Coronavirus gives kiss of death to Iran’s tourism industry before Nowruz

Al-Monitor | : Iran — home to the ancient Persian civilization and with 24 UNESCO World Heritage Sites — has never ceased to attract tourists from around the world. In recent years, however, the country’s tourism industry has fallen into tatters largely due to tensions with the West, the United States in particular. Related economic sanctions and political pressures, as well as what Iranian officials describe as Iranophobia spearheaded by Western media, have combined to contribute to the decline of tourism in Iran. In spite of all this, the sector managed to stay afloat, if not thrive, in this land with endless wonders. A much-feared nightmare began to come true on Feb. 19, when Iranian officials announced the first deaths in the country from the evolving coronavirus outbreak. The timing couldn’t have been worse.

The last month of the Persian calendar, which ends on March 21, is by any measure the most bustling and booming period for Iran’s tourism sector because it culminates in Nowruz, the Persian New Year, a national two-week holiday. The entire country takes on a festive mood, marked by an elaborate set of rituals, family gatherings and travel.

As of Feb. 27, two weeks after the initial announcement of coronavirus deaths, the spread of the virus showed no sign of abating. Iran’s Health Ministry put the death toll at 26, with 245 people confirmed infected in at least 22 of the country’s 31 provinces. This is not good news for Iran’s tourism sector, as time is not on its side in the run-up to the holidays.

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