for National Geographic Traveler
Intrepid travelers are one step closer to Iraq. While the United States government is still urging people to avoid the politically unstable, war-torn country, it recently lifted a travel ban imposed 12 years ago. Some tour operators are already planning trips to Iraq, betting the country will be the place to go once it stabilizes. What will post-war Iraq be like? Find out here from Norie Quintos, a Traveler senior editor and former U.S. News & World Report correspondent.
What is the U.S. State Department saying by lifting this travel ban?
That it's no longer illegal for private citizens to visit Iraq like it is to visit such "rogue" nations as Libya. Meaning that once the country is stabilized, and deemed safe for visitors, Americans will be able to go. But the government is certainly not encouraging people to go there right now. In fact, they're strongly against travel to Iraq.
Why do tour operators think Iraq will be a hot destination?
Iraq is the cradle of civilization. It's the site of Mesopotamia, the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, the hanging gardens of Babylon, and the Muslim shrine of Kerbala. Even the infamous looted Iraqi antiquities will be a draw. The country also has biblical and archaeological importance and historical and cultural significance. That said, Iraq has been off-limits for so long that it's become more intriguing to some people than ever before. It will be a long time before the average traveler ventures to Iraq. But certain travelers"archeotourists," Middle East enthusiasts, and so-called "destination collectors" eager to add a new stamp to their passportwill go as soon as they can.
What are tour operators doing to accommodate these early travelers?
Right now they're checking out hotels, restaurants, and attractions to see whether everything is up to snuff in terms of what Western travelers expect. And, if they haven't offered trips to Iraq in the past, they're working on establishing relationships with Iraq-based companies that can deliver consistent quality in terms of lodging, food, and service.
What kinds of packages will be available?
Tour operators who specialize in this area will start with very small, exclusive group trips led by expert guides. Don't expect cheap, mass-market packages that offer airfare and accommodations but not guided tours. Independent travel in Iraq might be a possibility one day but not any time soon.
When can we expect these trips to start?
Several tour companies are optimistic and hope to begin running trips as early as spring. This, of course, depends on a continued improvement of security and a diminishing of conflict in Iraq and its neighboring countries. If that doesn't happen soon, the Middle East won't see tourists for a while.
Will it be difficult to set up tourist facilities in, say, Baghdad?
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