Could Iraq reinvent itself as a tourist haven?

Everyone loves to escape the crowds and find their own little slice of paradise, but how many are willing to head to war zone destinations like Iraq? The answer is of course, not many. But, as Marcus pointed out last week, there are some tourists already marking Iraq as a destination.

It’s easy to dismiss such folks as either willfully naive like the Italian tourist who showed up in Falluja earlier this year; and others fall into the “anti-tourists” category, folks who love to chase down the obscure destination (often so they can brag about their own travel superiority).

However, while only the slightly off balance may be booking flights to Iraq at the moment, there is little doubt that, could Iraq improve its security situation, there are hordes of backpackers and other tourists that would love to see the ancient cities (present day Iraq, encompasses most of what was once Mesopotamia, the so-called “cradle of civilization”) and other treasures the country has to offer.

Sounds far-fetched to think tourism will return to a war zone, but foreign investors also seem to believe that Iraq will be a tourist haven once the country settles down — so far those investors have dropped a cool $600 million on the tourism industry.

It might sound a little crazy, but as Elizabeth Dickinson points out over at Foreign, the situation in Iraq isn’t all that different from Colombia. “Just a few years ago,” writes Dickinson, “promoting tourism in turbulent Colombia looked like a lost cause.”

Indeed, say “I’m going to Colombia” to most Americans and they’ll look at you like you’re crazy. Colombia in the American mind is still a land of fierce guerrilla wars, drug cartels, kidnappings and random violence. While that image was largely accurate during the 1990s when some 3 million people in Colombia fled their homes, today the situation is much different.

Thanks to improved security and stability in Colombia the tourism industry is thriving. According to Dickinson the Colombian Ministry of Commerce, Tourism and Industry says it hopes to welcome 4 million annual visitors by 2010.

Dickinson believes the same sort of turnaround could happen in Iraq, and in fact she seems to think that tourism might be a potential savior for Iraq. “For weak and vulnerable economies, tourism is one of the quickest ways to bring in hard foreign currency,” Dickinson argues.

There is of course the counterargument that tourism also puts undue strain on a country as well, but in the case of Iraq it seems unlikely that even the thickest of tourist hordes could possible put any more strain than the war that has raged there for the last six years.

Clearly Iraq has a long road ahead of it before it turns into even a vagabond hotspot, let alone the resort haven that pulls in massive western capital. Still, as countries like Colombia, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Vietnam, and others know, it is possible to transform from the ruins of war to the hot new destination for intrepid travelers, it just takes time and stability.

[photo by ob1left, Flickr

Posted by | Comments (2)  | March 31, 2009
Category: General

2 Responses to “Could Iraq reinvent itself as a tourist haven?”

  1. Eddie Says:

    When I was growing up, Vietnam was just about the scariest place in the world, a landmine-riddled hellhole ruled by murderous fanatics, its napalm-singed jungles picked over by starving peasants. I visited three years ago to find it full of industrious people who were eager to share their country’s many offerings with foreign visitors. I felt a very real optimism: If Vietnam could turn itself around, surely someday my nephews and niece might be able to enjoy visiting Iraq and Afghanistan.