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All eyes on Iraq
Fancy a spa vacation or a brisk business trip to Iraqi Kurdistan? Marketers are flocking to the mountainous terrain of Northern Iraq, to cash in on the relatively untapped market in the Arab world, even if they have to dodge danger on their way there
July 29, 2012 9:03 by Priyanka Pradhan
Iraqi Kurdistan seems far removed from those stereotypical war torn, strife ridden images conjured up in the minds of people who’ve last heard of Iraq as one of the world’s most dangerous places to visit. Even farther removed, seems the capital of the Kurdish Autonomous region – Erbil, which is being groomed as the next big business hub in the Arab world.
Deemed as the new poster boy for Iraqi business, Iraqi Kurdistan has already attracted a gamut of international marketers eager to cash in on the relatively untapped Kurkish market. Marketers from sectors such as hospitality & leisure, retail, aviation and even advertising, are flocking for a bite off this lucrative market, that houses more than 1.7 million people who are ‘open’ to new brand experiences.
After an announcement from the regional arm of global creative agency, MEMAAC Ogilvy, that it will set up shop in Kurdistan, comes news of Hilton’s second hotel being chalked in Erbil. Apart from Marriot International and Best Western’s plans to launch their hotels in the same city, there is news from UAE’s banking sector as well, with Abu Dhabi Islamic Bank (ADIB) launching operations in Iraq.
Edmond Moutran, Chairman and CEO, Memac Ogilvy tells Kipp, “In Iraq, many clients have been talking to us especially on the lack of understanding, support or even, in some cases, exploitation they have been facing in that market. It became vital for us to secure our clients and brands best interest in the market and therefore decided to make the jump to serve them ourselves directly.”
Dave Horton, global head, Hilton Hotels & Resorts, says: “Iraq is a significant new market for our brand and we are thrilled to be able to offer visitors to Erbil the consistent high brand standards that guests experience in over 80 countries worldwide. Hilton Erbil Hotel & Spa is set to be an outstanding, landmark property and we look forward to welcoming guests to one of the most beautiful and unexplored areas of the Middle East.”
Unexplored so far for a good reason, we reckon. The recent spate of internal conflict and Al Qaeda led violence in Iraq this month, has raised fresh concerns about the safety of Iraq for doing business. Despite the fact that Iraqi Kurdistan is a ‘safe zone’ and has had minimal violence in the recent past, safety remains a big question mark. Marketers, however, seem undeterred and determined to penetrate the region, given the global economic climate and slowdown in otherwise promising markets of the world; Kurdistan is a risk that brands are willing to take.
The skies are opening up too. Apart from other international airlines, Emirates Airlines and Qatar Airways recently announced that they will start servicing the country, a move which will prove to be crucial for connecting Iraq with the other bigwig markets in the Middle East and outside. Given the breathtaking landscape and historic ruins of ancient civilizations, Iraqi Kurdistan could well be on its way to the front page of every travel magazine. Even though it’s hard for most people to imagine sporting a holiday tan from Iraq, the world’s biggest hoteliers are betting big on it, with over 700 hotels coming up by 2016.
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