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Kurdistan – “The Other Iraq” Open and Ready

Editor’s Note: This past December ATTA President, Mr. Shannon Stowell, interviewed Douglas Layton, cofounder of Kurdistan Iraq Tours LLC about adventure travel in Kurdistan and his own experience in the region. “As Douglas said, “We all know the media likes a scary story and violence sells. The problem is, Kurdistan is not in the middle of a violent war and there is nothing scary about the region.” Stowell, who visited Kurdistan in April of 2009 often remarks on how incredibly friendly the people of the region were to him during his visit. Let’s find out what these two industry veterans discussed and whether Kurdistan should become higher on the industry’s destinations to watch and consider.

Q (Stowell) How did you fall into the business of tourism in Iraq/Kurdistan in the first place?

A (Layton) I was winding down several years as the Country Director of Kurdistan Development Corporation and was sitting in my living room with a friend, Colonel (ret) Harry Schute, who asked, “What’s next?” I told him I was thinking about starting a tour company, as I believed it was going to be a huge part of the future economy of the region. He told me he had thought the same for a long time and he and I started the company – in principle – that day.

The term “The Other Iraq” became synonymous with Kurdistan differentiating it from the rest of Iraq, which still has significant security issues.
I had recently completed a large PR campaign called Kurdistan: The Other Iraq, which was very successful – aired on CNN, FOX News, BBC and many other media outlets. The term “The Other Iraq” became synonymous with Kurdistan differentiating it from the rest of Iraq, which still has significant security issues. We initially named the company The Other Iraq Tours LLC – now Kurdistan Iraq Tours LLC.

Q (Stowell) What sorts of tours do you offer and how long have you been in the business?

A (Layton) We have been in business over ten years. We started running primarily luxury tours with an average client of 70 years who had – on average- traveled to more than 100 countries – the elite and well-heeled wanderers of the world. They were primarily interested in history, archaeology and the culture of the region.

We expanded from there and now run tours for every economic stratum and interest. We have hosted student tours such as 26 students from the University of Vienna School of Oriental studies. We have hosted fly fisherman, a team from Mongolia making a documentary on Genghis Khan, and a billionaire philanthropist who wanted to help with refugees. Recently we have initiated hiking tours and have plans for rafting, mountain climbing, possibly cross-country skiing – you name it, we will supply it.

Q (Stowell) What have been the high and low flows of tourists in Kurdistan?

A (Layton) When we began we were told no one would ever come to Iraq as a tourist. We were in the wake of a major war in the region and considered by the world – wrongly – to be in a war zone. Raising capital to start the company was extremely difficult but we found a forward -looking businessman who believed in the future- threw in some of our own money and began from zero tourists. That was the first low point. Zero. We recruited our first tour, which came from America. Within a few years, we had clients from all over the world and several other companies entered the market, building on what we had established. Most were of little consequence- one or two became quite successful. We hired more guides.

All was well and looking great when ISIS entered the picture in June of 2014. The upshot was a return to ZERO. All other companies but ours eventually succumbed to the reality that tourism had flat lined in the region. Dead. Zero. That was the second low point. The Board of Tourism kept publishing statistics showing large numbers of tourists coming to the region but these numbers were bogus. True international tourism, for all intents and purposes, was dead. In the midst of this crisis I wrote and my partner and I published the first comprehensive Tour Guide to the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (see Amazon.com).

Bookings for 2017 are encouraging – people are coming once again from all over the world. It has dawned on many that Kurdistan is not a war zone and that any disruption is taking place outside the region in the South of Iraq.

Many claimed we were crazy- a tour guide in the middle of a war? CBS interviewed me during our book launch in Washington DC and the first question the interviewer asked was. “Are you crazy?” Answer – like a fox. The Guide found favor in over 30 countries with five star Amazon ratings. The world was interested in the Kurds as they were seeing events in the region unfold every day on CNN, etc. We had enticed the corporate community of Kurdistan to fund the project and rather than going under, we enjoyed our most successful financial year ever. Now, ISIS is all but gone from the scene and tourists are returning to the region. Bookings for 2017 are encouraging – people are coming once again from all over the world. It has dawned on many that Kurdistan is not a war zone and that any disruption is taking place outside the region in the South of Iraq.

Q (Stowell) What would be something you could see in Kurdistan that you would see nowhere else?

A (Layton) The list is long.

The capital of Kurdistan, Erbil, is the oldest continuously inhabited city in the world. There are other cities as old but none that have been continuously inhabited. When UNESCO began a major restoration of the Citadel of Erbil they purposely kept several families living on the site to preserve that reputation.
Jirwana is the oldest bridge and aqueduct ruin in the world- built by Sennacharib.
One of the most important Neanderthal finds in the world – Shanidar Cave – is located in the incredibly beautiful Barzan region. It was here that archaeologists discovered remains of Neanderthals that were buried ritually with flowers to mark the love someone had for the person who passed and medicines that had been used to treat the person over the years for injuries suffered. The key word in the whole discovery was “person.” The entire thinking about Neanderthals changed due to this discovery.
There are over 5000 unexplored caves in Kurdistan. German Spelunkers have started on one or two but the possibilities are limitless.
Recently newly archeological finds have revealed entire cities that were suspected but never proven to exist. Kurdistan is the cradle of civilization and the opportunities for discovery are boundless.
Perhaps the most important “find” one will discover are the people of Kurdistan who are secular and tolerant of all religions and cultures.
Perhaps the most important “find” one will discover are the people of Kurdistan who are secular and tolerant of all religions and cultures. You will find Muslim, Christian and Yezidi villages that have co-existed for thousands of years. The people are renowned for their hospitality and care for guests. Too often in our travels, we find the people willing to tolerate us because we bring tourist dollars to the region – Kurds on the other hand, genuinely love to entertain their guests.

Q (Stowell) What sorts of wildlife do you see?

A (Layton) Kurdistan has wildlife and flora that is not found anywhere else in the world. It is a photographer’s paradise not only for the scenery but also for the flora and fauna that abound in the valleys and mountains. Following is an excerpt from the Kurdistan Tour Guide available on Amazon. The section on Flora and Fauna contains a detailed description of all the birds and wildlife and rare flowers that are found in the region.

“Kurdistan was once a densely forested and flowered land filled with various species of animals and birds. While eons of civilization and a lack of conservation have reduced its former glory, the region still presents a magnificent opportunity to observe many species of animals, birds, and flora. The Kurdistan Region boasts several dozen kinds of birds, mammals, and reptiles, rare or unknown anywhere else. As the area is now open to researchers from all over the world, new species are being discovered.”

Q (Stowell) Did you really have a price on your head from Saddam Hussein? Why?

A (Layton) Yes, this is true. The issue arose when I helped organize and testified at the US Senate Hearings on Saddam’s Genocide against the Kurds in the mid-1990’s. I not only testified but also prepared a short documentary that was shown at the hearings, which detailed the atrocities committed by Saddam. I was not aware beforehand that Turkish TV would film the entire proceeding. When the hearings aired in the Middle East, I was informed by a friend, with contacts in Baghdad, that I had a one million dollar contract on my head. I was living in Dohuk at the time. I wondered if perhaps I might be able to make a deal and collect at least part of it as I was in sore need of cash at the time.

The whole thing became much more serious when four men with Kalashnikovs and RPGs attacked my home in the middle of the night. At that time, I traveled with a serious contingent of bodyguards and my home was protected both by personal guards and Peshmerga “watchers” placed in the neighborhood by the Governor of Dohuk who was a close friend. The attackers are no longer with us.

I lived to see the day when Saddam was gone and traveled to Baghdad where my brother was working after the war under the Bremmer administration. I had the privilege of sitting on Saddam’s throne. I looked up and said, “You’re gone – I’m still here.” The experience is a reflection of what the Kurds have experienced in a broader sense. Many enemies have sought to destroy them – the latest being ISIS. Like Saddam, they too will soon be swept into the ash heap of history and Kurdistan will live on.

Q (Stowell) People obviously are nervous about going to Iraq. Convince an intrepid traveler that they have nothing to fear- why should people come see it?

A (Layton) We all know the media likes a scary story and violence sells. The problem is, Kurdistan is not in the middle of a violent war and there is nothing scary about the region. The battles against ISIS are taking place in the South of Iraq (Mosul and other more southern reaches). Those who do visit Kurdistan realize quickly that it is as safe now as ever and far safer than many countries in the West. New York, Paris, London, and Brussels, to name a few. Kurdistan is an autonomous region and is tightly controlled by its own military, police and intelligence apparatus. We have had a few sad events in the past –as has the rest of the world – but nothing compared to many other cities. Certainly, Kurdistan is a far safer place to visit than Israel, which has over 3 million tourists a year and terror attacks on an almost daily basis.

There is another important element in Kurdistan to consider – we do not have the kind of frequent crime so common in the west such as rape, muggings, and house break-ins. A woman can walk in downtown Erbil in the evening without fear. She could never do the same in Miami, Florida or any other big city in the USA without a degree of apprehension unknown in Kurdistan.

I will share an anecdote that drives home the point. I hosted a member of the House of Lords from Britain in my home. A striking personal assistant accompanied him – beautiful would be the best way to describe her. She sat next to me at dinner and in the middle of the evening leaned over and whispered – “I have a secret.” OK- I was wondering what it could be. She then proceeded to tell me that her raven colored hair was not natural. She was actually a blond. She was so frightened three days before coming to Kurdistan that she dyed her hair so she would “blend in.” I informed her that at over six foot tall and with her looks, she would not “blend in” anywhere. She told me she realized within 24 hours of being in Kurdistan how absurd her fears were and that she had never felt more comfortable and relaxed in any of her many travels.

My message to those considering Kurdistan-give it a try- you will be pleasantly surprised and find it very much unlike what has been portrayed by the media.

Q (Stowell) Are there ‘no-go’ places within Kurdistan for tourists?

A (Layton) There are currently no “no go” areas of Kurdistan proper. My partner, Colonel (ret) Harry Schute, is the senior advisor to the KRG Ministry of Interior and we are kept abreast of all developing situations and areas that might be an issue for safe travel. The safety of our guests is paramount and we will not travel in any area that is not deemed safe. If anything changes we immediately know about it and alter or cancel any itinerary that may be unsafe. We do receive requests from time-to-time to visit places outside the borders of Kurdistan proper but we will not do so. We restrict visits to those places secured by the Kurdish government.

Read the whole interview here

Make Iraq Your Next Destination? “Kurdistan Tour Guide” Might Just Convince You

When you’re daydreaming about your next journey abroad, it’s unlikely that Iraq is one of the destinations that comes to mind.

And you certainly wouldn’t be alone in writing it off as a vacation destination. Based on what most of us see in the news almost daily, it isn’t a country that seems hospitable to tourists, particularly those from the West.

A new guidebook may just change your opinion.

While there are countless guidebooks to cities like Paris and Rome, there haven’t been any that tout Kurdistan as the place to go.

So why go?

The Kurdistan Region of Iraq, or the KRI, is a region bursting with culture and beauty, and for any traveler who can’t get enough of “uncommon” destinations, the KRI might be perfect.

Kurdistan Tour Guide is the first-ever travel guidebook for tourists interested in visiting the KRI. The author, Dr. Douglas Layton, is an American with extensive experience working in the region in association with Kurdistan Iraq Tours. That means this guidebook offers an overview equally crafted by locals and visitors to Kurdistan.

Even though a trip to Kurdistan isn’t on the horizon for me, I was excited to give Kurdistan Tour Guide a read and learn a bit more about this historically and culturally rich region and its opportunities for travelers who are looking to explore off the beaten path.

What’s at first glance?

At nearly 400 pages, Kurdistan Tour Guide is admittedly a bit daunting for a travel book. Almost more textbook than guidebook, practical information for travelers is interspersed with in-depth looks at the history and culture of Kurdistan, including tons of photos and a pull-out map.

While this heft and depth makes it a bit difficult to use as an actual resource for travel tips, it is definitely helpful if you are curious about the region, looking for an introduction to its rich culture and history, and interested in learning more than just the top 10 places to try Iraqi food.

What will you learn?

There are certain questions you always want answered when picking up a guidebook, from what the area’s major attractions are to what the weather is generally like. This book did not disappoint.

Within the first 50 pages, I felt like I was already getting a fundamental understanding of what a visit to Kurdistan would be like. Early sections address logistical concerns, like how to safely travel to Kurdistan; what the local currency is; and what clothing is appropriate to wear during your stay. Beyond that, you’ll get an intro to the KRI’s flora and fauna and the region’s art, music, and poetry. There’s even a useful guide to basic Kurdish phrases!

The topic of safety is broached right away.

According to the authors, there have been “surprisingly few major incidents” in Kurdistan since the Gulf War, and personal attacks (such as muggings) are “virtually unknown.”

As comforting as those facts are, I did take this with a grain of salt, as the book goes on to note that Kurdistan is “often said” to be safer than New York, Paris, or London, which I can’t say I have ever heard before.

Kurdistan Tour Guide
Kurdistan canyon. Image by Jim Gordon via Wikimedia Commons.
What’s in it for the Kurdistan curious?

For those more interested in learning about Kurdistan than planning a trip, Kurdistan Tour Guide is still worth getting your hands on. It includes a number of personal essays from notable Kurds and commentaries on Kurdish art, food, and culture that lend it a magazine-like quality.

A personal favorite of mine was an essay on the developing role of women in modern Kurdish society, something I think other Wanderful readers will appreciate as well!

My Takeaway

If Kurdistan Tour Guide does inspire you to make the jump and take a trip to Kurdistan, I urge travelers to supplement this guide with up-to-date information from governments and trusted news organizations. With the threat of ISIS in the region, it is important that travelers make decisions with the most current, comprehensive information available.

While it may not be the easiest resource to pack along on an actual trip due to its heft, Kurdistan Tour Guide is a wonderful introduction to the KRI. Keep it on your coffee table for reading (and learning) in your spare time, or fill it with sticky notes and bookmarks as a resource for your next trip. Either way, it will serve you well.

Have you been to the Kurdistan Region of Iraq? What would you like to learn about Kurdistan? Share in the comments!

Featured image of Greater Zab River, Kurdistan by jamesdale10 via Wikimedia Commons.

Kurdistan Life - Spring 2016 Edition

To view or download, click here.

Despite IS threat, Iraqi Kurdistan tries to lure tourists

After instability brought about by IS nearly destroyed tourism in Iraqi Kurdistan, the government still hopes to benefit from years of investment in the sector.

Until the beginning of 2014, the Kurdistan Regional Government’s (KRG) fledgling tourism industry was growing at an impressive pace. Domestic and international investment was on the rise, and the region’s capital, Erbil, was celebrating its status as the 2014 Capital of Arab Tourism. However, come February, the Islamic State (IS) made rapid advances to the east and shocked the region by arriving a mere 45 kilometers (27 miles) from Erbil, prompting travelers and tour companies to cancel their trips. Despite a number of coalition military successes since then, the looming threat of IS — together with the consequent humanitarian crisis — continues to stifle the development of tourism in Kurdistan. So what does 2016 hold for a tourism industry in a region that for almost two years has had drastically fewer tourists?

Read more: http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2016/01/iraq-krg-tourism-numbe...

THE CALL TO ACTION - DEFEAT ISIS!

THE KURDISTAN TOUR GUIDE is a tool to educate the world and decision makers. Who are the Kurds? FRIENDS OF AMERICA!

Obtain as many copies of the Guide as you can and educated your friends. The more the world understands the Kurds the more they will support them!!

Available on Amazon:
http://www.amazon.com/Kurdistan-Guide-2015-2016-Douglas-Layton/dp/099626...

WASHINGTON D.C. Launch

The Washington DC launch was charged with energy after rousing speeches by

· Ms. Bayan Rahman - Representative to the US from KRG
· Congressman Marsha Blackburn, Kurdish American Congressional Caucus,
· Congressman Jared Polis, Kurdish American Congressional Caucus
· Michael Delany, Assistant U.S. Trade Representative,
· General James Jones, USMC (Ret.), CEO, U.S. Kurdistan Business Council,
· Dr. Douglas Layton, author of the Guide

Book drive to raise awareness about Kurdistan among US politicians

WASHINGTON DC – The Kurdish community in Washington DC hand-delivered hundreds of copies of a new tour guide on Kurdistan to members of the US Congress on Thursday to raise awareness about the autonomous region in northern Iraq, whose forces have remained a bulwark against the Islamic State group (ISIS).

The Kurdistan Regional Government’s (KRG) Representation office in Washington DC sponsored the distribution of 535 copies of the “Kurdistan Tour Guide” to 435 members of the House of Representatives and 100 senators.

The KRG representative to the United States, Bayan Sami Abdul Rahman, said the book is aimed at educating US politicians about Kurdistan and its culture, since little is known to many outsiders about the history, geography, people and diversity of the region.

“We want every member of the US Congress to have a copy of the book so they get to know who we are, Abdul Rahman said. “Since I came to America this year, I have found a great deal of goodwill towards Kurdistan, particularly because of the courage of our Peshmerga and the hospitality of our people towards the displaced and refugees,” she said.

“But there is little knowledge of our culture and history. It's important that Americans start to see beyond ISIS and the airstrikes and see Kurdistan's rich heritage, the natural beauty of our country and the warmth of our people,” she explained.

The 400-page book details Kurdish culture, customs, cuisine, heritage and archaeology, also including 600 images showing Kurdistan’s ancient sites and beautiful landscape and mountains. It is aimed at boosting tourism to the Kurdish enclave.

More than a dozen Kurdish volunteers, wearing traditional clothes, knocked on the offices of every congressman and senator in Washington, presenting the book and briefing staff about Kurdistan.

Shaho Latif Karim, a 30-year-old Kurd living in the Greater Washington DC area who volunteered to distribute some of the books, said it is critical that US officials know about the Kurds, at a time when Kurds are the West’s most reliable partner on the ground against ISIS.

“Not every member of Congress knows about Kurds. We are here to help them understand about Kurdistan and its history. It's very important to make them aware of the people of Kurdistan, as they will be able to influence decision making and help Kurds,” Karim said.

The KRG’s Representation in Washington will host a reception next Wednesday to launch the book in the United States, with key invited guests expected to speak.

Kurds present groundbreaking Kurdistan Tour Guide to members of Congress

WASHINGTON, Sept. 10, 2015 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- (www.us.gov.krd) – Today more than a dozen Kurdish-Americans are hand-delivering a groundbreaking new book, the Kurdistan Tour Guide, to every member of Congress in an effort to strengthen awareness of their homeland, which is at the forefront of the fight against ISIS.

The book, authored by two Americans, is the first comprehensive tour guide of the Kurdistan Region in Iraq. It covers over 200 historic sites, contains 600 pictures and portrays Kurdistan's culture, cuisine and customs.

The Kurdistan Region in Iraq is one of the most enriching tourist destinations in the world. As the "Cradle of Civilization," it is home to more archeological and historic landmarks than any other region on earth. It boasts the oldest continuously inhabited city in the world as well as its oldest bridge and aqueduct ruin, Neanderthal caves and countless citadels, shrines, churches, synagogues, mosques and ancient temples dot its landscape.

"This is not simply a guide book. Under decades of dictatorship, our culture and language were denied and our history was written by our enemies. Today, we can tell our own story and have our friends share in celebrating our rich heritage," said Bayan Sami Abdul Rahman, the Kurdistan Regional Government's Representative to the United States in a letter to members of Congress. "Kurdistan is home to various religious and ethnic groups, including Christians and Yezidis. This book offers an insight into Kurdistan's tradition of hospitality and peaceful co-existence."

The Kurds have had a rich history and have played significant roles throughout it. Today, the Kurds continue to expand a vibrant democratic and evolving society, as well as play a key role in the international fight against terrorism. The war against ISIS is critical to the U.S.

"Working with the U.S. government and the American people, it is imperative that we preserve, protect and defend Kurdistan from threats like ISIS, which is destroying invaluable parts of the world's heritage as we speak," said Ms Abdul Rahman.

The American entrepreneurs behind the book, Dr. Douglas Layton and Harry Schute, a retired American army colonel, have more than 25 years of experience in the region. Through the book, the Americans intend to help change people's perceptions and show that the Kurdistan Region, located in between Turkey, Iraq and Iran, shouldn't suffer because of the Middle East's geopolitics.

Today, a group of Kurdish-Americans delivered in person the Kurdistan Tour Guide to every member of Congress in Washington, DC, and in so doing served as a bridge between the American people and their representatives in Congress and Kurdistan. The Kurdistan Region has accepted close to two million refugees and internally displaced people and its Peshmerga forces are the most effective fighters against ISIS.

On September 16, Representative Abdul Rahman will host a reception in Washington, DC, to launch the book in the United States. The CEO of the US-Kurdistan Business Council, retired general James Jones, will speak at the event as will the co-chairs of the Kurdish American Congressional Caucus, Congresswoman Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) and Congressman Jared Polis (D-CO).

SOURCE KRG Representation in the United States

A new guide presents the tourist side of Kurdistan

What if a little-known area in the Middle East was one of the best tourist destinations in the near future?

Dr. Douglas Layton, an American scholar and tour operator, has released a guide intended to help change people's perceptions and show that the Kurdistan region, located in between Turkey, Iraq and Iran, shouldn't suffer because of the area's geopolitics.

On the contrary, this region offers curious travelers a wide range of interesting historical sites.

Layton's company Kurdistan Iraq Tours wants you to know: Kurdistan is one of the safest regions in the Middle East, not to be lumped in with the headlines of chaotic occurrences taking place in Iraq.

Because of its geographical location, bordering Turkey, Iraq and Iran, it's constantly in the spotlight because of the current events affecting the general area, despite the fact that a future in tourism could be on the horizon.

And so Layton decided to reveal what the area has to offer in book form. It took four hundred pages to cover all the riches of the region, from river landscapes to snowy mountaintops.

The book is also a collection of photos and presents more than 200 historical sites to discover.

The tome covers the musical and artistic culture of Kurdistan and even looks at the recent emergence of the Kurdish film industry.

But the volume is first and foremost a guidebook, and true to form, it gives all the necessary information on getting to Kurdistan and how to organize your vacation.

The book also provides information on Kurdish cuisine and details the specialties that tourists can order in restaurants.

The guidebook is available on Amazon but will be officially released in the US on September 16. – AFP Relaxnews, August 26, 2015.

First ever tour guide to Kurdistan released

A 400-page guide book that hopes to tempt adventurous travelers to Kurdistan has been released.

It is likely to boast of the beautiful scenery, ancient treasures and interesting archaeology to be found in the semi-autonomous region. However, tourists may still be hesitant due to the proximity of the IS militants.

Those fancying a holiday with a difference will soon be able to thumb through the first ever guide to Kurdistan - although whether anyone will be keen to take a break quite so close to ISIS's murdering hordes remains to be seen.

The 400-page guide which includes more than 600 pictures is sure to boast of the amazing archaeology, the ancient bazaars and even the snow-covered mountains to be found in the semi-autonomous region.

All the same, the American entrepreneurs behind the new book have decided that now is a great time to launch Kurdistan Tour Guide.

Dr Douglas Layton, owner of Kurdistan Iraq Tours, said: '?When I told my friends in America we were going to publish the book, they thought I was a little bit strange.'

But, he added, "ISIS has done a lot of public relations for us already: all we have to do is turn a negative into a positive."
Dr. Layton and his colleague Harry Schute, a retired American army colonel, have more than 25 years? experience in the area.
And they are used to working in conditions which may seem to others to be business.

The duo's first travel business The Other Iraq Tours launched in 2008 - a period when the war was still on-going.

In fact, the tour company was going from strength to strength until ISIS captured Mosul, just an hour-and-half's drive from Erbil, in June last year.

Ever since, Western media has been filled with pictures and stories of the horrific acts committed by the Islamic extremists - putting off even the bravest of travelers.

What's more, the militants have also gone out of their way to destroy some of the buildings and artefacts which draw people to the region.

So Dr Layton and Col Schute decided to give the tourist industry in the north of Iraq a bit of a push, hoping to entice people back to the area, part of the 'cradle of civilisation'.
They began a new division of the company, called Kurdistan Iraq Tours.

The first seven-day trip, priced at £3,500 ($5,475) a person, takes place this June, stopping in cities like Erbil and Duhok, as well visiting Neanderthal caves, ancient monasteries and the ruins of one of Saddam Hussein's palaces - among other things.

Dr Layton said that he was certain it was Kurdistan's turn to be considered the next 'hot' destinations for adventurous tourists.
'They?re looking for something fresh, and we have it to offer,' he said.

The First Comprehensive Tour Guide of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq Now Available

Everyone who follows CNN, FOX or any major news outlet has heard about the Kurds especially in light of the recent crisis with ISIS. Unknown to most is that what is seen so often in the news is taking place outside of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI). While, like many other major places in the world (Paris, New York and London to name a few), Kurdistan has had its security problems, few realize Kurdistan is in fact one of the safest and most secure regions in the Middle East. This Guide is more than a history and beautiful pictorial of a fascinating land; it is a message to the world; the Kurds are not intimidated by ISIS and are as ready as ever to receive guests from around the world.

1 - COVER FOR PRESS RELEASE (1)While visiting Kurdistan may seem a strange thing to consider, all will want to know about this fascinating place and what you find out may surprise you. Once you discover the real story of this incredible land you may wish to join the many thousands who visit Kurdistan annually and who have found it to be very different from what they imagine. Kurdistan is completely unlike the rest of chaotic Iraq, which is why many refer to Kurdistan as The Other Iraq.

This is the first truly comprehensive Guide of the region ever produced containing everything from how to get there to the photographically illustrated histories of nearly two hundred enchanting sites. Fascinating articles by famous Kurds and International friends of the Kurds dealing with subjects such as the emerging Kurdish film industry, music, art, literature and even recipes for Kurdish food.

3 - CHILD FOR PRESS RELEASE (1)Kurdistan is a land where rivers, lakes and snow covered mountains dot the land, replete with vast numbers of historical and archeological sites to be explored. Kurds are a warm and friendly people eager to show you the hospitality that has made them famous throughout the Middle East.

DID YOU KNOW…

Kurdistan is in midst of the Cradle of Civilization where there are more archeological and historical sites than any other region in the world.
Kurdistan’s capital Erbil is over 8000 years old and is the oldest continuously inhabited city on earth.
The Kurds descended from an ancient biblical people, the Medes. The many Jewish sites, mosques, Christian churches, ancient monasteries as well as
Yezidi temples has earned Kurdistan the designation, “The Other Holy Land”
Many of the world’s flowers such as Tulips and Daffodils originated in Kurdistan and there are numerous species of flowers and fauna found nowhere else on earth.
Kurdistan hosts one of the longest cable cars (teleferics) in the world built by an Austrian company, which takes you to the Korek Mountain Ski Resort. Many of the peaks of Kurdistan are covered with snow year around.
Many of the world’s great hoteliers have or are building five star properties in Kurdistan; Sheraton, Hilton, Marriott, Rotana, Kempinski, Divan & Ramada to name a few.
Kurdistan while quaintly Middle Eastern is also a liberal multi ethnic and religiously diverse land where law protects minority rights and over 30% of the seats of parliament are reserved for women.
Kurdistan has roughly one fourth of Iraq’s oil reserves and is fast becoming one of the richest regions in the Middle East.
For further information or purchase of the Guide please visit www.kurdistantourguide.com.

If you are a travel agent interested in booking tours to Kurdistan or member of the media and wish to review the Guide please request a free copy of the Guide by filling out this form.

Kurdistan Tour Guide

Once upon a time even on the World Wide Web there was rarely anything about places and out & about around Kurdistan. We were lucky enough to find any non-Kurd who knew something about the Halabja Genocide or the Anfal campaign.

Well, it seems like this is over! While there are many websites and information on the internet all about Kurdistan- history, politics and places to visit, we still didn’t have the ultimate guide… until now!

Are you ready?!

I recently got my hands on this book:

The Kurdistan Tour Guide, edited by Dr. Douglas Layton, is your new must have. Trust me, even for someone who has lived in Kurdistan for nine years, when you get your hands on a copy of this book you feel as though you haven’t even lived here and haven’t seen anything in Kurdistan yet.

The book covers general information about Kurdistan, background to first time comers including some cultural insight and then the PLACES! All the places you can discover on this land. It goes through Kurdistan city by city, town by town and even villages to bring to you the best attractions and must visits. What I love is that there is historical information and background on each place. Guessss what????? It even has a section on Kurdish food, no but wait, the recipe to dolma (along with few other foods) is also there!!!

Everything from the plant diversity of the Kurdistan Region to poetry, music, arts, film, horses, libraries and of course the citadel is all in this 380 page book.

For only $20 it is a must have in any house hold. Not only if you want to travel around, but there is some great information there that is rare to find online. I have already book marked some places I want to see, meals I want to cook, and general information I want to read.

If you want to purchase your copy I was told there are some at the Divan Hotel and some Korek shops. However the best option is inbox the Facebook page right hereand order a copy. Easy as that. You should have your copy the next day.

There is a map attached at the back (big one too!)

For more information on the Kurdistan Tours Guide:

info@kurdistantourguide.com   (although the spelling in the book is info@kurdistantourquide.com)

It is published by the World Impact Press LLC, 2015.

Lots of love from

My Nest in Kurdistan

Sazan,

Kurdistan tour guide book is debated in the British parliament

A new Kurdistan Tour Guide was the subject of a meeting organised by Jason McCartney MP, the new Chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on the Kurdistan Region. The speakers were Mr Karwan Jamal Tahir, the KRG High Representative to UK, Gary Kent, the Director of the APPG, and Harry Schute, a co-author of the Kurdistan Tour Guide. Many journalists, companies and members of the Kurdish Diaspora attended.

Jason McCartney expressed his pleasure on his recent election as Chairman of the APPG, having served in 1995 in the RAF during the no-fly zone over the Kurdistan Region. He said he hoped that the APPG would continue to strengthen the relationship between the Kurdistan Region and UK

Gary Kent stressed the importance of the new guide and recalled his experiences of seeing Kurdistan's natural beauty for the first time.

Harry Schute said the guide sought to comprehensively outline the nature of Kurdistan, and its tourist and ancient areas. He said that Kurdistan is safe area and that the brave Peshmerga forces are able to maintain the security of the Region.

Mr Tahir described: “the devastation to the cities, villages, springs, ancient and tourist areas of Kurdistan Region during successive Iraqi regimes, and a ruined Kurdistan remained after the fall of the regime”. But “after 2003 the KRG continued to rebuild and develop this sector and considers it as priority. A tourism board was created and we have a master plan for this.” He also referred to the KRG's open policy to companies wishing to invest in this vital sector.

Audience asked questions and gave their views and memories about Kurdistan. More information about the book can be found at http://www.kurdistaniraqtours.com/

What war? Erbil entrepreneurs launch region’s first travel guide

Kurdistan tour guide cover

ERBIL, Kurdistan Region — An American travel company in Erbil has published the Kurdistan region’s first comprehensive travel guide, despite a war against die-hard Islamic militants rages only 60km away.

“Who prints a tour guide in the middle of a war? We do,”laughed Dr Douglas Layton, owner of Kurdistan Iraq Tours, who began selling copies of the 400-page “Kurdistan Tour Guide” on Wednesday. 
 
With over 600 photos, a map, and in-depth articles covering Kurdish culture and history, the book draws the reader in with the professional patina of a top-grade travel guide.  
 
“When I told my friends in America we were going to publish the book, they thought I was a little bit strange,” he said. 
 
According to Layton, however, there is no better time to market Kurdistan as an adventure tourism destination.
 
“ISIS has done a lot of public relations for us already: all we have to do is turn a negative into a positive,” he said.  

Spinning war coverage into promotional press isn't new to Layton.  With partner Harry Schute, a retired colonel from the US Army Reserve, he launched Kurdistan Iraq Tours in 2008, developing a flourishing travel business in a country better known for the two Gulf Wars and the subsequent sectarian violence. 
 
Layton rebranded Kurdistan as the “other Iraq” 10 years ago in a bid to distinguish the semi-autonomous, mush safer region from the rest of the war-ravaged country. 
 
He developed advertisements that ran on CNN, Fox News, and in the Wall Street Journal, in which Kurds repeatedly thanked America for the war effort.  
 
“One day no one had even heard of a Kurd, and the next day every 15 minutes you had an ad saying ‘Thank you, America,’” Layton said. 
 
“No one ever says ‘Thank you, America.’ It was so strange it became news—even Saturday Night Live did a spoof, where they had American’s going to Kurdistan.”
 
Still, the war against the Islamic State has taken its toll on the tourism industry since Mosul fell last June and Kurdistan Iraq Tours has suffered along with other companies. 
 
A car bombing near the US Consulate in April came as particularly menacing news to the company’s core clientele in the United States and Europe.
 
“We’ve had to try and make our clients feel safe to come here,” said co-owner Schute, who also serves as a senior advisor to the Ministry of Interior.
 
“But in all candor, like the rest of the business community in Kurdistan, we all felt a big bump this last year Iraq has experienced problems.  So we took the opportunity to use the lull in activity focus on the writing of the book.”  
 
On Wednesday, Erbil Governor Nawzad Hadi admitted this was a new sector for the Kurdistan Regional Government. He said the book was a “great way to introduce Kurdistan to the world.”
 
Nonetheless, the book received no financial support from the regional government. The two largest sponsors were a local telecom company and an oil and gas firm.  
 
Although the regional government is currently experiencing a budget crisis and has little cash to spare on tourism, Layton believes that the government has had the wrong approach in the past by trying to appeal to Arab tourists.
 
“Historically, Arabs don’t come here and spend a lot of money—there’s not a lot here for them. They’re not interested in the history, and that’s what Kurdistan abounds in,” Layton told Rudaw. 
 
Layton pointed out that any investment in Arab tourism won’t pay dividends for some time yet because the Islamic State has virtually severed the Kurdish north from the Arab south. 
 
He suggests placing a greater focus on the American, European, and Australasian markets, which he sees as the future of tourism in the region.
 
Kurdistan Iraq can use the network of its vast adventure trade association—consisting of over 700 other companies—to find clients willing for the next new hot spot.  
 
“They’ve all been to Mongolia. They’ve sailed down the Amazon. They’ve done the Nile. They’ve been to Turkey a dozen times. Israel is old hat. They’re looking for something fresh, and we have it to offer,” Layton said.
 
Even so, some public relations blunders have occurred along the way.
 
He said in the past inferior quality, rife with misspellings and other clumsy mistakes, had done little to instill confidence in the industry or win over the foreign media.
 
The new guide will soon be sold throughout Kurdistan and will go on Amazon.com in June.  Schute hopes this will show the world the region “looks more like Colorado with its mountains and streams” than a barren desert.  
 
A portion of the proceeds from the sale of the book will go to victims of war, and part will go to the restoration of sites that have suffered from neglect, vandalism, and lack of security—other unfortunate realities hampering tourism in Kurdistan.