Number of Iraqi tourists visiting Kurdistan for New Year holiday decreased

The Kurdistan Region’s tourism sector will continue to suffer should Kurdistan remain a part of Iraq.

ERBIL, Kurdistan Region (Kurdistan 24) – The number of Iraqis visiting the Kurdistan Region to celebrate the New Year has decreased due to the tensions between Erbil and Baghdad, a Kurdistan tourism official said on Sunday.

Nariman Fafhil, a spokesperson for Erbil’s Department of Tourism, told Kurdistan 24 that in the past few days only 24,000 people had arrived in Erbil Province for the holidays, a relatively low number compared to previous years.

He added that due to the ongoing dispute between the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) and the Iraqi government, as well as the closure of border crossings with Iran, the number of tourists has decreased.

Nadir Rosti, the spokesperson for the Kurdistan Region’s Board of Tourism, told Kurdistan 24 they continue to look for new ways to attract tourists to Kurdistan so the people, private sectors, and government can benefit from revenues.

“We have had meetings with tourist companies from southern and central Iraqi areas to assure them that the tensions should not affect people seeking to visit during holidays,” he stated.

Until September 2017, over two million tourists visited the Kurdistan Region regularly with 75 percent of them coming from other parts of Iraq.

Ongoing tensions between Erbil and Baghdad following the Oct. 16, 2017, attack and takeover of disputed areas by Iraqi forces and Iranian-backed Shia Hashd al-Shaabi militias has made it difficult for tourists to visit Kurdistan, according to Rosti.

“The blocking of the roads has made it impossible for tourists to travel to the Kurdistan Region,” he stated. “As a result, the number of tourists has dramatically decreased compared to this time last year.”

In the past two days, over 150 buses have brought tourists to the Region to spend the New Year holiday, the Board of Tourism official said, adding many visitors had also traveled via the Erbil and Sulaimani airports.

Rosti previously told Kurdistan 24 that Kurdistan’s tourism sector would continue to suffer should the Region remain a part of Iraq.

Meanwhile, a Kurdistan 24 correspondent in Sulaimani said several tourists from other parts of Iraq, as well as Kurds from Iranian Kurdistan (Rojhelat), visited the city to spend the New Year holiday in Kurdistan.

He added that no official figures for the number of tourists who visited Sulaimani had been released yet.

Editing by Karzan Sulaivany