The 16th century mudbrick towers of Shibam, in Yemen.
Fancy a holiday in Yemen? What about Libya? Iraq,
It's a tough sell, but tour operators from locations
considered among the world's most dangerous have been trying
to drum up interest at the world's biggest travel fair, the
ITB Berlin in the German capital.
Their brochures offer tantalising views of exotic souks,
ancient ruins and breathtaking natural scenery, but curious
visitors usually end up asking about the latest footage of
violence and unrest they've seen on the television news.
"OK, you cannot visit all places in Yemen," conceded Ibrahim
Mohamed Al-Attab, deputy marketing manager of the Yemen
Tourism Promotion Board. Tourists were generally not at risk
in cities, but westerners should avoid crowds, he advised.
Al-Attab, like his counterparts from Iraq and Libya, tried to
stress the cultural and natural attractions of his country,
ravaged by conflicts in the past half century and well off
the beaten track for most travellers.
"But you can visit the city of Sanaa, Socotra island and the
famous 'skyscraper city' Shibam, so the most important sites
in Yemen are secure," he said, referring to the 16th century
mudbrick towers of Shibam.
Among Yemen's visitors are nature buffs and scientists who go
to Socotra island, home to unique plants and birds, and
archaeologists interested in sites like Sanaa's Old City,
tourist board marketing officer Ahmed Y.Al-Washali said.
Most come from China, Taiwan, Japan and South Korea: "Those
governments don't give such a high alert."
He said about a million tourists visited Yemen in 2013,
including Arabs from nearby states.
At Yemen's stand, tour operators seated under photos of
rugged mountains, exotic trees and a deserted beach handed
out brochures showcasing their country's cultural heritage.
Travel advice from countries like Britain and the United
States warning citizens to avoid Yemen because of the risk of
terrorism has hurt business, said Al-Attab. Yemen should
persuade such governments to change their advice, he added.
The impoverished Arabian Peninsula state is battling southern
separatists, al Qaeda-linked militants and rebels from the
Shi'ite Muslim Houthi movement.
"We have to change the negative image to a really positive
image of Arab generosity and hospitality," Al-Attab said.
Libya hopes photos of camels and Roman ruins will persuade
visitors to forget about the lawlessness still gripping much
of the country three years after Muammar Gaddafi was toppled.
One brochure promoted Libya as a "daydream" of desert lakes
surrounded by lush greenery and crystal-clear seawater
lapping isolated, palm-fringed beaches. But officials
acknowledged visitors were still put off by conflict between
the militias who helped to overthrow Gaddafi and his allies.
"The number of tourists coming plummeted after the revolution
as the security situation wasn't clear and the government
didn't give out permits for tourists to visit because it
wasn't sure if they'd come back," said Abdussamea Almahbob,
undersecretary for tourism, through an interpreter.
"Now it's trying to make everything better," he said.
Britain and the United States advise against travel to Libya.
A Briton and a New Zealander were killed in an
execution-style shooting on a beach near Sabratha in January.
Most visitors to Libya are archaeologists drawn by the Roman
ruins or adventurers who take tours of sand dunes.
Abdurrazag Guerwash, head of Winzrik Group which offers tours
to Tripoli and the oasis town of Ghadames, said the eastern
city of Benghazi and southern Libya remained "very dangerous"
but some pockets of the country were safe for holidays.
"Leptis Magna, Sabratha and Ghadames are very safe, very nice
and very controlled areas and there's a lot of things to
see," he said, adding most clients were Spaniards or
In 2013 he took 400 people on tours compared with up to 6,000
per month before the war. "We hope it gets better next year,"
Iraqi travel firms and hotels were also seeking business with
posters of Islamic shrines and marsh landscapes.
While insisting the north of the country was safe for
tourists, they found it hard to change people's image of a
country where nearly 8,000 civilians were killed in political
violence in 2013.
The United States warns against all but essential travel.
Britain makes an exception for the Kurdistan region in the
"It's difficult to persuade people to go as there is still a
war going on - a civil war," said Lora El-Jamal from the
Iraqi travel firm Raihana Universal. "People are a bit scared
even though they'd like to go when they see the brochures."
Iraq is home to some of the holiest sites in Shi'ite Islam,
such as the Imam Ali mosque in Najaf and the Imam Hussein
shrine in Kerbala and other sites around the country. Many
mosques, both Shi'ite and Sunni, have been bombed in recent
Much of the demand to visit Iraq comes from Muslims going on