added further, “Baghdad is not how we see it on TV. Tourists should come here, see this city, and I am sure they will come back again.”
For now, Hinterland is planning trips from September onwards after Iraq's boiling summer concludes, but Mayahi admitted that security problems could scupper plans to promote tourism. He told that it is quite natural if security level decreases in the country, tourism sector will experience steady decline.
"There was no possible way for me to go travelling (to Iraq) on my own. But then I found out about this, and I thought, maybe I have got a chance, and I took advantage of it,” he told
And, concluded, "If you're a real traveler, you have got to see some of these places."