Al Monitor | Passenger trains between Van in eastern Turkey and the Iranian city of Tabriz, which have not run for nearly three years, will resume running June 18, according to Turkey’s Transport Minister Ahmet Arslan.
This is more good news for Van, a city of half a million about an hour’s drive from the Iranian border, which has lately enjoyed the economic benefits of a surge in interest among Iranian tourists.
Earlier this month, when Al-Monitor visited, signs in Farsi were ubiquitous throughout Van, while Iranian visitors sat in cafes snacking on fries and sipping orange juice during Ramadan fasting hours, and enjoying cocktails in the city’s bars, many of which stayed open during the holy month. The city is popular with visitors on the other side of the border for its more relaxed environment and cheaper shopping options. Local bus companies offered tickets to nearby cities in Iran, while young vendors sold smuggled Iranian cigarettes and tea on the streets.
Turkey’s robust tourism sector was dealt a harsh blow in 2016, as terror attacks in Istanbul and Ankara and the failed coup attempt of July 15 caused the once seemingly ever-growing industry to freeze up. This caused the number of tourists to Istanbul to decline for the first time since the early 2000s. The sector has since begun to recover, and much of the positive news has centered around a staggering increase in the number of Iranian tourists.
According to official figures, the total number of Iranian visitors to Turkey decreased slightly from 1.7 million in 2015 to 1.66 million in 2016, which amounted to a mere 2.2% drop in a year where visitors from most other countries declined sharply. During the same period, the number of American tourists plummeted by 42% and visitors from Germany by 30%. In 2017, diplomatic rows with Germany and the Netherlands likely played an integral role in the declining number of visitors from Western Europe.