Kurdistan Region of Iraq: Interview with Mr Luaay Salih

Mr Luaay Salih

General Manager (Canyon Hotel Erbil)

Mr Luaay Salih

The Kurdistan Region of Iraq has been facing security challenges for the last two years. However, Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani has expressed that the Kurdistan Region of Iraq has embarked on a new era, the post-ISIS era. What is the current situation in the Region?

Security wise, the situation in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq has clearly improved compared to the last two years. One of the evidences of the region’s safety is that the arrival of visitors from Bagdad, as well as other regions of Iraq, has increased and we start to welcome again foreign travellers coming to Erbil either for business or leisure purposes. In addition, many companies choose this city to organise workshops and events with attendants from the whole country due to the security standards of the Region.

During the meeting that WNNE held on Thursday 24th of May with the head of the department of Foreign Relations, Mr Falah Mustafa Bakir, he mentioned that the issue of an independent Kurdistan is on the table. What would be the implications of the independence for the Kurdistan Region?

The independence of the Kurdistan Region would be a positive step that most of the people are looking forward for the state to achieve; the economy of the Region would improve and everyone would be better off.

Tourism has always been one of the main contributors to the Kurdish economy. According to the official Investment Agency, this industry represents around 20% of the region’s GDP. What are the main challenges for tourism in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq?

Everyone wants to see how the Kurdistan Region has evolved in the last three to four years. Erbil has become a big and developed city, not to mention its beauty, where everything is available for trade and industry and those aiming to set up new businesses have access to all they need.

There are still some challenges to face, especially in the economic field, and foreign investment is not flowing as it used to. One of the reasons is that many foreign companies left the Region stopping important projects that they were carrying out and we are looking forward for them to come back.

Canyon Hotel Erbil is a luxury hotel that offers high standard facilities to its guests, including a health centre and several multipurpose areas for the organization of events. What makes it a unique hotel?

Meetings and conferences are the speciality of Canyon Hotel Erbil. We put our great facilities at disposal of those companies looking for a place to organise their workshops. Thanks to our several hall spaces and four conference rooms, one of them with capacity for 350 attendants, this is the perfect hotel for the organization of events.

Once the companies have come to us, they realise that the Canyon Hotel is exactly the place they were looking for. The combination of the exceptional facilities with an excellent organization guarantees the success of the event.

In 2013, Canyon Hotel received from the Ministry of Tourism of The Kurdistan Region, the trophy to the Best Hotel in town. What are the reasons behind that recognition?

Excellence is our goal and we always do our best to reach it, especially when it comes to our services standards. This is the main reason that led the Ministry of Tourism to recognise our performance with that award.

The Kurdistan Region of Iraq is a popular destination among Middle-Eastern countries and it has a well-developed business tourism industry. What is the profile of your guests?

Business tourism is our speciality.  We are focused on the national market with most of our clients coming for professional reasons from other areas or Iraq. However, international organizations such us the United Nations also rely on us to organize events and workshops and many trainings for the personnel of the Iraqi government take place in our facilities.

In the last year most of the foreign companies have left the Region, especially those related to the oil industry. Has your business been affected by this situation?

Indeed, it affected our business and especially our room rates. We saw ourselves forced to lower the rate of the rooms when international companies ceased their activities in the Kurdistan Region.

Erbil has a wide offer in the hospitality industry with well-established brands in the city. What makes you different from your competitors?

The key for the satisfaction of our guests is the service; while other hotels may just rent rooms, the client’s experience makes us different. A proof of our commitment with high quality service is that we have maintained the standards regardless the drop of the prices. In order to keep track on the guest’s satisfaction we have an important presence in the reservation engines such as; booking.com, where we offer great rates and the clients can share their experience.

You have an extensive career in the hospitality industry. From 2004 to 2010 you were in the Room’s Division then you became Hotel’s Manager from 2010 to 2012 at Erbil International Hotel.  From 2012 you have been managing the Canyon Hotel. What do you feel most proud of in your career?

What I am most proud of is that everyone in Erbil knows how we work at Canyon Hotel and what is our philosophy.

Harvard Business Review Readers include the most influential business leaders and decision makers in the world. What is the final message that you would like to transmit to our readers?

The situation in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq has clearly improved compared to the last two years. It is a safe place, business is growing and the local government is working to make it a more accessible destination to foreign travellers.