Thursday, May 30, 2024

Afghanistan your next holiday country? The Taliban train men to receive tourists

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Taliban soldiers take a selfie at the tomb of Kind Nadir Shah. Now the Taliban hope that the tomb will become a destination for tourists from all over the world. Photo: Siddiqullah Alizai/AP/NTB

Of NTB | 02.05.2024 05:34:01

Economy and business: It is a motley assembly with different ages, levels of education and work experience. One of the students is a photo model. Another is only 17 years old and has no work experience.

Afghan women are not allowed to get an education beyond the sixth grade. Therefore, all the students are men. The students know little about tourism or hospitality, but they are all eager to show another side of Afghanistan, according to the AP news agency.

Still, foreigners visit Afghanistan. Both because the country is safe, has several air connections, and to be able to boast of having holidayed in such an unusual tourist destination as Afghanistan.

The number of tourists is small, but increasing. In 2021, 691 foreign tourists visited the country. The following year this had risen to 2,300. Last year, 7,000 foreign tourists visited Afghanistan.

– The Chinese tell me that they do not want to go to Pakistan because it is dangerous there and they risk being attacked. Japanese have also said the same thing to me. This is good for us, says Mohammad Saeed to AP.

But there are also plenty of disadvantages to increased tourism to Afghanistan. It is both difficult and expensive to obtain a visa. Many countries loosened ties after the Taliban came to power in 2021. No one recognizes the Taliban as the rightful authority in the country. The UN has stated that the regime’s treatment of women is the biggest obstacle to the Taliban being recognized internationally.

Saeed admits that there are major challenges for growing tourism, but says he is working with various ministries to solve the challenges. The ultimate goal is to be able to issue visas for tourists on arrival. But that is probably many years ahead.

A number of international flight routes land in the capital, Kabul. But none of the Afghan airports have direct routes with major tourist markets such as Europe, China or India.

The students at the new tourism school also have ambitions. Photo model Ahmed Massoud Talash will learn more about picturesque places suitable for taking photos for Instagram. He also wants to learn the history of these places.

– They hear that Afghanistan is a backward country with a lot of poverty. But we have a history that goes back 5,000 years. There we can show new aspects of Afghanistan, says Ahmadzai.

The training includes knowledge of Afghan needlework and anthropology. Unofficially, students also learn how to behave towards foreign women who may behave contrary to local customs and beliefs. It can be about women who smoke or eat in a public place. Or they turn to men they are neither married nor related to.

The founder of the travel company Rocky Road Travel, Shane Horan, says that a holiday trip to Afghanistan must not be seen as support for the Taliban regime.

– The goal must be to support responsible tourism that contributes positively to the economy and promotes mutual respect and understanding, he says.

Horan says that the company has not experienced any kind of interference from the authorities in what the tourists should and should not see. According to Horan, Rocky Road Travel works closely with women’s rights organisations.

– A proportion of the trip costs goes to support these organisations, says Horan.

The Afghan leaders of the Taliban are largely ostracized by the international community, mainly because of how the regime treats women. The economy is failing, the infrastructure is weak, and poverty is widespread.

The head of Afghanistan’s tourism directorate, Mohammad Saeed, says China is the biggest potential market for tourism to Afghanistan. He emphasizes that Afghanistan’s advantages as a tourism destination are many compared to several of the neighboring countries.

Afghan embassies are either closed or suspended. There is a power struggle between embassies staffed by people from the previous government and those controlled entirely by the Taliban.

Graduated economist Samir Ahmadzai plans to open a hotel, but believes he needs to learn more about tourism and professional hospitality first.

The Taliban have imposed a strict dress code for women and require them to be accompanied by a male when they travel. It has become more difficult to eat alone or to have social contact with other women in public spaces. In general, gyms and beauty salons for women are prohibited. But Afghanistan’s only five-star hotel, the Serena, has now reopened its hair salon and spa for women. Women who were born in Afghanistan, on the other hand, have no access.

(© NTB)

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