Iran to woo Chinese tourists with visa-free entry

Financial Tribune – Iran is hoping to attract up to one million Chinese tourists from next month to shore up its economy, hit by US sanctions.

Vali Teymouri, Iran’s deputy director for tourism affairs, told the South China Morning Post that the Iranian government’s new visa waiver program for Chinese visitors–first announced in June–could be implemented as early as the end of this month (July).

Teymouri said Iran expects to “attract one million Chinese in the near future” through the visa waiver, a significant increase on the more than 52,000 Chinese who visited the Middle East country in 2018.

“We believe that the two countries have had common cultural and trade communications for a long time. So we should facilitate and improve mutual collaborations, especially in the tourism industry,” he said.

IRNA reported in late June that the Iranian government had passed a regulation to cancel visa formalities for Chinese nationals, at the suggestion of the country’s Foreign Ministry and the tourism agency, Iran’s Cultural Heritage, Handicrafts and Tourism Organization.

Ali Asghar Mounesan, the head of ICHHTO, said the decision was “an effective step” to help increase the number of Chinese tourists and “we want to host two million tourists from China each year”.

The move is aimed at increasing the number of Chinese people who want to visit Iran and raise the government’s non-oil revenues.

“We should believe that the tourism industry is [capable of] income generating more than the oil industry and that sanctions do not work on the tourism sector,” Mounesan said in June.

Tourism contributed more than 7% to the Iranian economy in 2017, along with an investment of $2.8 billion and nearly 5 million international tourists.

Teymouri, Mounesan’s deputy, said the agency was “working to implement” the visa-free program for Chinese tourists and “hope we will declare it at the end of July”.

“We believe the two countries have had common cultural and trade communications for a long time. So we should facilitate and improve mutual collaborations, especially in the tourism industry,” he said.

Iran’s GDP contracted by 3.9% in 2018 and its economy is expected to shrink by 6% this year, the International Monetary Fund announced.

In April, Washington further tightened sanctions by stopping all countries from buying Iranian oil and, last week, Trump threatened to “substantially” increase sanctions after Iran said it would not stick to uranium stockpile limit set by the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action in response to the US withdrawal from JCPOA.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said on Sunday Tehran was “ready for talks” with the US, if sanctions were lifted to end the economic pressure.

“We have always believed in talks … If they lift sanctions, end the imposed economic pressure and return to the deal, we are ready to hold talks with America today, right now and anywhere,” Rouhani said in a televised speech.