Sunshine Break In Iraq, Anyone?

12 Oct

Sunshine Vacation In Iraq, Anyone? Or Trekking the ‘Swiss’ Mountains of Pakistan?

In November, the global travel industry convenes at World Travel Market in London, the leading world powwow for the travel industry and a chance for Valencia Region to speed-network with Miami CVB; This Is New York City to suss out the competition from Roma and Regione Lazio; and several hundred black turtleneck-clad travel industry sophisticates to strut about smoking Gitanes on the featureless concrete forecourt of ExCel London.

With all eyes on burgeoning outbound markets – notably China and India – the past few years have seen an upsurge in economically pressed, hard-sell destinations joining the exhibitors’ roster at WTM and similar industry events.

The big surprise of WTM 2010 was the arrival of a delegation of senior officials from Iraq, the country’s first delegation in ten years, with the stated aim of “positioning Iraq on the world tourism map again”.

You’d imagine they’d have their work cut out. But by some measures the prognosis is good. A WTM report with Euromonitor International cited the fact that, by 2014, 700 hotels will be online in Iraq; that key International travel agencies including Sharaf Travel (UAE) and Terre Entière (France) having returned to the country in 2011 (after departing in 2003, the year of the United State Invasion); and that Middle Eastern luxury brand Safir Hotels and Resorts have opened a 340-room property in Karbala.

Amongst the more unusual tourist destinations hoping to make a splash at WTM 2011 are Sarhad Tourtism Corporation, a public sector tourism organisation in the North Western Frontier Province of Pakistan (the tribal belt suspected by Global Intelligence Agencies to be the hotbed of Al-Qaeda). Last year Pakistan International Airlines made its first appearance at the World Tourism Trade Fair in Madrid, with airline rep Saleem Ullah Shahani saying at the time: “Before 2009 we used to take many tourists to Pakistan to go to the mountains, which are more beautiful than in Switzerland. Now there are still tourists but very few…. We wanted to show that Pakistan still exists for tourism, even if the situation is complicated right now.”

Uzbekistan: The U’s for UNESCO

Another unlikely destination making a bid to become a tourist magnet is are Uzbekistan. The country of 28 million boldly sets its sights on a tourist footfall of 28 million per annum, with the lure of the ancient Silk Road and four UNESCO-accredited cities and extreme sport heli-skiing, whereby participants are dropped onto the virgin snow of the Uzb mountains (also, predictably, likened to Switzerland) before skiing their way down.

Taj Dalview Srinagar

Jammu and Kashmir State are another prominent exhibitor for 2011. After a long slumber, what to 19th century travellers was ‘heaven-on-earth’ – a state draped across the peaks of Himalayan ranges – is exhibiting the tender shoots of five-star development, notably in the Taj group’s new-build Dalview Vivanta hotel, 20k from the shining new airport in Srinagar city. Set on a hill overlooking the Srinagar, Vivanta offers amusements that would raise a smile from a Victorian Britain’s moustaches: restored Mughal tulip gardens scenic lake rides, mountain trekking and trout fishing. In yes, a setting ‘that owes much to the Swiss Alps’.

Not on the WTM roster, but another offbeat one-to-watch is Hainan. Dubbed the ‘Chinese Las Vegas’, Hainan has been attracting inward investment from major international tourism brands, including Caesar’s Entertainment, who this month announced the construction and 2014 launch of their first non-casino luxury resort on the sun and sand-blessed island (also notable for its tax-free status). They’ll be preceded by competitor MGM resorts, who unveil their Yalong Bay Hotel in the forth quarter of 2011.



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