Domestic tourism – historically – is the primary form of tourism that persists to this today and represents the bulk of global tourism activity. Economists at the World Tourism Organisation estimate that domestic tourism at the global level represents two-thirds of total tourism.
Domestic or local tourism is a tourist activity within the same country, i.e. tourists are domestic visitors or residents of the same country traveling from one place to another for the purpose of tourism, benefiting from freedom of movement within their own country.
There are three important questions regarding domestic tourism:
– What are the characteristics of domestic tourism?
– What impact does it have on the social life of the country?
– How to create and maintain a strong domestic tourism industry?
In contrast to international tourists – those who are from outside the country – domestic tourists know where they are going to; speak the local language; know about local customs and laws and are used to the climate. Tourists by their nature seek relaxation and desire to experience something new. This is particularly true for domestic tourism; because it does not require the individual to leave the country of his residence and to obtain a visa to enter another country, as is common in most countries known for their large tourist sectors such as Turkey, Italy and Spain.
The second characteristic of domestic tourism is that domestic destinations are closer in distance and do not require so much expenditure, which is good for low-income people. Families prefer frequent visits with more frequent stays and to go by car; rather than just going to one expensive far away destination on a flight that is usually also quite expensive.
In view of the fact that the main obstacle to travel, namely cost, has decreased for domestic tourism; domestic tourists are always on the lookout for the lowest price possible in all aspects of domestic tourism, such as accommodation, catering, activities, shopping, etc.
The combination of the three basic characteristics (having knowledge of the destination, proximity and low transport costs) makes domestic tourism the most socially inclusive activity in the country; involving all social groups from highest income to those with limited means.
Certain social groups are more represented in domestic tourism than in foreign tourism, such as families, children, youth, the elderly, disabled persons and low-income families that make up a large proportion of the population. This social diversity leads to a large diversity of demand in terms of housing, tourism products, activities and destinations.
At this point we pose the following question: What is the impact of domestic tourism on the economy and social life?
Domestic tourism is very useful at times of crisis, whether economic or political. As a result of the impact of the redistribution of income (from tourists to the local population), there are various multiplier effects on regional development; for example, the development of rural areas depleted by migration to the city.
Domestic tourism is also an excellent way to ease social tensions by allowing low-income social groups to take part in domestic tourism, which is then positively reflected on society in general. Tourism reduces stress, and in modern society, chronic stress can be devastating to individuals. According to medical studies, tourism reduces heart disease, as stress is one of the main causes of heart disease and high blood pressure.
Medical studies also indicate that tourism helps to maintain focus. Surveys show that nearly three-quarters of people returning from holidays are more willing to work than before. The same studies suggest that tourism and holidays help prevent disease, and that people who take regular holidays and travel for tourism return healthier and work better (1).
Iraqi climate and domestic tourism
Iraq’s climate can be divided into different climate zones according to region. The central and southern areas have a desert climate characterised by a mild winter and a very hot summer; the north has a semi-desert climate with a relatively cold winter; whereas in the northern mountainous region of Iraqi Kurdistan, the climate is cold and rainy or snowy in the winter, and warm and sunny in the summer.
The north-eastern part of Iraq, with its mountainous area of Iraqi Kurdistan, enjoys a varied climate. It is characterised by a cold, rainy and snowy winter, with average temperatures reaching 4 degrees Celsius in December. In the hot and dry summers, average temperatures reach 31 degrees Celsius. In the north-west of Iraq, in the plateau region towards Syria, it is a desert climate being very cold in the winter and hot in the summer, although temperatures are cooler than the plains because of the higher altitudes.
For the rest of Iraq, which is covered by alluvial plains in the central and southern zones, the climate is mildly dry in the winter; becoming progressively warmer as you head south and extremely hot in the summer, which lasts from May to October. Fortunately, air humidity during the summer months is low; because the prevailing winds coming from the west or the northwest, often generate dust storms.
In Baghdad, the average temperature is 9.5 degrees Celsius in January, rising to about 50 degrees Celsius in July and August. Theclimate of the Middle Euphrates is similar to Baghdad’s, however, on heading further south, temperatures progressively rise (2).
The southwestern region of Iraq has the driest desert climate in the country and since ancient times, has virtually been deserted because the population is concentrated between the valleys of the two rivers, the Euphrates and the Tigris.
In late winter and spring, Iraq is affected by the southerly winds that give rise to dust storms. Sometimes, these winds occur in the autumn and winter. In contrast, the long summer months witness dry and severe north-westerly winds that cause rapid dehydration.
From the point of view of temperatures, the best times for domestic tourism in Iraq are in the spring and autumn, except for the north-east and north-west. As far as the central and southern regions are concerned, temperatures improve between November and April (six months). With the arrival of the hot summer months in central and southern Iraq, Iraqis turn their gaze to the north-east, with its moderate climate compared to the scorching summer heat in the rest of the country.
How can we develop a dynamic domestic tourism market?
It must be understood that the development of domestic tourism is not an alternative to foreign tourism – tourists coming from abroad to the country – for they are two different, but complementary forms of tourism and one should not be neglected in favour of the other. Moreover, the development of domestic tourism will boost foreign tourism in many important ways by supporting transportation, accommodation and marketing.
Three new types of tourist centres can be established: water parks, desert resorts for high and middle-income people; and small and medium-sized hotels for low-income people. In fact, domestic tourism in Iraq needs a set of guidelines for the planning, designing and construction of parks, resorts and hotels suited to Iraq’s desert climate, as is the case in Oman, the United Arab Emirates and Morocco.
The idea behind the proposed waterpark project is to build an integrated “water city”, providing recreation and aqua-adventure. Creating a water city, with several outdoor swimming pools for adults and children and a mix of exciting water sports, is an idea particularly suited for countries with hot summers that stretche from May to October, particularly during the extremely hot school holidays.
Examples of creating a water theme park across vast areas of land, which may be as big as 35 acres, can be found in the southern parts of the United States, which enjoy very hot summers. The water parks industry in the United States – especially in Texas – is growing rapidly, with nearly one-third of large water parks being owned by self-financing municipalities (3).
Water parks are either owned by the private sector or by the municipality, and success is often measured differently by the public sector versus the private sector. As regards municipal water parks, success is measured in terms of earning enough revenue to cover the day-to-day operating costs; have a surplus to finance expansion; help to cross-finance other facilities within the city’s parks and finance the maintenance costs of other municipal parks.
The southern regions of Iraq possess certain advantages which make it possible for them to create successful water parks for tourists. For instance, currently there are no water parks in these areas, and the water park industry is a growth industry in hot regions such as the Gulf. The Iraqi private sector has the financial potential to undertake such large projects.
On examining the cost of building the Yas Water World Abu Dhabi in the UAE, we find that it cost about $245 million, according to the UAE press. The water park in Abu Dhabi accommodates 8,000 visitors a day, with 43 water rides, and set across an area of 150,000 square meters. The water park rides mimic the pearl-hunting heritage of the UAE(4).
In addition to water sports, luxurious cabins are available for renting by families, complete with air conditioning and catering services. To build this gigantic theme park, about 1200 tons of steel were used and about 500 trees were planted, with a total water capacity of the lakes and reservoirs in the region of 9000 cubic meters.
Elsewhere, in Qatar, the total cost of the Doha Water City project came to about $22 million, built across an area of approximately 50,000 square meters with a capacity of 3,000 visitors per day, and includes five major water rides.
Here we discuss ways of encouraging the private sector to get involved in such projects in the central and southern regions, which are known for their scorching hot summers. The construction of water parks by the private sector should attract the attention of local businesses and investors; being a tourist attraction and a unique form of entertainment for visitors, which also promise large profits.
This type of tourism investment by the private sector is distinguished by the fact that domestic tourists usually spend no more than one day visiting a water park; thus benefiting a large segment of the population on low income. If small hotels become available, stays of several days will also become possible thus making for a comfortable trip, especially during school holidays.
Desert resorts and tourist villages
Some desert countries have succeeded in establishing tourist centres deep in the desert itself. An example of a successful desert resort is al Maha Resort in the United Arab Emirates, located 65 kilometres southeast of Dubai. The resort has been styled in the form of large tented or canopied pavilions, set apart for privacy. Each pavilion is designed in the Arab style, set between sand dunes and palm trees, in a simulation of the Arabian tent, each with a private swimming pool (6).
Resorts differ from hotels in several respects. Hotels are usually located within cities where there are restaurants and shops, and tourists travel within the city amidst the bustle and traffic. In a resort, on the other hand, tourists are usually far from the hustle and bustle of the city and can enjoy plenty of rest and relaxation; with restaurants and shopping centres spread over large areas. In addition, resorts offer entertainment, games and other forms of leisure activities.
On a larger scale, there are the tourist villages, which are self-contained recreational facilities in the form of residential complexes linked to restaurants, cafes, recreational and sports venues. They are designated for individual or family stays and located in seaside or river areas and equipped with facilities and services.
One such tourist villages is “The Village” in north Beirut, Lebanon, which occupies 6,500 square metres; with restaurants, cafes and gardens. The Village caters particularly for the needs of family day-trips (7).
The marshlands of southern Iraq are possibly one of the best areas where to develop tourist villages; comprising the lowlands of the southern Iraqi plains between the cities of Amara, Nasiriyah and Basra, where the surface area under water is greatest between late winter and the end of spring but shrinks at the beginning of summer.
The marshlands are characterised by an abundance of fish; provide a staging post for migratory birds, and are famous for the manufacture of boats of a special kind for local use and the making of huts from reeds. The nature of village construction and the low levels of water in the marshes, and the wealth of fish, are all factors that can transform it into a tourist area. If the private sector succeeds in building small, comfortable hotels with a programmes for lovers of birds and fishing, and provide transportation through the marshes in small boats, the region will witness significant growth in the tourism sector. In the event the marshes are linked to a network of roads; and tourist villages are constructed, this will persuade domestic tourists to travel there both in summer and in winter.
The private sector is not capable of developing tourist villages without a government programme that regulates the construction of such villages, which should include accommodation, tourist resorts, water rides and a marina.
The development of the domestic tourism sector should be part of a wider strategy for the growth of tourism in general; and it goes without saying that the tourism industry plays a vital role in supporting economic growth and the development of small and medium enterprises in the private sector. In order to encourage investment in the tourism sector, a government scheme is needed that meets the requirements of the private sector. The scheme should simplify procedures, cut red tape and provide financial incentives for small, medium and large tourism ventures; including ones for the construction of hotels, resorts, tourist villages, restaurants and cafes, travel and tourism agencies, tourism exhibitions, heritage projects, entertainment spots and sports activities in tourist centres such as equestrianism and pleasure boating.
However, in Iraq major obstacles lie in the way of achieving what has been discussed above. These obstacles are bureaucracy and corruption, which are two of the most important obstacles to the private sector’s participation in the domestic tourism industry. It is therefore necessary for the government to adopt a programme that facilitates investors’ participation in the development of Iraq’s tourism sector.