Iraqi Kurdistan: Open for Travelers

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Michael Luongo

Iraq’s booming Kurdish region offers historic sites, a temperate climate, and new luxury hotels. But will Western travelers come?

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Those visitors have generally received a warm welcome. According to Harry Schute, a retired U.S. Army colonel who runs the tour company The Other Iraq, “Travelers are pleasantly surprised when they meet and interact with the local people, who are especially friendly to Americans.” He explains that, in contrast to the south, “folks here consider the war a liberation, not an occupation,” because it eliminated Saddam Hussein, who had slaughtered 180,000 Kurds. Schute’s company runs about 8 to 10 group tours a year and arranges day tours for people who contact him once in Erbil.

The verdict is still out on whether U.S.-based tour operators will follow suit. Dan Austin of Austin-Lehman Adventures has looked into Kurdistan and decided to hold off, given the state of much of the region. He said he has also been disappointed by some countries, like Colombia, that have recovered from dangerous reputations yet haven’t become as popular as expected, given the buzz. He added, however, that Kurdistan could follow Croatia—“an unknown, which was near a lot of civil unrest, and now is an extremely popular destination.”

Iraqi Kurdistan: Open for Travelers

Those visitors have generally received a warm welcome. According to Harry Schute, a retired U.S. Army colonel who runs the tour company The Other Iraq, “Travelers are pleasantly surprised when they meet and interact with the local people, who are especially friendly to Americans.” He explains that, in contrast to the south, “folks here consider the war a liberation, not an occupation,” because it eliminated Saddam Hussein, who had slaughtered 180,000 Kurds. Schute’s company runs about 8 to 10 group tours a year and arranges day tours for people who contact him once in Erbil.

The verdict is still out on whether U.S.-based tour operators will follow suit. Dan Austin of Austin-Lehman Adventures has looked into Kurdistan and decided to hold off, given the state of much of the region. He said he has also been disappointed by some countries, like Colombia, that have recovered from dangerous reputations yet haven’t become as popular as expected, given the buzz. He added, however, that Kurdistan could follow Croatia—“an unknown, which was near a lot of civil unrest, and now is an extremely popular destination.”

Michael Luongo
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