Foreign travelers not deterred by Iranophobia: tourism official

November 19, 2019

TEHRAN – Iran’s deputy tourism minister on Monday said that anti-Iranian sentiment or Iranophobia, which has long been forged and spread by some Western governments and media, has not prevented foreign travelers from visiting the country.

“During the past [Iranian calendar] year (ended March 19), despite all the [sanctions-related] issues and [some foreign] attempts to tarnish Iran’s international image, we have had a 52.5 percent increase in foreign arrivals compared to a year earlier,” Vali Teymouri said, IRNA reported.

Referring to the “ineffectiveness” of an Iranophobia project, which is pursued by the “enemies”, the official said the number of foreign arrivals in the country has also increased in the first seven months of the current year compared to the same period last year.

He pointed out that the biggest tourism challenge that Iran faces is that it is still somewhat “unknown” for many potential travelers.

“I, as an expert, who have been working in the field of tourism for the past twenty years, believe that the main challenge of our travel industry is that Iran is internationally unknown. Moreover, over the past years, an Iranophobia project [orchestrated] by our enemies have been added too.” 

Some travel associates see better prospects for tourism sector of the country as policies for shielding the currency against the U.S. sanctions are taking effect.

To cope with such propaganda campaign, Teymouri said, “Currently, tourism and diplomacy packages have been prepared to be sent with the help of Foreign Ministry to various countries for further familiarization with Iran.”

Last November, the Trump administration reinstated sanctions on Iran, mainly the ones that had been lifted under the 2015 nuclear deal, in order to batter Iran’s economy.

The sanctions together with anti-Iran propaganda campaigns have decreased Western tourists but Iran has managed to compensate the blow even flourishing its tourism by doing its best to attract more from neighboring states.

Iran has also eased traveling for people from Iraq, China, Republic of Azerbaijan, Afghanistan, Turkey, Pakistan, and several other countries who arrive in Iran for medical, pilgrimage and cultural heritage purposes.

Some two million Iraqi nationals visited Iran during the first seven months of the past Iranian calendar year, constituting Iran’s largest source of inbound passengers.

Iran also eyes to have a bigger share of Chinese tourism, as it, in a unilateral measure, recently approved to waive the visa requirement for the Chinese passport holders.

The World Travel & Tourism Council’s latest report indicates that Iraq was the main source of tourism for Iran in 2018, as Iraqis constituted 24% of all inbound visitors. Other major sources were Azerbaijan (17%), Turkey (8%), Pakistan (4%) and Bahrain (2%). The remaining 46% came from the rest of the world.

WTTC’s review of tourism spending in Iran in 2018 shows 93% of visitors spent for leisure purposes while only 7% spent on business purposes. The council ranked Iran 20th from among 185 countries in its 2017 power ranking, which evaluates countries in terms of absolute size growth measured in U.S. dollars in the field of travel and tourism.

Regarding to the downfall of potential Western visitors, Skift Inc., a New York City headquartered media company that provides news, research, and marketing services for the travel industry, said in July article that “Despite setbacks, [international] tour operators are optimistic about long-term growth in tourism to Iran, which in recent years has stepped up efforts to increase international visitation and has the stated goal of attracting 20 million annual visitors by 2025.

While the U.S. State Department has long issued strong advisories against traveling to Iran and despite tensions between the two countries, tour operators who spoke with Skift strongly disagree, maintaining that Iran has proven to be a safe and remarkably hospitable place for travelers, including Americans.

“It is a country that is often portrayed as unwelcoming, but the reality is quite the opposite,” said Jenny Gray, the global product and operations manager of the Australia-based Intrepid Travel.

“Iranians are warm, friendly and eager to show off their country to foreigners. The feedback from our travelers is a testament to this.”

“Once they [Iranian authorities] have been approved for entry [issuing visas], people are welcomed warmly—we’ve never encountered a problem or even a cold shoulder,” said Robin Pollak, the president of Journeys International, which is offering Iran tours since 2015.

“People in Iran are very curious about visitors from a culture that is off-limits to them. They understand that American visitors do not reflect the way America is portrayed to them by their government,” she added.

Iran embraces hundreds of historical sites such as bazaars, museums, mosques, bridges, bathhouses, madrasas, mausoleums, churches, towers, and mansions, of which 22 being inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage list.

AFM/MG

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