Financial Tribune – As US sanctions against Iran return and are expected to squeeze the domestic economy, the Islamic Republic has in recent months endeavored to relax the process of obtaining visas to attract more foreign tourists.
Iran is home to many historical landmarks and a rich culture, but its tourism sector remains largely underdeveloped due to a myriad of problems ranging from infrastructural issues to mismanagement.
Now that sanctions have snapped back after US President Donald Trump in May unilaterally withdrew from Iran’s nuclear deal with world powers, Iranian authorities are increasingly focusing on tourism.
Elimination of Visa Stamps
The most important initiative Iran has concocted to boost tourism in recent months aims to eliminate official stamps put on visas of foreign tourists visiting the country.
The initiative is a direct countermeasure to a travel restriction put in place by the US after Trump issued an order in March 2017, restricting travel to the US for those who have visited Iran, in addition to Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.
It was implemented from the first day of the second half of the Iranian year on Sept. 23, a Ministry of Foreign Affairs statement said, adding that the measure has been communicated to all representative offices of the Islamic Republic abroad as well as domestic airports.
The initiative, which was previously piloted in Iran’s offices in Doha, Muscat and across the Imam Khomeini (Tehran), Mashhad and Shiraz international airports, is part of a bigger support package to stave off the detrimental effects of US sanctions as well as the ongoing currency crisis facing the country’s tourism sector.
Foreign tourists from neighboring countries that have common land borders with Iran, including Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Armenia and Turkey, as well as those from the US, the UK, Canada, Jordan, Colombia, Bangladesh and Somalia, are not part of the new initiative, meaning that their passports will be stamped.
On the other hand, Iran has adopted a visa-on-arrival initiative that currently includes citizens of most countries.
India was the latest nation to be added to the scheme, as it was announced in late July that Iran will henceforth start granting visas on arrival to Indian citizens.
Nationals of all countries, except for those from Colombia, Somalia, the US, the UK, Canada, Bangladesh, Jordan, Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, holding valid ordinary passports and wishing to visit Iran’s mainland, can obtain a 30-day visa upon arrival in international airports.
Iran’s international airports include Tehran’s Imam Khomeini International Airport and airports located in the cities of Mashhad, Shiraz, Isfahan, Tabriz, Ahvaz, Kish, Qeshm, Kerman, Urmia, Bandar Abbas and Bushehr.
South Africa was one of the countries recently put on the list for receiving on-arrival visas at Iranian airports. In response, South Africa eased conditions based on which Iranian traders and businesspeople can obtain visas.
Visa Waiver Schemes
Lastly, Iran and Russia have been negotiating to implement a visa waiver program that will eliminate visa requirement for group tours.
“Final negotiations between tourism authorities of the two countries have been conducted over the plan and the agreement will most probably be signed in Russia in the near future,” Leyla Ajdari, the interim director of Marketing and Promotion Office at Iran’s Cultural Heritage, Handicrafts and Tourism Organization, said in early January about the initiative.
Based on the plan, group tours from both countries consisting of maximum 15 travelers and organized by certified tour operators will not require visas to visit the other country.
Iran has visa waiver agreements with 10 countries whose residents may stay in the country for designated time periods without needing a visa. Those 10 countries include Syria, Lebanon, Georgia, Egypt, Turkey, Azerbaijan, Bolivia, Malaysia, Armenia and Venezuela.
Visa facilitation is not the only way through which Iran is trying to incentivize foreign tourists to visit the country. It has been actively striving to boost its marine tourism sector by establishing or reactivating several sea routes with neighbors both to the south and to the north.