Sham concerts and ticket hoaxes: fighting fraud in Sulaymaniyah
Psoola is transforming the ticketing industry in Kurdistan’s cultural capital by investing in the region’s burgeoning entertainment sector.
It’s event season in Sulaymaniyah, and people are deciding what tickets to purchase as the city gears up to host concerts, plays, and fashion shows in one of the busiest periods of the year. As the cultural capital of the Kurdistan region of Iraq, Sulaymaniyah has always been a hub for events, but it’s only recently that residents have been able to book tickets without the fear of fraud.
“Ticket scams are rampant here. Con artists make up events, sell thousands of tickets, then run,” says Shwan Sadiq. He remembers great excitement surrounding the news that Shakira would be performing in the Kurdish capital, Erbil. “There were adverts on television, posters in the mall and proper brochures. Tickets were going for hundreds of dollars,” Sadiq, 29, says.
A day before the event, word spread that the concert had been canceled. A telephone line for refunds went unanswered. “The organizers were nowhere to be seen. The whole thing was a scam,” he adds. That was a decade ago, but criminals are still using the same tricks to con people out of their money. In 2019, Sadiq and his family arrived at Spi Hall in Sulaymaniyah for a Hani and Frmesk Concert only to find that the gates were closed. “It happens all the time, even with charity events,” says Sadiq.
Public advertisements on reputable platforms and high-profile names on the bill convince buyers to purchase tickets from unscrupulous vendors, but with no proper oversight, there is nothing to stop these elaborate schemes from happening again and again. Sadiq’s concern is that they will undermine the city’s entertainment sector just as it regains momentum following the COVID-19 pandemic. “We need to focus on reviving Sulaymaniyah’s reputation as a hub for artists, actors, and musicians,” he says.
His answer is Psoola, an application that sells event tickets online and protects buyers from fraud. The app, launched in 2021, has quickly become the default purchasing option for events across the calendar, facilitating ticket sales in live music, cinema, theater, motor racing, fashion shows, and conferences. “The concept was familiar because people have used similar platforms abroad, but no one had dared to invest in the ticketing industry here before,” Sadiq says.
Users benefit from a streamlined interface that allows online bookings rather than having to visit multiple points of sale around the city to secure their preferred seats. People can browse the app to view upcoming events and make a secure booking, with a guarantee that their money will be fully refunded if the event turns out to be a hoax. “We don’t transfer the money to the event manager until they start their event,” Sadiq explains.
Online payments are not widely used in Kurdistan, where cash is still preferred, but Sadiq has found a way around this by collaborating with companies that sell top-up cards to make purchases online. “We are working on changing a culture, step by step,” he says. “Our success will encourage others to enter the market and help us move the industry forward.”
After securing an Innovation Hub grant from Ideas Beyond Borders, he now plans to launch a major marketing drive to widen his customer base before expanding to Erbil. Sadiq believes that home-grown businesses do better in Kurdistan, where people prefer to support local ventures over products and services imported from abroad. “This gives many people the courage to build startup businesses,” he says.
The Kurdish capital, Erbil, has become a hub for startups in the region, with Sulaymaniyah close behind thanks to local incubators like 51 Labs, where a number of Innovation Hub grantees have cultivated business ideas and developed their skills as entrepreneurs. Recent changes to business registration procedures in Kurdistan have been welcomed as a step towards fostering the emergence of the startup sector and removing some of the barriers for new business owners, but significant challenges remain.
Last year, Ideas Beyond Borders launched the Kurdistan is Open for Business project, which aims to create a pro-business climate and transform the landscape for new startups in Kurdistan. Working with local NGOs and Kurdish authorities, the project will ease the registration process, provide grants and technical assistance to dozens of new business owners, and launch a one-million-view social media campaign to bolster Kurdistan’s credentials as a destination for new business.
“Platforms like Psoola show what can be achieved when business is allowed to thrive,” says Faisal Al Mutar, President of Ideas Beyond Borders. “This is the potential we are unleashing with the Innovation Hub and Open for Business in Kurdistan—supporting individuals who have found sustainable solutions to problems in their communities as they pursue transformative ideas with the potential to make a lasting impact.”
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This article was written by Olivia Cuthbert.