Iran tourism prepares for a comeback
Iran considers reopening borders to foreign vacationers as its new tourism minister has said the government will soon scrap visa restrictions.
Months of steep recession has taken its toll. Many travel insiders, hoteliers, and tour operators have faced big dilemmas such as bankruptcy, unemployment, debts, and the prospects of not being competitive on the international level. They now have good grounds of hope as Cultural Heritage, Tourism and Handicrafts Minister Ezzatollah Zarghami announced on September 19 that the country plans to lift visa restrictions to help the severely hit tourism industry. Zarghami made the remarks following his conversations with President Seyyed Ebrahim Raisi, however, the minister did not specify the date upon which those regulations would be scrapped. Some sources say that fully vaccinated travelers would be embraced under the updated regulations. Meanwhile, the number of people testing positive for COVID-19 has continued to fall in the Islamic Republic, curbing a stubborn fifth wave of the pandemic, which has seen daily mortalities of up to 700 in recent weeks. As of September 22, the figure dropped to below 300 as the government has devoted a great deal of effort to vaccinate citizens against the nasty virus. Several estimates have been released so far on the extent of the tourism-related losses incurred by the pandemic. Only months into the outbreak, Zarghami’s predecessor, Ali Asghar Mounesan, lamented that the number of foreign travelers to Iran was drastically plunged due to the pandemic. “Tourism of the country was growing before the corona [outbreak], its revenues reached $11.7 billion in 2019, which accounted for 2.8% of GDP, nearing the average share of tourism in the world GDP, which was 3.2 percent,” Mounesan said. He added 8.7 million foreign nationals visited Iran during the [Iranian] year (1398), adding that Iran was ranked as the second fastest-growing country in tourism based on data compiled by the World Tourism Organization. So far, panels of travel experts have mapped out new marketing strategies hoping the sector would get back on its feet once again. Earlier this year, the Head of the Iranian Tour Operators Association Ebrahim Pourfaraj asked the government to issue tourist visas for the international applicants who have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19. “The Ministry of Health and the National Headquarters for Coronavirus Control can at least agree that the international tourists who have received the [second dose of] coronavirus vaccine would be allowed to enter Iran.” The expert lamented that the continuation of such a trend would result in losing international tourist markets more than before. “Or at least they should make it clear so that we can respond appropriately to foreign companies and tourists to not to miss the international tourist markets more than before.” Iran is potentially a booming destination for travelers seeking cultural attractions, breathtaking sceneries, and numerous UNESCO-registered sites. Under the 2025 Tourism Vision Plan, Iran aims to increase the number of tourist arrivals from 4.8 million in 2014 to 20 million in 2025. Even before the pandemic, Iran’s tourism was already grappling with some challenges, on top of those Western “media propaganda” aimed at scaring potential travelers away from the Islamic Republic. Some experts believe Iran is still somehow “unknown” for many potential travelers due to such a “media war”. They, however, consider bright prospects for the tourism sector of the country if it vigorously pursues comprehensive strategies to counter U.S.-led propaganda and strict sanctions, yet does its best to loosen tough travel regulations.