Improved security brings more int'l tourists to Kurdistan Region
Tour agencies and shop owners in Iraq's semi-autonomous Kurdish region see a silver lining in attracting more international travelers to the off-the-beaten-track destination, as the security situation here improved gradually in recent years.

The Kurdistan region, with its diversity of landscapes, culture and heritage, has been looking forward to raising its profile as an adventurous and archaeological tourism destination, but the industry was hit hard by the pandemic like elsewhere in the world.

In 2020, the region's tourism revenue dropped by 75 percent due to the Covid-19 prevention measures, the General Board of Tourism in the Kurdistan Region said.

The sector started to recover last year, when the number of tourists visiting the Kurdistan region reached over four million, with the capital city of Erbil receiving the lion's share, according to the official data.

"The tourism is almost back to normal as the COVID-19 pandemic eased," said Karwan Wahed, owner of Iraqi Kurdistan Tours.

"It's a safe and reliable place for travelers," he told Xinhua in front of the Rabban Hormizd Monastery, an important monastery of the Chaldean Catholic Church, founded about 640 AD and carved out in the mountains about 2 miles from Alqosh, Iraq, 28 miles north of Mosul.

However, a recent ballistic missile attack launched by Iran, which struck the new U.S. consulate building in the Kurdish region's capital Erbil, has dampened hopes and raised fresh security concerns.

Rame Alrawi, a shop owner selling dried fruits, honey and traditional sweets in Erbil's Qaysari Bazaar, said he already witnessed a pick-up in Arab tourists and was now waiting for more international travelers to return.

The owner of the famous Mam Khalil tea house in the Bazaar also agreed that the situation was slowly improving.

"Now it's much better than before," Mohammed Khalil said while sipping a cup of sweetened black tea. The wall behind him is decorated with archive pictures from past visitors and celebrities.

"There are many tourists now from Russia, America and Europe. Every day, I have a lot of visitors who come to drink tea and coffee," he said.

Located atop Mount Alfaf, 20 km from Mosul, the Mar Mattai monastery is recognized as one of the oldest Christian monasteries and is famous for its magnificent library and collection of Syriac Christian manuscripts.

"We now have foreign and Arab tourists again and the situation is very good," Father Joseph Ibrahim told Xinhua.

Reporter's code: 50101