Iran: Top tourism target

Following the final nuclear agreement struck in Vienna last week, Iranian and foreign media have been abuzz with the effect of the accord on Iranian tourism.

The agreement eased over a decade of tensions between Iran and the West, which will positively impact tourism and, in turn, the economy.

Prior to the nuclear deal, Iranian officials took steps to boost tourism, as the government’s foreign policy helped improve the country’s global profile. These initiatives boosted the inflow of tourists.

However, the nuclear agreement will have a far more significant impact on the industry, if the right decisions are made by tourism officials.

Cultural Treasures
An article in the Guardian points to Iran’s “many unique cultural treasures unseen by western eyes”, and says the country is expecting a significant rise in the number of inbound tourists.

The author acknowledges the measures taken by President Hassan Rouhani’s administration by pointing to the government’s move to ease or abolish visa requirements for more foreign visitors, and mentions that 200 hotels are under construction, as accommodation is insufficient to cater to the spike in tourism in the past two years.

Pointing to the recent inscription of Susa and Meymand Village on the World Heritage List, the article expounds on Iran’s rich history and gives a nod to such historical cities as Hamedan, Isfahan and Shiraz, and makes a note of Tehran’s ski resorts.

Increased Bookings
The Daily Mail says Iran, “which boasts some of the world’s most beautiful ancient ruins and glorious sweeping landscapes”, could be on the threshold of an exciting tourism push.

Pointing to a report by the World Economic Forum that labeled Iran as the best destination for budget travelers, the article reports a “300% increase in bookings” to Iran last year and predicts easier travel for British citizens to the country as a result of the nuclear accord.

The eagerness of western travelers to visit Iran has been noticed by The Telegraph, which also notes the desire of Iranians to “share their culture and history with foreigners”.

British tour operators are enthusiastic about the positive ramifications of the nuclear deal. Speaking to the Guardian, Michael Pullman, marketing manager of Wild Frontiers, said demand for Iran tours has “soared” since the nuclear deal was reached.

He said the reaction from westerners visiting Iran is remarkable.

“There’s just stunning architecture and ancient sites, such as Persepolis, but everyone seems to agree that it’s the people that are the biggest surprise.”

David McGuinness from Travel The Unknown pointed to some of Iran’s historical cities, and said, “Yazd … is one of the world’s oldest mud-brick cities and Isfahan is the pinnacle of Islamic art and architecture that is full of mosques and palaces that require superlatives.”

His company, which took 100 people to Iran last year, has already planned several other tours—two classic and archeology tours in September and four more in October, including off-the-beaten-track tours.

Safety Concerns
Iran’s tourism industry took a big hit as a result of the western media’s smear campaign in recent years, citing safety concerns.

However, western tour operators have rejected the claim and declare that nothing could be further from the truth.

“Iran is probably the friendliest, most welcoming country I’ve ever been in. You feel safe walking in the streets, I felt safer there than I do in most places in London,” McGuiness told the Guardian.

He drew comparisons between Iran and its neighboring countries, including Iraq and Syria, and said he “felt very safe” because “there is no Sunni-Shia friction” in Iran.

Lifting Banking Sanctions
International media are in agreement that the removal of banking sanctions against Iran would give tourism an immense boost.

Currently, visiting foreigners have to go through complicated third parties in other countries to use credit cards, while mainstream online reservation platforms do not work.

However, Iran offers prepaid travel cash cards called “tourist card”, which is a debit card offered only at the Imam Khomeini International Airport. The card has a maximum $5,000 balance and is rechargeable.

Tourism officials have said once the sanctions are lifted, foreign travelers will be able to use international credit cards in Iran.

Infrastructure Development
Most foreign media point to Iran’s aging and “woefully underdeveloped” infrastructure and report that foreign investors are closely monitoring the country to seize any investment opportunities that may arise as a result of the nuclear agreement.

The UAE-based Rotana is planning to open a number of hotels in Iran, and France’s leading hotelier, AccorHotels, is involved in at least two four-star hotels in the country.

Another UAE-based hotel chain, Jumeirah Group, as well as Spain’s Melia Hotels International are eying the Iranian market, according to the Daily Mail.
Publicity Campaigns
The Telegraph pointed to the #MustSeeIran online campaign that encourages Iranians and foreigners who visit Iran to share pictures of their trip.

Founded by an Iranian named Ali Araqchi, the campaign aims to “show Iranian hospitality to the world”.

Some 300,000 photos have been shared on social media platforms as part of the campaign, showing the country’s dramatic mountains, clear Persian Gulf seas and authentic bazaars.
Iran has 19 sites on the UNESCO World Heritage Site list—the most of any Middle Eastern country.

Iranian officials are facilitating the participation of domestic tour operators in international tourism events. They have increased promotion campaigns targeting foreign tourists and hope that the country could attract as many as 20 million visitors a year by 2025.

By Financial Tribune