Iraqi travel sector set for major growth as business and religious tourism increases amid renewed billion dollar infrastructure investment and expanding air links
Arabian Travel Market, the leading travel exhibition in the Middle East, welcomes representatives from the Iraqi travel sector to the show in Dubai for the first time this May.
The Iraq tourism board/ Al Rafidain Company for travel and tourism, has confirmed 100 square metres of exhibition space and is poised to revive its travel and tourism sector. This development is bolstered by its recent nomination as a tourism hotspot of the future in the recent WTM Global Trends Report, compiled in association with Euromonitor.
The country is seeing significant renewed investment worth billions of dollars in tourism infrastructure, while increasing air links have helped fuel business travel to the country. According to Euromonitor, business tourism to Iraq rose by 58% in 2009, and both regional and European airlines have begun new services to airports throughout Iraq to capitalise on this demand.
According to Mark Walsh, Group Exhibition Director, Reed Travel Exhibitions, the opportunity for involvement in the country’s economic revival has excited investors. Combined with strong demand from the religious tourism sector, this has prompted hotel developers to move into Iraq.
“There were more than 1.3 million visitor arrivals during 2009, and while religious tourists from Iran accounted for 75% of these, the potential to increase these figures is vast given a projected GDP growth of 7% annually along with projects such as a new oil export terminal in Basra and a new port facility at Umm Qasr,” he said.
“With a projected investment in the hospitality sector in Iraq expected to amount to billions of dollars, Iraq travel representatives have an opportunity to inform the international and regional travel trade about opportunities for inbound and even outbound travel, looking ahead.”
Airline activity has also been boosted significantly in recent times. Emirates has added Basra to its destinations, as have Etihad and Qatar Airways. Flydubai now travels to Gassim and Erbil, while Air Arabia has added Najaf. Gulf Air has also added Basra to its flight schedule, making four flights per week from Manama to Basra, its fourth Iraqi city.
Internationally there is also growth from carriers, including Austrian Airlines, Lufthansa and other European airlines, while a number of carriers in the Middle East and North Africa are also adding Iraq destinations or increasing frequency of existing routes, including Nile Air, Turkish airlines and Iraqi Airlines.
On the hotel front, Rotana has led the way, opening the first international five-star property in Erbil, Iraq in December last year, with Rotana Baghdad opening in early 2012.
In addition, Range Hospitality has announced the 624-suite Al Rawdatain Gardens development at Karbala catering for religious tourists, but most international focus has been on Kurdistan where leisure tourism is already taking off.
Around 20 four- and five-star hotels are under construction in Erbil, with the Divan Erbil Park and Le Royal Erbil Park among those expected to open this year, while Millennium & Copthorne is already recruiting for its Millennium Erbil property and has announced plans for up to five hotels in Iraq.
More immediately, the Iraq government has announced a US$300 million budget to renovate six major Baghdad hotels prior to the postponed 2011 Arab Summit, which is now scheduled to take place in the Iraqi capital in May.
In addition IFC, a member of the World Bank Group, announced recently a landmark $400 million, seven-year debt facility for Zain Iraq, the country’s largest mobile phone operator.
Held under the patronage of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE, Ruler of Dubai and approaching its eighteenth year, Arabian Travel Market has grown to become the largest showcase of its kind in the region and one of the biggest in the world. Last year 2,236 exhibitors covering over 20,000 square metres, attracted more than 22,000 attendees.