It was announced today, finally, that all U.S. troops currently serving in Iraq will be heading home by the end of this year. That country must now look to the future to determine what sort of nation it will become. It has suffered 7 years of warfare, and, while it certainly isn’t in as bad of shape as Afghanistan (where 100,000+ U.S. and NATO forces continue to fight), it needs rebuilding and foreign capital – and incoming travelers have plenty of the latter.
But is there a viable tourism sector in Iraq’s future?
A quick glance at history reveals that Americans have often begun traveling to conflict zones not long after the end of hostilities. In 2009, Italy, Germany and Japan took the 5th, 6th and 7th spot for most popular destinations among American travelers. Of course, WWII was some seventy years ago, and those three nations have developed well beyond their post-war conditions. Most importantly, they offer easy access for all types of travelers from your gap-year backpacker to your retirement-age fannypacker.
Southeast Asia offers a more relevant example. When I told my 73-year old grandfather that I would like to visit Vietnam, he looked at me like I had six heads and four of them were on fire. However, Vietnam ranks 37th on that same list. The tiny Asian nation has been gaining a reputation as a hospitable and unique destination for American travelers looking for something a little more exotic than, say, Western Europe. I somehow doubt the passengers on the Last Flight From Da Nang would’ve ever thought Vietnam to be a chic, hip travel hotspot for young Americans in only a generation’s time.
A few travel companies, such as Hinterland Travel, do offer packages in Iraq for the adventurous explorer. No U.S.-based airlines currently fly direct to Iraq, but connections are available on Lufthansa, Emirates, Air Berlin and a host of others. And, let’s face it, there’s not many people foaming at the mouth, anxiously awaiting the day Delta begins a JFK – Baghdad route just yet. Iraq will obviously need to establish a sense of security and normalcy without an American troop presence before we can expect to see a thriving tourism sector develop in the country.
If and when that happens, it could be the next generation’s hotspot. Modern-day Iraq was home to the Babylonian, Sumerian and Parthian civilizations. It’s the Mesopotamia with which all your grade-school Social Studies textbooks seemed to be so obsessed. UNESCO’s got three World Heritage Sites listed there (Hatra, Ashur and Samarra). Iraq is home to some of the most beautiful mosques in the world, which is saying a lot because mosques are really pretty. Easy access to all of these has been, sadly, blocked by the political reality of the country.
Should you book a trip to Iraq this winter? Maybe not. In 20 winters? Absolutely. I’d set up that Kayak Price Alert now if I were you.
Written while listening to: Echo (Orange) – The Dear Hunter (The Color Spectrum)