It’s a Tough Sell: Tourism in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Iraq and Afghanistan are countries rich in ancient history and the home to some amazing archaeological sites.

But for the past couple of decades, neither Iraq nor Afghanistan have been on most traveler’s list of places to visit. In fact, most countries warn their citizens against visiting either country. And travel guides do likewise…

“Large areas of Afghanistan remain extremely dangerous, particularly during fighting season.” (Lonely Planet)

“Iraq isn’t the world’s most popular holiday destination at the moment. It’s turbulent and extreme domestic situation makes Iraq one of the least desirable places in the world to be.” (Lonely Planet)

Iraq and Afghanistan are making moves to change this.

The Iraq Tourism Ministry recently held a Tourism Fair to promote Iraq. But it was held in the heavily guarded Mansour Melia Hotel, the same hotel, where, just last year, a suicide bomber blew up himself and a dozen other people. Not exactly the best image for a country looking to entice visitors.

And then there’s the Baghdad Museum, which remains closed because of fears that a suicide bomber might pay a visit, something guaranteed to not only destroy the museum’s collections of historic relics, but also kill and maim tourists, the very people the Iraq Tourism Ministry is trying to attract.

Add in the fact that many of Iraq’s ancient sites – such as Babylon, the Arabian city of Hatra, and the Great Mosque of Samarra – have been looted and damaged in the years of fighting, and it’s clear that the Iraq Tourism Ministry has a lot of work to do before a flourishing Iraq tourism industry becomes a reality.

Still, there are some that see Iraq’s tourism potential. Take, for example, American businessman Robert Kelly who is planning to build a luxury $100 million hotel at the edge of Baghdad’s Green Zone.

Meanwhile, in Afghanistan, the Aga Khan Foundation, a non-governmental organization, is working on establishing the Bamiyan Valley in central Afghanistan as a tourist mecca. Bamiyan is the the place, where, in 2001, the Taliban destroyed two sixth century Buddha statues that had been carved into the side of the cliff.

The Aga Khan Foundation has created the Bamiyan Ecotourism Project to re-develop the areas tourist infrastructure, with the hope of raising awareness of Bamiyan Valley’s cultural, historical, and natural resources. There’s even talk that one of the Buddha statues will be rebuilt.

But simply building hotels and re-opening museums and archaeological sites is no guarantee that tourists will be willing to travel to Iraq or Afghanistan.

Some day maybe, but prehaps, not yet.

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