Kurdistan’s tourism sector still not recovered from flight ban
Kurdistan Region’s tourism sector has declined by 30 percent, according to the manager of a travel agency who blames Baghdad’s international flight ban for the drop.

Baghdad imposed a ban on all international flights in and out of Erbil and Sulaimani airports in response to Kurdistan’s vote for independence. It lifted the ban six months later, on March 15, but the impact is still being felt. 

"Because of the halt on international flights in Erbil and Sulaimani airports for nearly six months, most airline companies suffered big financial losses. Most of them closed down. The companies that remained laid off 60 to 70 percent of their employees. For example, our company had 25 employees, we kept only four employees. But now, most companies have resumed work and rehired their employees,” said Lawand Mamundi, manager of Fly Miran travel agency.

Flights have returned to normal at Erbil, but the effect of the airspace closure can still be felt in the tourism industry. 

"Compared to before, tourism has declined by 30 percent,” said Mamundi. 

His company arranges tours from Tunisia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan. 

"Due to bad tourism situations, we haven’t yet started flights to Tunisia. At this time last year, we had three flights a week to Armenia and Azerbaijan, whereas we have only one flight weekly now and the plane is not even full,” Mamundi explained. 

The number of flights to Turkey has also dropped. 

Dream Holidays has also seen a loss in business.

"The closure of the airports has had a big impact on our work. We have suffered a loss of $80,000 because of the closure. That is why we sent home some of our employees,” said deputy manager Omar Khasro Ido.

"We have a group of tourists for Egypt every week. We have it for Istanbul too, but haven’t yet resumed flights to Antalya. The impact of the flight ban on Erbil and Sulaimani airports can still be seen on tourism. People don’t travel as much. Compared to the past, our flights have dropped by 40 percent. But we are optimistic that our flights will go back to normal as the tourism season starts,” he explained.

Brwa Saeed Qadir, manager of Moonline Travel with six offices in the Kurdistan Region, said: "Out of nearly 200 airline companies, after the international flight ban on Erbil airport, only 25 companies remained active. The rest either closed down or kept a few employees and their activities declined. The ban on international flights had a big impact on companies. Most of them have suffered financially.” 

"Our company has offices in 17 countries. We sold many tickets because of giving offers and lowering the fees. That is why we could remain in the market. But we didn’t make any profit during this time,” he added. 

Moonline has nearly 155 employees and works with 700 airliners. 

"Tourism flights are doing very well in Erbil airport, especially to Turkey, and this is because Turkey has not yet lifted flight ban on Sulaimani airport. The people of Kurdistan Region and Mosul fly via Erbil airport to Turkey and most European countries. This has led to an increase in ticket prices, especially to Turkey,” Qadir explained.

Forty percent of flights out of Sulaimani airport have stopped.

After the Iraqi government lifted the ban on international flights, Turkey refused to open its airspace to flights to and from Sulaimani airport under the pretext that the PKK is active in Sulaimani and poses a security threat. 

Tahir Abdullah, director general of Sulaimani airport, said this has made it very difficult for the airport. 

"Because of the lifting of the ban on our airport, 60 percent of our flights have gone back to normal. But Turkey doesn’t allow planes of other countries to use its airspace to fly to Sulaimani airport. That is why flights of German and other European airliners have not resumed. Flights from Eastern Europe that were bringing cargo to Sulaimani airport before have not resumed either,” he explained.

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