After my article “Tourism in Iraq – Another Country is Possible” (that has been shared over 300 times on Facebook) I was by another Iraqi that, inspired my article, wanted to tell me about his project.
Consisting on nine people in London who works to keep up the website and the Facebook page with the aim to register as a company, Beautiful Iraq has big plans for the future.
“It was always one of my dreams to establish something in my beautiful and welcoming country for the whole world to enjoy,” says Saif Alani, the enthusiastic 23-year-old CEO.
The main idea with the project is to become a tour operator that can provide package holidays to Iraq, but also to provide a general source of information of Iraq. So far Beautiful Iraq describes themselves as a media outlet that provides people information about Iraq.
The page already contains travel recommendation on where to and not to travel in Iraq (basically most of the country except Kurdistan; “If you are leaving Kurdistan then make sure you hire a professional security team to escort you!”) and visitors can sign up to receive newsletters. The online shop sells backpacks, t-shirts and even umbrellas with labels such as “I love Iraq” – free delivery when you buy two or more items at the same time.
“We want to be a company for travelling and holiday travel”, Saif says. “And also to deliver the news of Iraq in a way for people to get a better understanding.”
As the name of his project suggests, Saif wants the world to know the beautiful sides of his home country that he himself left together with his family 10 years ago.
“I would like people to know that Iraq is a country as any other, all countries have beauties, the bad things are only temporary. We can share this knowledge through our customers’ successful insight of Iraq’s beauties, with our hospitality and unique way.”
Saif himself has a diploma in event management and two certificates in travel and tourism, so the tourism industry is not new to him. He maintains another job in a hotel reception and dedicates his free time to his business. When I ask him what a tour in Iraq could look like he is full of ideas and things that he wants to share.
“There are magical pictures that people haven’t thought about! A tour could start in the cathedral of Erbil and go on to explore the historical and natural beauties in Iraq, the churches, to the theme park Basra Land in the south… We have religious tourism such as Babylon, which is mentioned in the Bible, historical tourism such as the ancient sites of Iraq and adventurous such as the theme parks and roller coasters. You can explore the nightlife in Baghdad; there are shopping malls and cafes – this is a side of Iraq people haven’t seen yet.”
Saif has not been back since he left but maintains contact with family members that are still living in Baghdad. He is very keen on his goal of establishing a positive common Iraqi identity. Throughout our interview he talks about how welcoming and hospitable his home country is.
“Through this, we believe we can change something negative into something positive,” he says.
We talk about the world’s perception of Iraq and Saif brings up religion, the current ISIS crisis and how it’s perceived from the outside.
“People would think that the religious aspects of Iraq could be negative aspects when it’s not, religion is very much a private matter in Iraq. It’s done in the places of worship, that’s where it’s done.”
“We do not class them (ISIS, author’s comment) as Iraqis, we class them as bad person. A bad person could be of any nationality. The acts of (these) persons have unfortunately caused a certain picture of the country that is not true… Many would think it would make Iraq weaker which are true, people are somehow deflated about Iraq, but our concept has now been stronger in preparing for the future, and politicians are involved in the combat.”
The plans of starting tours are very current – Saif is planning on hiring tour guides who are keen on working in the hopeful environment that the concept of Beautiful Iraq is. I have to ask him when he thinks it’s realistic that Beautiful Iraq will be able to offer their first tours to Iraq and he says the aim is to start in March 2015.
“It all depends on the security situation and when that is improved.”
Despite the latest humanitarian tragedy that northern Iraq is experiencing in the hands of ISIS, Saif stays optimistic, just like the founder of Tourism in Iraq.
“We replace negativity with positivity through our program,” he says, determined, with his never-fading smile. “There is a light in the end of the tunnel.”
Photo copyrights: Beautiful Iraq