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Last Updated: Monday, 9 August, 2004, 12:08 GMT 13:08 UK
UK cash helps boost Iraq tourism
The site of the ancient city of Babylon
Babylon was home to one of the ancient world's Seven Wonders
Pack your sunglasses, swimsuit and don't forget your flak jacket - the new holiday hotspot could be Iraq if the British government has its way.

The Department for International Development has pledged 25,000 to help promote tourism to the ravaged country.

Sightseeing tours would include the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, dating back to 3,000BC, and marshlands thought to be the location of the Garden of Eden.

But the Foreign Office warns against "all but essential" travel to Iraq.

Iraq was never a popular holiday destination under Saddam Hussein, but it did draw people to sites of ancient civilisations such as Babylon and Ur, the Shia Muslim holy cities of Najaf and Kerbala, and even Basra - regarded by some as the Venice of the East with its lush gardens and lagoons.

Iraq is a nice place with nice people, despite all the terrorist activities
Don Lucey, travel agent

The capital, Baghdad, is packed with ancient bazaars, restaurants, museums, palaces, mosques and shrines.

International Development Secretary Hilary Benn, who gave details of the aid in a Commons answer, said it was part of a "wider plan of development assistance".

But since US-led forces ousted Saddam in April 2003, most tourists have been pilgrims from neighbouring Iran.

A UK tourist company, Hinterland Travel, embarked on the first post-war tour of Iraq last September.

But most people have been deterred by television pictures of foreigners held hostage and the carnage caused by suicide bombings.

Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden
The Garden of Eden is believed to be located in marshlands in Uruk

However, these images have not deterred British travel operator Don Lucey, who is planning a tour of Iraq in October.

Mr Lucey, a former soldier and policeman who worked for the Ministry of Defence in Iraq as a civilian in 2003, is even taking his 16-year-old daughter along on the trip.

He told BBC News Online: "Iraq is a nice place with nice people, despite all the terrorist activities."

He said his group would be staying in a four-star hotel and would visit some of the historical sites, "but not Basra, it's the pits. I don't know why the government is advocating Basra as a tourist spot."

He added: "Iraq has a lot to offer, a lot of history. It's not all war and people killing each other. Obviously terrorists scare a lot of people, but people like myself want to prove that they are not in control."

Insurance

Mr Lucey, whose company Bann Tours is based in Swindon, Wiltshire, said tourism in Iraq had to start somewhere and he is determined to be a catalyst.

The 10-day trip costs 1,200 per person. Insurance increases the price by another 500.

But Mr Lucey does not think the 25,000 in government aid is a good idea.

"They would be better spending money on the war zones we already have in the UK, rather than Iraq," he said.

A Foreign Office spokeswoman said the department discouraged "all but essential travel" to Iraq.

She added: "I personally would not consider going to Iraq on holiday as essential, but other people might. I imagine only the most hardy traveller would want to go there."


Your comments

Iraq has good potential
Ban Jamil, Baghdad, Iraq
I lived in Iraq all my life and am still living here. I would like to mention that although for many years Iraq was not a point of tourist attraction, because of the continuous corrupted government that took over the power, but Iraq has good potential from all aspects if it can be invested well. We all thought that after the fall of the ex- regime , within the one year we will be like Dubai, or Hong Kong but we were very disappointed because of the negative turn over of the events. I feel that Iraqi people has the right to have a decent life like everyone in the world.
Ban Jamil, Baghdad, Iraq

Are you all mad? Even if The Department for International Development pledged 25,000 to me personally I still wouldn't go! I have become accustomed to my head fitting snugly on the top of my shoulders.
Dan, Witham, Essex

Hi, I went to Iraq at Easter with my 2 children. It was beautiful and it took my breath away. I went to holy cities of Najaf and Kerbala, which had beautiful shrines and where the garden of Eden is located. It is just magical. I recommend everyone to go but just stay out of the capital because of the bombs, etc. My kids, who where brought up playing ps2 and wearing designer clothes, are insisting to go again in this summer and if anyone is interested I will be happy enough to take anyone round this magical country
Jerome Terss, London

I do believe Iraq is a good country with good people despite the reports of violence. I served there in 2003 in the area of An Nasiriyah and never had any real trouble with the people. We even told them we were Jewish or from Israel. It didn't phase them. Most of it I'm sure was the novelty of foreign troops in their midst that drew a lot of attention. The people though were just trying to make a living.
Gary Welch, Lafayette, Colorado, USA

A tourist company trying to promote Iraq for their own personal financial gain is thoroughly irresponsible
Charles, Sydney, Australia
I think a tourist company trying to promote people going to Iraq for their own personal financial gain is thoroughly irresponsible. The country unfortunately is still in a desperate position, one that will take many years to cure.
Charles, Sydney, Australia

Though I enjoyed the people and the city 20 years ago I think I might wait a bit before returning for pleasure these days. I do support early cultural exchange. How else will we bridge the divide that exists today? Possibly a tour of the secure 'touristic' sites mixed with business facilitation might bring more people sooner.
Carl de Moll, Bangkok, Thailand

I am in the process of finishing off a City Guide to Baghdad, for Bradt Travel Guides. While the main purpose of the guide is to be a handbook packed with essential information for those working in the city (from doctors and pharmacies to how to register for press conferences, where to stay, where to eat and where to best supermarkets are located) and is not intended to promote tourism while the risk to personal safety is high, it does contain a 50 page history section and a comprehensive list of sites to visit within the city. These span nearly four millennia and include the remains of a ziggurat and one of the largest free-standing brick arches in the world at Ctesiphon an ancient city founded by King Mithradate (on the outskirts of modern Baghdad), as well as exquisite Mosques, shrines and tombs many dating from the 13th century and all in exquisite condition. A day trip out of Baghdad are Babylon and Samarra. The latter boasts one of the most extraordinary and memorable structures I have seen in years of travel: a 52m high 'minaret' shaped like a vast, old fashioned helter-skelter. If you make it to the top without the onset of vertigo the view is breathtaking.

While I'd personally stick to the FCO travel advice and leave backpacking to Baghdad until the situation improves, there is much still left to see and having rooted round the back-streets and alleys of the city and seen these gems I find it heartbreaking that so few of these images ever make it onto our war ravaged TV screens. Baghdad may not yet be safe enough to become a tourist hotspot, but once it is, they will come in their thousands. (My guide is due out in early October).
Catherine Arnold, Isle of Wight

I was in Iraq three weeks ago, and if it wasn't for the war and the other danger in the country, it is a beautiful country. It has deserts, marsh lands, palm tree jungles, and two beautiful rivers, not to mention a whole world of ancient history and culture to be seen. Do not lose hope yet!
Reza, Tehran, Iran

There is a great deal of demand, particularly from more adventurous travellers
Brian Eggleston, The Silk Road Expeditions, London
Don Lucey is not alone in his quest to open Iraq up to foreign visitors - there is a great deal of demand, particularly from those more adventurous travellers who have an interest in history or culture. As well as Iraq's fascinating Babylonian and Mesopotamian past, the country also played a significant role in developing trade routes between the ancient civilisations of Europe and Asia and Baghdad was one of the most important cities on the Silk Road.

The Silk Road Expeditions, due to be launched this year, which will be led by experts, but open to public participation, will trace the route of the Silk Road through Iraq and will also include side trips to visit the remains of ancient cities such as Babylon, Nineveh and Ur. The full route of these series of expeditions will take the participants from Xi'an, past the Jade Gate and across the deserts of Western China, over the Karakoram Himalayas, along the Khyber Pass to Kabul and on through Bukhara, Samarqand, Tehran and Baghdad to Istanbul.

However, until the security situation stabilises in Iraq, it may be necessary to divert some of the expeditions through eastern Turkey and northern Iran. Although this alternative route is very interesting and fully in keeping with the history of the Silk Road, Iraq glorious sights, culture and history means that, if at all possible, it will be included in The Silk Road Expeditions' itineraries.
Brian Eggleston, The Silk Road Expeditions, London

Iraq's Kurdistan area is spectacularly beautiful and safe and secure enough to bring the family. Access is the only problem and it is difficult to travel overland through any neighbouring country. The people are incredibly friendly and tourism is relatively underdeveloped, though one can see enormous potential given the natural surroundings. Guided tours by landcruiser can be easily arranged, and if one is willing to "rough it" outside the main cities (that is to overnight in dwellings without electricity and/or running water, but otherwise comfortable), awesome travels await.
Mike Amitay, Washington, D.C.

If it was a good organised tour I would go to Iraq no problem, I wouldn't hesitate it spending 1700 on it either. There are worse places to go on holiday... aren't there?
Yvonne, Scotland, UK

I spent 3 months in Iraq last year, including the war. I cannot see why anyone would want to go to Iraq at all, regardless of the danger. It really is an unpleasant place to be.
Jerome, Toronto

I'm sure it's beautiful and full of history and culture
Reuven, Toronto, Canada
I would have no problem going to Iraq to see what the country has to offer. I'm sure it's beautiful and full of history and culture. Although, being a Jew, this may cause a few problems but no more than travelling to any other country. I have been to Israel and missed 2 bus bombings by minutes, was almost attacked by Arabs in Jerusalem, so I'm ok with going to these "interesting" places. Plus, how many people other than military can say they've been to Iraq? I would also LOVE to go to Iran.
Reuven, Toronto, Canada

I would love to go when I was sure it was safe - so not yet. The only problem is that priceless antiquities have been bombed and important pieces have been looted from the museums. I firmly believe that the history of Iraq is its greatest asset and can see it becoming another Egypt. It's far more important for the world than the oil, which is only a minor export based upon current levels of technology.
Paolo, St Albans

I'd love to go to Iraq - but not just now thanks. 25k is quite a contrast to the 10 Billion the government spent blowing it to bits...
Andrew, Leighton Buzzard, UK




SEE ALSO:
Why tourists are going back to Iraq
04 Sep 03  |  Magazine
US fears over Iraqi heritage site
11 Jun 04  |  Middle East
Destination: Iraq
26 Jun 04  |  From Our Own Correspondent
Baghdad treasures 'mostly intact'
07 Jun 03  |  Middle East
Country profile: Iraq
28 Jun 04  |  Country profiles



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