Iranian tour firms seek revised forex policy

Financial Tribune- The new restrictions on the trade of foreign currencies have caused great concern among outbound touring companies who complain that their sector has been overlooked while setting the priorities for currency allocation. 

In a recent directive, the Central Bank of Iran announced that hard currency will only be supplied by certified banks to 33 designated groups in which tour operators have not been included.

Exchangers are also prohibited from buying and selling foreign currency until further notice as per the directive, ISNA reported.

The 33 categories for which foreign currency will be provided is claimed to be able to fulfill essential public demands such as money for travel, treatment and education, among others.

However, except for religious tours, the currency needed to provide services for outbound travelers by tour companies has been ignored.

Tour Operators Excluded 

Hormatollah Rafiei, head Travel Agents’ Guild Association, voiced strong criticism about the scheme saying that the sector will face a collapse should the policy remain in place.

“Although the list includes money for travel, the businesses that provide services to travelers outside the country and need foreign currency for all deals have been disregarded,” he told the news agency.

The official noted that besides cash for traveling, tourists need services such as chartered flights and hotel reservations that are often provided by travel agents.

“It is surprising that money needed for the transfer of the dead body of a traveler to the country has been taken priority for currency allotment, but the agency that needs foreign exchange to book hotels and flights has not,” he lamented.

Among the 33 priority items is the money needed by select companies to organize tours to religious destinations.

According to recent data provided by Iran’s Cultural Heritage, Handicrafts and Tourism Organization, nine million Iranians traveled abroad last Iranian year (ended March 20), half of which were pilgrims.

This means that the other half of outbound tourists will be deprived of organized travel services.

Rafiei expressed wonder that companies organizing hajj or tours to Iraq are deemed to need foreign money, but those which book hotels and flights to other destinations are not.

“Banks do not supply money for us because we are not among designated categories, exchange shops are banned from trading foreign money and trading with dealers is a crime. So, how can we buy the services travelers need?” he said, adding that the guild is in effect being removed from the country’s economic cycle.

The statement by First Vice President Es’haq Jahangiri pointed out that the US dollar at a rate of 42,000 rials will be given to all legal businesses.

Rafiei voiced disappointment that travel agents that are legal businesses, pay taxes and supply part of the country’s budget have been left out.

Insufficient Travel Money 

Based on the new regulations, travelers to foreign destinations can receive up to €500 or its equivalent in other currencies for the Commonwealth of Independent States and neighboring countries (except Iraq and Saudi Arabia) and up to €1,000 for other countries.

According to Rafiei, the designated sum is too small for an outbound trip.

“This money would only suffice for daily costs. Varying conditions of foreign countries have not been taken into account. Even the visa costs of those who take multi-destination trips have not been considered,” he said, adding that inexpensive destinations should not have been considered alone in setting the sums.

He regretted that tourism guilds as the best advisers on the costs and the required money for travel were not involved in consultations.

The government is determined to prevent the massive outflow of foreign currency that has been blamed as one of the reasons behind the sharp rise of forex rates in recent months.

Plans have been devised to encourage domestic tourism to replace outbound travel.

A threefold increase in the departure tax was also introduced as a means to partly compensate for the money that is taken out of the country by tourists.

Given that, foreign travel seems to have relegated to the bottom of the government’s list of priorities.