Shafaq News/ It is not too late to save the tourism sector in Kurdistan, and in Iraq as well. According to what experts and businessmen confirm to Shafaq News, and they present a realistic, and most importantly, indispensable "action plan" in order to revive the economy through tourism and prevent the disappearance of a treasure that could generate billions of dollars to government coffers in Erbil and thousands of families –especially in this hard time imposed by the COVİD-19 pandemic.
According to experts and specialists interviewed by Shafaq News agency, Kurdistan does not need a miracle to revive the tourism sector; but rather a "decision" from the authorities accompanied by a practical rescue plan to help tourism –after the COVİD-19 pandemic- and prevent the bankruptcy of tourism entrepreneurs.
It is no secret that Kurdistan enjoys many unexploited –or improperly managed, tourist attractions.. The tourism sector can pull the economy out of its deep depression -after it was brought down by the decline in oil revenues as well as the faltering financial relations with Baghdad during the last phase.
While official estimates indicate that the tourism sector has generated more than one and a half billion dollars during the past year, the activation of this sector -and taking into account the advice of experts, can double these financial revenues.. especially with the presence of many tourist sites and attractions in Kurdistan, including Erbil, the resort of Hallgord Mountain, Sinjar Mountains, the Duhok Dam, the popular Qaisary Bazaar, Sami Abdul Rahman Park, the Sulaymaniyah Bazaar, the Kurdish Textile Museum, Erbil Civilization Museum, Chavi Land Amusement Park, Sulaymaniyah Museum, Akre city, and many more.
Tourism and hotel businessman, Deler Kaifi Ismail, has a logical vision of how to approach and save the tourism file, "Frankly, my goal is to develop the tourism sector and direct the vision of officials to pay attention to it as an alternative -or similar- to the oil sector", Deler said to Shafaq News agency, when asked about the Kurdistan's Regional Government’s (KRG) announcement of trying to take care of the tourism sector and diversify its financial imports, “Among the reasons for the suffering of the tourism sector in Kurdistan is the existence of old laws and instructions, and the failure to select professional persons in this sector. In my opinion, the service departments should be managed by professionals away from partisan or sectarian quotas or any other considerations. Tourism is no longer a secondary sector in the economies of countries; in recent times it has seen a growing global interest as a resource for comprehensive and reliable development to contribute to economic growth. If tourism is a country, it would become the second richest country in the world after the United States".
"We have two problems that are linked to each other and we can solve both.. The first is to address the problem of unemployed youth, and the second is the closure of tourist facilities (hotels, restaurants, cafes,…etc), as well as quick treatment of tourism facilities of all kinds and preventing the bankruptcy of its owners”, said Deler.
"If the government asks all tourism facilities to employ 5, 10, or 20 young workers in exchange for some exemptions from taxes, employers will certainly agree -as taxes are a huge financial burden on the owner of the facility..Exemptions will be for a certain time until the end of the COVİD-19 pandemic", Deler Ismail gave an example referring to the tax burden; he said that the owner of the facility pays 11 types of fees and taxes to the state. Moreover, electricity, water, and fuel costs are very expensive and can be reduced.
"If we want to save this sector, we can start with the development of domestic tourism and taking care of it, and then develop it again to start the foreign tourism”, Deler added.
The importance of this mechanism, according to Deler Ismail, is that it contributes to addressing the tourism crisis in the time of the pandemic; as international tourism is almost disrupted and domestic tourism can be a haven -especially since Iraq and Kurdistan enjoy a rich tourism environment.
Deler Ismail noted that tourism in all countries of the world is focused on three pillars: cultural tourism, religious tourism, and leisure tourism, "But we have a problem with the infrastructure of the roads”.
In light of the volatility in oil prices and the damage done to the resources of Kurdistan and Iraq, Ismail continued to explain his vision of the urgent rescue plan, saying, “A proper practical and professional gesture should be made for tourism, the creation of a specialized Ministry of Tourism -or the establishment of an independent committee, of experienced figures in several areas, whose sole task is to conduct studies to develop tourism and carry out surveys and marketing; directly linked to the Council of Ministers or the presidency of Kurdistan”.
Deler called for action for two reasons, the first of which is the creation of jobs for young people, and the second is the prevention of hotel bankruptcy.. Reminding that tourism is one of the most important sources of national income for many countries of the world, as it is the fastest trade that comes with financial resources quickly and immediately and at a low cost compared to industry and trade in other fields -provided proper arrangement.
Deler Ismail also suggested addressing the phenomenon of the majority of hotels being concentrated in major civic centers, saying it was a "big mistake." Besides, 90% of hotels in Kurdistan -and Iraq in general, are not designed as hotel buildings, "and that's why we notice disasters that happen in these buildings because they do not have the simplest safety conditions -such as the emergency ladder”.
The vice president of the Kurdistan Restaurant and Hotel Association, Shukur Aziz, said that due to the COVİD-19 pandemic, 868 tourist facilities -which employed more than 8,500 people, had been shut down.. But most of them had now been reopened with the lifting of preventive measures and travel bans and access to tourist areas, and traffic became good with thousands of tourists flocking to various tourist facilities.
"After imposing other conditions during the recent period, including canceling gatherings and concerts, we have a fear that tourist traffic will decline again", Shukur Aziz told Shafaq News agency.
"There is no doubt the tourism sector was recently saved from death after the decision to lift the ban and open tourist facilities, and we can say half of the tourist facilities have re-entered service. So far, we don't have any statistics, but overall it has been a good season compared to the crisis the country went through with the COVİD-19 pandemic", Nadir Rusti, spokesman for the Kurdistan Regional Tourism Authority, told Shafaq News agency.
Rusti said that last year, the tourism sector pumped nearly 1.5 billion dollars into Kurdistan’s Economy, but this year, the figures will not be known until the end of this year.
So, there are possible survival indicators for the tourism sector in Kurdistan, it needs a lifeline -perhaps the proposed action plan; an immediate way to achieve this, and as an urgent step that does not wait for the recovery of oil, and does not dissipate the coronavirus (COVİD-19) completely.