How would you describe current climate of the tourism industry in the Kurdistan Region?
The tourism industry is one of the key sectors that the KRG has prioritized. Thus, the sector is growing at a rapid pace. The business friendly environment and massive investment projects taking place in the Region are very encouraging. The expansion in key economic sectors outside of tourism has contributed to the growth of the tourism industry in the Region. Erbil has played host to a number of regional and international exhibitions and events. Additionally, the rapid growth of the sector is also paving the way for job creation for locals. I believe we will see more and more investment and improvement in the upcoming years.

How would you characterize the Divan Erbil’s role within the industry in terms of its short and long-term stay strategy?
Erbil is still developing. I believe the residential sector will be required to catch up to the business sector. This will take some time. For at least the next three years, companies will focus on hotels for their long-term or semi-long-term stays rather than look to the residential sector. Eventually, this will change. For now, however, these guests are providing consistent business. We are therefore trying to be strategic in our planning to ensure that we accommodate them accordingly.

Throughout my career, I have always heard the phrase, “home away from home” utilized by the hospitality industry. Obviously, this is a strong mission statement. However, when the guests are only staying one or two nights, it is very difficult to create that feeling of a “home.” In Erbil, we have guests staying with us for three, six, or 12 months. This length of stay really allows us to work on that “second home” feeling. It allows us to both customize all of our services for their needs, and anticipate everything that might become essential. If we are able to learn a guest’s habits and cater to him or her, suddenly that person will be in a much more pampered, comfortable environment, and will be more likely to feel at home as a result.

Does Divan Erbil utilize local expertise or bring in foreign professionals?
Since our overall goal is to combine foreign and local expertise, we are pursuing both options. For example, we have a sushi restaurant on our 21st floor: Qi21. Sushi is an art that requires education. In the beginning, it was difficult to find a local sushi chef. Instead, we brought in experienced chefs from abroad. However, we also hired locals to train underneath them and learn this more formal, structured form of cooking.

If we find expertise or resources locally, we take advantage of them. We want to ensure that we are not just growing as a company, but rather that we are also supporting the local community in its growth. There needs to be a healthy marriage of the two concepts. If we did not pursue such a strategy, we would only be planning for the short-term. That’s obviously not our goal. So, we are doing everything in our power to ensure that we invest in the Region and the Region invests in us.

In terms of furthering that investment, what are the new facilities that Divan plans to offer in the near future?
We will soon be completing our new steakhouse and nightclub. We have also started construction on our ballroom and spa. The spa itself will be quite gorgeous and will feature a fitness center, spa facilities, an indoor swimming pool, and separate grooming and beauty salon facilities for men and women. In the next six months, we are also looking at other options for a la carte restaurants within the hotel. We currently have Seasons (our international buffet), Qi21 (our sushi and grill restaurant), Chopin (our piano bar), and Saray (our coffee shop). We think that there is room for a few more a la carte facilities. We have the locations for them, and we are working on their themes and overall designs.