Most of the time on this tour is spent in towns and cities, but we do spend a significant proportion of the trip exploring the countryside and wilder areas of Iraqi Kurdistan. When exploring these areas on foot we take care to stick to the trails and not to damage any of the flora, as some parts of the region are quite a fragile environment. One of these is Bestoon Cave, a vast underground cavern that is home to a marvellous collection of stalactites and stalagmites; this is particularly susceptible to damage and so we brief our travellers to ensure that this ntural wonder remains for others to see. We operate a strict no litter policy on our tours, and work to educate our drivers and other service providers so as to avoid contributing to this problem.
Similarly, in conjunction with our local team we work with hotels and guesthouses to implement best practices when it comes to environmental matters – in some places this is far behind what we might be used to in other parts of the world. This includes basic things like not replacing towels each day, as well as saving electricity and turning lights off – small things but Kurdistan is not as used to tourism as countries in western Europe.
On all of tours we strive to include a strong focus on local communities and we are firm believers that tourism should have a positive impact on the places visited. On this tour we try to allow our travellers to gain a real insight into the traditional customs of the country; a good example of this is our visit to the pilgrimage site of Lalish. We join local people at the mountain and travellers are explained the complex customs here. We ensure that our travellers are appropriately briefed in order so as not to offend local sensibilities.
We also stop wherever possible to meet local villagers. We try to ensure that such encounters are carried out in a sensitive manner and encourage our travellers to make purchases from local shops, helping to ensure that a range of businesses can benefit from tourism, even if it is only in a small way.
We visit a number of sites and monuments on this tour that do not necessarily receive much funding from other sources; the entrance fees that we include help to maintain the heritage of this country for future generations – not just western travellers but more importantly to local people to whom they have far more cultural and historical significance. We use locally owned suppliers and our partners here are deeply involved with the preservation of the culture and heritage of the country. Many of Kurdistan’s sites have been poorly maintained in the past and entrance fees play an important part in their restoration and conservation.
We work in conjunction with a local partner who is deeply involved in the region and has been going to great efforts to assist in the reconstruction of Kurdistan following its repression under the rule of Saddam Hussein. Notable initiatives have included assisting the government to develop a plan to protect Kurdistan’s archaeological sites, which have suffered much in previous years and are in dire need of adequate protection. Another involves working with the government to develop environmental policies for the preservation of Kurdistan’s natural world