Kurdish dance troupe performs at a Nawroz celebration
By Barzan Muhammad, Rudaw
Erbil, Kurdistan Region—Erbil has been appointed the 2014 tourism capital by the Arab Council of Tourism.
During the council’s conference in Cairo last month, four cities -- Beirut, Taif, Sharjah and Erbil -- competed to win the title of tourism capital for the year 2014.
“During the conference, we presented a 10-minute documentary about Erbil which is why we won the contest,” said Tahir Abdulla, Erbil deputy governor.
He added that they plan to play the documentary on Al Arabiya to advertise and attract tourists. The film was produced by Afshar Production Company and cost 600 million dinars.
According to Abdulla, the security situation in Erbil was another reason why it won the contest.
The Arab Council of Tourism has several conditions necessary to win the tourism capital title. For example, Erbil had to present 40 different activities that it will host throughout the year.
Abdulla said, “From the beginning of next year, we will start planning the activities according to the seasons. For example, we plan to have ice skating in the winter.”
Erbil already has several activities that take place annually, such as celebrating the Kurdish New Year (Newroz), the anniversary of Erbil’s liberation, an international marathon and a beauty queen contest. Abdulla said that we will plan more activities such as horse racing and sky diving.
Several days will also be designated to introduce Kurdish traditions and culture. “During those days, we will offer tourists traditional Kurdish food and present Kurdish traditions,” Abdulla said.
Additionally, 12 theaters are currently being built at the Family Mall for an international film festival Erbil will host in 2014.
Abdulla expects that the city will need at least $200 million in order to meet the demands of the Arab Council of Tourism. “We have a huge responsibility in order to maintain the title,” he said.
Erbil has several tourist resorts. Abdulla said that they will encourage the private sector to renovate these places and the government will provide water, electricity and quality roads for them.
He added that the private sector has applied to build $1 billion worth of hotels. “By the year 2014, Erbil will have seven world class hotels and several more hotels and motels will be built,” Abdulla said.
According to a statistic from the Erbil governorate, the city currently has around 150 hotels. But it needs more as a projected 3 million tourists will come to Erbil by 2014.
Abdulla also said that they will renovate the old neighborhoods and markets around Erbil’s citadel by 2014, and build a huge concert hall in the downtown.
Mawlawi Jabar, the director of the tourism department, told Rudaw, “The number of tourists coming to Erbil is increasing year by year. The number may reach 4 million by 2014 and this will help Kurdistan’s economy.”
Erbil is also preparing for a big dance contest and wants to record its name in the Guinness Book of World Records.
Hamza Hamid, the media director in the governor’s office, told Rudaw, “We are preparing for a dance contest where thousands of people from different nations will participate. The contest will be around the Erbil Citadel.”
Hamid said, “The goal of the contest is to introduce Erbil as the tourism capital. The contest will be held during Newroz 2013. The contest will be filmed live from a helicopter.”
While Erbil is the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan, the fact that it has been appointed as the tourism capital for Arab countries is an achievement officials are proud of.
However, Abubakr Ali, an author, said, “This has two sides. On the one hand, it means Erbil and the Kurdistan Region are still part of Iraq as it is Iraq that is a member of the Arab League. However, we have to take the positive side and use this opportunity to introduce Kurdish culture to the outside world.”