Off the beaten track
In search of Iraq's heritage
The boundaries of so-called 'tourist destinations' are being pushed farther then ever before. Places that were off limits at one time are now drawing tourists in large numbers: from Colombia and Angola to Ethiopia (see page 12) and Afghanistan.And now Iraq has been put up on that ever-expanding holiday itinerary, despite the ever-present war clouds. Geoff Hann, director of Hinterland Travel, is the man behind tours to Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan. So who are Hinterland Travel's clients? "The tourists I take to Iraq are, on the whole, of a mature age," says Hann. "The majority of them are well educated and often have links - through family, or some form of service - to the Middle East," says Hann. "It has to be understood that because of the political events of the last 30 years or so, it has been very difficult for tourists to visit the ancient sites of Iraq. Of course there is also this 'see the sites before everything gets destroyed' attitude. Tourists really get to feast their eyes on some of the world's most historical sites. We get to see more sites now than we did in the '70s and '80s, and hence we can offer a comprehensive itinerary," says Hann. But what is the intrinsic nature of the Hinterland Travel tourist? "Without question, the people on our tours are not conformist," says Hann. "They often doubt the rhetoric in their own countries. They feel that choice should be based on the individual. There is no doubt of course that they get a kick out of being close to the edge of world events - that's a human reaction." But what is the view of the Iraqis on the ground? "You could say that many Iraqis are resigned that attack is imminent. Life has been very tough on the average Iraqi over the years. Their first question to tourists is: 'What do you think, will there be an invasion?' There is an overall mood of anxiety, but it has in no way altered the welcoming traditional Arab hospitality." So how do Iraqis react to Western tourists? "Somewhat amazing. They find it difficult to believe that we are tourists. 'But you hate us,' they say. And our response is 'No we don't. We have only come to see Iraq and identify with you, if possible.'