Postwar Iraq gets its “first” tourist

It’s been over five years since the invasion of Iraq, and the country seems to be slowly emerging from the ruins of five years of conflict. Yet despite the progress, most would agree there’s a long way to go before the country is ready to again welcome “Western” tourism. Random violence remains a real threat and many cities do not have the infrastructure of guest hotels, restaurants and transportation upon which any visitor would depend.

None of this seems to have dissuaded Luca Marchio, an Italian tourist whose random visit to the Iraqi city of Falluja was recently chronicled in the New York Times. The Iraqi police discovered Marchio on a public minibus, without a translator or guide, heading for the notoriously dangerous city of Falluja. The police, fearing for the man’s safety, offered Luca a short tour and then shepherded him back towards the “safer” confines of Baghdad.

When asked of his motivation for visiting the country by the Times, Marchio replied, “I want to see and understand the reality because I have never been here before, and I think every country in the world must be seen.”

Although truer words have never been spoken by a traveler, you have to question Marchio’s timing for his visit. The decision to travel to a formerly war-torn nation is a delicate one, a choice dictated as much by the willingness of that country’s citizens to receive visitors as it is by our willingness travel there. Does that make Marchio an outlier? Or is he a symbolic of a coming tourism boom as Iraq returns to relative peace and prosperity? Only the citizens of Iraq can answer this second question – let’s all hope the answer is eventually “yes.”