Kurdish Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani kicked off a tourism conference in Erbil, saying that participation by hundreds of foreign companies from more than two dozen countries amid an economic crisis in Kurdistan “is a great support” to both Kurdish tourism and people. “The participation of these foreign companies will become a bridge between the Kurdistan Region and the world,” Barzani said at the opening ceremony of the two-day meeting, where some 500 local and international tourism companies are taking part.
“The participation of hundreds of tourism companies from 27 different countries at this conference in Erbil amid an economic crisis and the ongoing fight against ISIS is a great support for the people of Kurdistan and to Kurdistan’s tourism sector,” the prime minister said.
He called on investors to increase the level of investment in the region, explaining that “the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) is doing its best to provide security measures to investors.”
Barzani also explained that “$6 billion have been invested in the tourism sector in Kurdistan, and if there had been no budget cut by Baghdad that brought about the economic crisis, we would further increase the volume of financial investment.”
He estimated that “some 337,000 tourists came to Kurdistan in 2007, but in 2014 the number climbed to 3 million tourists, the vast majority from central and southern Iraq as well as Iran.” The increase, he noted, had been “huge,” as had been the number of new hotels – from 107 to 704.
Barzani stressed that the KRG would continue to develop the tourism sector to stop over reliance on oil and gas.
“We have long-term plans to rely on the tourism sector together with the industrial and agricultural sectors,” he said, urging investors “to seize the opportunity of investing in the Kurdistan Region.”
He asked the local and foreign investors to take advantage of the natural and historical attractions of the Kurdistan Region and create a suitable ground for tourism.
Barzani urged the Ministry of Municipality, General Board of Tourism and other related sectors to provide all necessary facilitations, such as decreasing routines and bureaucracy, to help tourism flourish. He also asked that they contribute effectively to the KRG economic plans in developing welfare and tourism services.
Barzani wished the Kurdish people a joyous Newroz, also recognizing that Peshmerga heroism and self-sacrifice allows the Kurdistan Region to enjoy security and stability.
Erbil was named the Arab Tourism Capital for 2014, riding on a boom that busted when the Islamic State group (ISIS) began its war against Kurdistan in August of that year.