Skip to content

News from the edge

9 September 2011

Rwanduz, Iraqi Kurdistan

A mini-roundup of some interesting news from the fringes of Middle East tourism.

Iraq

An interesting story by Gulf News mentions more than a million visitors a year to the semi-autonomous Kurdistan region of northern Iraq, with the authorities targeting a Dubai-style five million by 2015.

My favourite line? “The recent surge in arrivals is a direct result of the international media promoting the area’s tourism potential.” So says the local tourism PR chief anyway. Finally there’s a place where travel writers are truly valued. Mind you, I’ve pitched Iraqi Kurdistan to several different editors here in Britain. All I get is tutting and tooth-sucking. Maybe it’s me.

Adding to the good news: Marriott is opening in Kurdistan, as is Hilton. There are signs of sustainable community-based nature tourism as well – and UK operator Undiscovered Destinations launches a new tour there next month.

Palestine

Talking of sustainable community-based tourism, take a look at this new website showcasing guesthouses in Palestine.

It’s interesting stuff, inevitably with a political tinge, but also comprising a bunch of good ideas for how to travel independently through the country. There’s an article about it here. The site is compiled by Bradt guide author Sarah Irving – for more on her, see below.

Bradt Guides

Speaking of which, props to Bradt. They are the only publisher in the world I can think of to have one guidebook to Israel, and another separate guidebook to Palestine (and may the mealy-mouthed ‘Palestinian Territories‘ henceforth be banished to history).

The new Bradt guide to Israel is written by Samantha Wilson. Despite a bit of leakage in the Jerusalem chapter and around Qumran, and (regrettably) a chapter on the Golan Heights, this is remarkable for sticking to its subject. Bethlehem is not covered. The book is a bit light on political perspectives, and the country map on page 2 is frankly bizarre (“Palestinian controlled territory”? “Area of Israeli settlement”?), but it’s a sound effort.

The Bradt guide to Palestine, by Sarah Irving, is classier still. The Israel book is 312 pages; Palestine – though a fraction of the size and with a fraction of the infrastructure – gets 326pp. I’ve seen pre-publication proofs; not the final book. Irving knows her stuff, and has covered the ground intimately. It is refreshing (inspiring? simply bloody wonderful?) to have the Green Line respected in a guidebook. After decades of one-way traffic in terms of travel priorities, travel narratives and travel coverage, Irving reverses the flow. Jerusalem coverage is East Jerusalem coverage. People are front-centre, with homestays featuring prominently and sustainable tourism emphasised. Irving gives informative first-hand accounts of places that not only don’t appear in other guidebooks, but which most other specialist writers (this one included) have never even heard of. I showed her account of Bethlehem to a friend who lives there: after one paragraph he was saying “I never knew that”.

What’s even more interesting is that the last chapter – titled “Palestinian Communities in Israel / Palestinians of 1948″ – includes coverage of Nazareth, the Golan (fascinating to compare the two books’ approach), Haifa and elsewhere. This is as much a guide to Palestinians as to Palestine. But it dodges the romantic, armchair-traveller feel of, say, Palestine: A Guide, thanks to an informed journalistic style which is partial but not tub-thumping, and a wealth of practical info on independent travel. It’s a breath of fresh air.

(The only guide on a par is Daniel Jacobs’ outstanding Rough Guide to Jerusalem, which has 300 pages on the city alone, scrupulously balanced, infinitely knowledgeable, quirkily readable. Add in Jacobs’ coverage of Tel Aviv, Bethlehem, Hebron, Masada, the Dead Sea and Jericho, and his book should be much better known than it is.)

Footnote: I haven’t seen Bradt Palestine’s colour maps yet.

Another footnote: Bradt have Lebanon on the way and their Eastern Turkey is already out. How soon before Iraqi Kurdistan?

Qatar

Not exactly tourism, but in case you thought everything in the Gulf was new – or commercialised – take a look at the fascinating oral history project Swalif. Click on some of the links to hear stories about life in Qatar before oil, before glitz, before malls, before countless luxury hotels. Arabic audio with English text.

Oman

A campaign late last year to push domestic tourism in Oman continues, with starry-eyed op-ed press articles still appearing. It’s all good. Local people travelling for pleasure within their own countries – such as in Lebanon, Israel or Saudi Arabia – fuels rural hospitality, helps diversify tourism economies, improves infrastructure and fosters innovation in non-commercial and/or nature-based attractions. The others in the region should look and learn.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. Hal Peat permalink
    10 September 2011 1.53am

    A good read, Matthew. Since you headlined this new blog as “News from the Edge” and touch on news from the fringes of ME tourism, I was wondering in that context what your thoughts might also be on the news this week that Egypt intends to eliminate airport entry tourist visas and introduce application only through their embassies and consulates before arrival into Egypt? It seems like an odd decision to make at first glance, given the greater hassle to the ordinary traveler (group travel isn’t affected), then again this might have been a security calculation based on their greater concern of individual movements in and out of the country? I wish Egypt well in their tourism recovery, however they decide to finally work that one out.

  2. 10 September 2011 3.06pm

    Thanks, Hal. Yes, an odd decision from Egypt – if it is actually implemented (nothing is for sure – there is a lot of confusion just now about this and other policy announcements). Let’s see how things pan out over the next week or two.

  3. 24 September 2011 7.47am

    You may think the map on page 2 of the Brandt Palestine guide book is bizarre, important for travelers to understand that ‘Palestine’ is not yet a monolithic piece of sovereign geography, but a land that is chopped up into dozens of pieces, each controlled either, in part, by the Palestinian Authority or by Israel. The State of Palestine, is as yet, unfortunately, just an idea.

  4. 24 September 2011 8.24am

    hi Fred – great to see you here; thanks for dropping by. If you check back to my original post, I was referring to the map on page 2 of the Bradt ISRAEL guide (not Palestine – I haven’t seen Bradt’s Palestine maps yet). It’s a rather odd visualization of Israel’s political geography. Your point about Palestine, though, is well made.

Trackbacks

  1. The new Bradt Guide to Palestine gets its first review /  Sarah Irving
  2. Bradt Guide to Palestine – finally out /  Sarah Irving

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 10,379 other followers

%d bloggers like this: