Russian tour operators begin excursions to Iran
A number of Russian travel agents and tour operators have recently arrived in Iran for a week-long familiarization tour, Mehr reported on Friday.
The group, which entered the Islamic Republic on Thursday through Imam Khomeini International Airport, was scheduled to travel earlier this year following the implementation of Iran-Russia visa waiver for group tours; however, because of coronavirus restrictions, they were forced to postpone the journey, the report added. Supported by Mahan Airlines, the group will tour the southern cities of Kerman, Mahan, Shiraz, and central city of Isfahan as well as the UNESCO-registered Lut Desert in the barren heartland of Iran. The tour will be held observing strict health protocols and social distancing rules. Earlier in June, the former Iranian tourism minister Ali-Asghar Mounesan finalized work on a bilateral visa-free agreement for tourist groups with Russia. In 2017, former Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin inked a visa-free agreement for tourist groups. A joint technical committee has been developing an action plan for the previously agreed visa-free travel arrangements since then, in order to put the agreement into effect. However, the outbreak of the coronavirus put a halt to the agreement. Based on the 2017 agreement tour groups of 5 to 50 people heading to [easternmost parts of] Russia from Iran or vice versa are granted a visa-free stay of up to 15 days. Back in May, Mostafa Sarvari, who presides over the tourism marketing and advertising office of the Iranian Tour Operators Association, announced many Russian tourists are eager to travel to Iran, recounting his Russian counterparts. “Many [potential] Russian travelers are motivated to visit novel and lesser-known destinations such as Iran that could be a safe and attractive destination,” he said. “According to Russian tourism experts, the feedback from Russian tourists who have traveled to Iran has been very positive, and its reflection, especially on social media, has caused a great deal of enthusiasm and interest.” According to Ebrahim Pourfaraj, who heads the Iranian Tour Operators Association, rounds of negotiations have been held between Iranian tour operators, travel marketers, and their Russian counterparts. “We’ve been commenced talks with some Russian travel agents to put Iranian destinations on their itineraries…. And the Iranian Tour Operators Association has also entered negotiations with Russian unions for outbound tours to attract more travelers from Russia.” Pourfaraj says the majority of potential Russian travelers are unaware of the vast tourist attractions that exist in every corner of Iran. “The fact is that Iran’s political and economic relations with Russia are considered as good, but this has nothing to do with attracting tourists because it is directly connected with the Russian people. It is the Russian people who must choose Iran as their destination.” Maya Lomidze, executive director of the Association of Tour Operators of Russia, had told Sputnik that the visa agreement may significantly surge the tourist flows between the two countries, just like it happened when a similar deal was signed between Russia and China. The flow of Iranian tourists to Russia increased by 50-70 percent following the operation of direct flights that connect Iran to St. Petersburg, Moscow, and Sochi, she said. Iran is taking proactive measures in line with the long-term goal of 20 million tourists by 2025.