The Iraqi Tourism Board has drafted a plan aimed at boosting archaeological tourism in the country during 2012.
The plan focuses on two major areas: increasing Iraqi participation in international travel and tourism markets and fairs; and improving the level of services offered to foreign tourists in Iraq.
"Those fairs, which are held every year in Berlin, Tunis, Dubai, and London, represent a valuable opportunity for countries trying to boost their tourism sectors. We shall try to exploit the opportunity in a proper way," board spokesperson Hassan Taha told Mawtani.
"Iraq will be represented in a major way by government and private tourism companies," Taha said. "We will promote our archaeological and tourist landmarks and draw the world's attention by using advertising, such as posters and tourist guide booklets."
He added, "We will also focus on working with more international travel companies to attract foreign tourists and organise tourism trips."
During the past four years, Iraq had reached agreements with several international tourism companies, such as the British Interland Travels, that have been sending tourists from Europe, America, and Southeast Asia to Iraq regularly, he said.
Taha said the plan also includes "strengthening co-ordination with a number of the relevant ministries, such as Foreign Affairs, Interior, and Transportation, to help the board offer the best tourism services in a way that would reflect a positive image compatible with the reputation and status of Iraq as a land of ancient civilization."
"Our joint efforts with those ministries will be focused on granting entry visas to tourists, securing modern transportation to take them to the archaeological sites, and providing enough security protection during the period of their stay in the country, in addition to the services provided during their stay at first class hotels."
Taha predicted an increase in the number of foreign tourists visiting Iraqi archaeological sites in 2012, especially with the improved security situation in the country.
Despite the revival of archaeological tourism in Iraq during recent years, growth is slow compared to the number of foreign visitors who enter the country every day to visit religious sites.
According to official figures, the religious tourism sector witnessed about 1.8 million foreign visitors in 2011 compared to 145 in the archaeological sector. The latter came in 12 tourism groups from France, Russia, Britain, the United States, and Taiwan.
"Archaeological tourism in Iraq regained its footing in 2008 with the arrival of a very small number of tourists," said Fadhil al-Sayegh, director of the Rafidayn Company for Travel and Tourism.
"But this activity remained limited since then as a result of the weak Iraqi presence in international tourism events, which was limited to a small number of local companies concerned with tourism and travel, including our company."
Al-Sayegh said improving the state of tourism requires that the government "expand this presence, increase its support for Iraqi tourism companies, and develop the services and the infrastructure of the tourism sector, with stress on the need to modernise old laws, regulations, and instructions relevant to the tourism industry".
Bakr Hama Siddiq, chairman of the committee on tourism and antiquities in the Iraqi parliament, said his committee supports any plans or programmes that would contribute toward boosting tourism, whether archaeological or religious.
"The tourism industry could generate huge financial revenues for the state budget that would compete with those of oil if attention was focused on how to grow and develop it, particularly since Iraq is considered a country rich in archaeological treasures and religious shrines," Siddiq said.