Is Iran back in the tourist map?
Ben Affleck reminded us yesterday that Iran exists with the dramatisation of the 1980 joint CIA-Canadian secret operation to extract six fugitive American diplomatic personnel out of revolutionary Iran.
The Canadians are not happy nor are the Iranians. The former have been stripped of the chance to tell and boast about a seriously good story, the latter, well, the whole world is reminded once again who the bad guys are.
Iran has not been getting any good press for decades now. Deservedly so? I really don´t want to make that judgement right now. What I want, instead, is to leave politics, religion and extremism behind (as if one could, I hear you saying…) and have a fair look at a country renown for the hospitality of its people, a country rich in history and tradition, stunningly beautiful women and centuries old treasures.
Iran´s growing tourism industry
The U.N. World Tourism Organisation reported that from 2004 to 2010, the annual increase in tourists visiting foreign countries was 3.2 percent. Iran, on the other hand, presented a growing trend with figures over the same period showing tourism in this country grew at a much faster clip — 12.7 percent. The number of foreign tourists in Iran reached 3 million in 2011, contributing more than $2 billion to the national economy, according to Iranian data. Tour operators in Iran confirm the number sore last year.
But who are these foreign visitors? Most of us will probably be hard pressed to find someone amongst our circle of friends who had visited Iran. The restrictions imposed by Iranian authorities deter most Western tourists who prefer destinations where alcohol is easily accessible and women can enjoy the sun without having to worry about Islamic modesty. However, a small share of tourists to the country (approximately 10% of the total number of visitors) are attracted by the country’s seemingly countless ancient sites and its reputation for hospitality and, find their way into Iran from North America (more than 1,000 Americans visited Iran as tourists last year, according to the Iranian Tour Operators Association) and the European Union including Germany, Italy, Bulgaria, France, Belgium, and China.
Iran’s Cultural Heritage, Tourism and Handicrafts Organisation has plans to further expand tourism in the areas of eco tourism, coastlines, restoration of historical relics, handicraft township and health tourism, particularly in the country´s most popular tourist destinations of Esfahan, Mashhad, Qom, Persepolis and Shiraz. Besides, to further the growth in this industry and to encourage domestic and foreign direct investment in this sector, the 50 per cent tax exemption previously granted to tourism enterprises has been extended to include five-star hotels.
If you are one of those inclined to explore the unexplored, I suggest you browse Irpedia, one of Iran´s most complete resources for foreign travellers. I was once tempted, many, many years ago, when I was only 19, to visit this incredible place, but had a change of heart after visiting the Iranian embassy in Madrid, and had to undergo a fairly intimidating interrogation by what seemed to be a group of very intimidating men. I thought I´d leave Iran for a next time. Perhaps the time is approaching…