Scottish firm hopes to inspire tourists to visit Iraq, Pakistan and Yemen

THEY are not currently top of most summer holiday wish-lists – but a Scottish firm is hoping to inspire people to visit Iraq, Pakistan and Yemen.

• A view of the historical city of Shibam in south eastern Yemen

The ancient city of Babylon in Iraq and the snowcapped mountains of Pakistan's Northwest Frontier Province are among attractions the Edinburgh-based tourism consultant firm Dunira Strategy hopes to promote.

Although the Foreign and Commonwealth Office warns against travel to all three countries due to risk of terrorism, the firm believes they have potential to attract adventurous tourists.

The firm's managing director Benjamin Carey has just returned from a trip to Iraq after he was invited to meet the tourism board there to discuss opportunities.

With work to improve their infrastructure, such as the hotels, roads and visitor information centres, he believes the countries could be attracting millions of tourists within five to ten years.

The company has also been given a grant by Unesco to investigate the scope of tourism to contribute to economic development in Pakistan's Northwest Frontier Province, a region currently wracked by sectarian violence.

Mr Carey believes there is huge potential for skiers and trekkers to be lured to the mountains there.

"There are two main types of people who are attracted to countries like these," he said. "There are the young adventurers, who are generally professionals who don't have that much spare time, but who go off and do very interesting trips and spend a bit of money on flights to get there.

"Then there are the empty nesters – people who have kids that have left home and they have time and money to go and travel around. These are not really destinations suitable for families."

He said despite the danger associated with the countries, it was possible to get insurance, especially if the traveller was on a trip with a recognised tour operator. Insurance would cost an extra 45 per person to cover the risks of going to a conflict zone, he said.

"If the Foreign and Commonwealth Office advises against going to a certain country, there's a widely held view that it's impossible, but this is not true," he added.

Dunira already represents Yemen in the UK, and in the past year has seen the number of British tourists visiting the Arab country rise by 50 per cent to more than 13,800, a fact Mr Carey said he found unsurprising.

Yemen, where the Queen honeymooned, offers four World Heritage Sites, including the walled city of Shibam, known as Manhattan of the Desert for its unusual ancient "skyscrapers".

Yemen is home to four Unesco World Heritage Sites. These include the 16th-century city of Shibam, with its "skyscrapers", right. Zabid is the ancient capital, close to the Red Sea coast, where algebra was invented in the early 9th century. The Socotra Archipelago, a remote spot near the Gulf of Aden, is known as the Galapagos of the Indian Ocean for its rich biodiversity.

Pakistan's Northwest Frontier is home to the Khyber Pass, left, that links Pakistan and Afghanistan and is a historic trade route between central and southern Asia. The area is also famed for the stunning lush green valleys and snow-capped peaks of the Swat, Kalam, Upper Dir, Naran and Kaghan areas. Swat-Kalam is known as a "piece of Switzerland" for its stunning mountains.

The city of Basra in Iraq is known as the Venice of the East for its canals. Iraq can also boast the remains of Babylon, above, which was home to the legendary Hanging Gardens.

The earliest known civilisation, the Sumerians, existed in southern Iraq in mid-6,000 BC. Today, there is also trekking and skiing in Kurdistan in the north.

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