UK tour operator promotes travel to Kurdistan

By  Karen Dabrowska:

Geoff Hann and his partner Tina Townsend

Geoff Hann and his partner Tina Townsend

Veteran overland tour operator Geoff Hann promoted travel to Kurdistan at this year’s Destinations travel show held in London.

When asked whether the development of Iraqi Kurdistan as a tourist destination was realistic, Hann replied: “If they supply what they say they will supply, if the hotels and services are reasonably priced.”

He believes the region has potential for the development of winter sports such as skiing. “That would be ideal – that is what they should be doing. But they have to have all the facilities for it, accommodation and skilled people to run the ski resorts.”

He pointed out that archaeological sites are sparse and there is a lack of skilled guides to assist visitors.

“The mountain scenery is very beautiful but they have to compete with the rest of the world so they have to work very hard to provide services for ordinary people. But despite the challenges Kurdistan is going ahead like a rocket. It is ten years ahead of the rest of Iraq but there is a big dissension between Kurdistan and the central government of Iraq. They have not come to terms properly.”

Hann’s Hinterland Travel company has been exploring the Kurdish world for eight years and its next 22 day tour of south eastern Turkey, Iraqi Kurdistan and north west Iran leaves on May 3rd this year. It begins in Diyabakir and visitors enter Iraqi Kurdistan on the third day and travel via Zakho to Dohuk. Visits are organised to the Yezidi village of Ain Sifni and the Assyrian Reliefs at the Bavian Gorge canal.

Enroute to Arbil there is a stop at the battlefield of Gaugmela where Alexander the Great finally broke the Persian king  and effectively destroyed his empire. In Arbil the focus is on the citadel, museum and markets.

The tour includes Suleiminiyah and a visit to Halabja and the notorious prison Amna Suraka. Travelling on to Lake Dokan there is a stop in Rawanduz and Hann is planning to extend the trip to in include a visit to Shanindar Cave and Amadiyah castle.

Iraqi Kurdistan is also included in Hinterland’s 16-day Iraq tour with an overnight stay in Erbil.

Turning to Iraq, Hann admitted that the  security situation is very tight. “But we work with the ministries of interior and tourism and culture.  We have to have guards with us and we are finding that if we travel carefully and omit any areas which are under stress we can get right round Iraq and see the wonderful, culture and history of the place. I can’t see any reason why we should not be able to continue visiting Iraq. I am taking a tour out on March 9th with the permission of the Ministry of Culture.

“We keep away from areas like Anbar  – Fallujah and Ramadi are not places where tourists go, particularly with the Syrian problem. The Iraqis have big plans for the marshes and they want more and more visitors there. They are repairing the sluice gates and they are trying to  preserve the area but it is an immense task. The marshes were devastated by Saddam for a long time and the youngsters are leaving because they need to make a living. I don’t think it will ever be what it was in the past – in the days of Thesiger.”

Hann praised the tourist business in Iraq for putting up fences around the ancient sites,  making paths through the ruins and providing guides and guards.  The biggest development is around the holy cities of Najaf and Kerbala  where the ministry of religious affairs is spending vast sums of money.

He is now working on the second edition of the Bradt Travel guide to Iraq with an extensive section about Iraqi Kurdistan.  It’s behind schedule because of the difficulty in  visiting the main historical sites but he is adamant that Iraqi bureaucracy will be overcome or circumvented and the guide will be the most up-to-date, well researched book for visitors, businessmen and ex pats.

 Karen Dabrowska is a journalist focusing on the Middle East and Islamic Affairs

2 Responses to UK tour operator promotes travel to Kurdistan
  1. Baqi
    February 11, 2014 | 22:37

    Promoting tourism and trade? Make Highways to connect adjoining countries to the heart of capital Hawler and even further extending it all the way to Mosul, Kirkuk and Kurdish areas. It could be a 3-5 year project. For that to transpire, all partisan institutions must merge. Allocate funds to empower institutions/departments to invest. Merely hinging on oil incomes is not the solution. There are numerous other ways to generate sources of income for South government (Municipality, Transportation, Agriculture, etc.). Connect south to the world (Residential phone services, fast internet, and post office). Charge citizens for services (Utilities, Highway tolls, education loans) like every other country.

  2. Dr sherzad
    February 12, 2014 | 10:40

    Having worked at Duhok university for two years after an absent of over 35 years abroad. I found the most essential services was totally missing for someone who wants to tour the area. There is no toilete of any decent standard in town centre or in Sirsang or Amedia or any modern cafés although the area is beautiful but without hygiene facilities it will be no go area for tourists who are accustomed to clean basic facilities. In fact the whole hygiene facilities where I worked the Dept. Of electrical and computer engineering was at the most dirty an disgusting despite the H.D. Was fully aware about this but can do nothing about it.

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