'Smart, responsible traveling' should replace ‘do not travel' recommendations: tourism minister

September 18, 2020 - 23:15

TEHRAN – Iranian Minister of Cultural Heritage, Tourism, and Handicrafts Ali Asghar Munesan has said that if coronavirus-related restrictions persist, the tourism industry of the country will suffer irreparable losses and many tourism insiders will be bankrupt, adding it’s time to replace “smart and responsible traveling” with “do not travel” recommendations.

Mounesan also announced that he would soon meet with Health Minister, Saeed Namaki, to find a way for lifting travel bans. “The outbreak of the coronavirus has severely damaged an already fledgling industry,” he added in an interview with a state TV program.

To avoid the devastation of the Iranian tourism industry, “smart and responsible traveling” should replace "do not travel” recommendations, Mounesan said.

Even just before the coronavirus pandemic, the Iranian tourism industry was operating slowly and with great difficulty under international sanctions and political disputes, amongst other restrictions.

Mounesan has repeatedly announced that his ministry is in full coordination with the Ministry of Health for strictly implementing health protocols in travel destinations, hospitably centers, and museums, amongst others, underlining that “people’s health is our first priority.”

“Despite all the odd events happened in 1398 (the past Iranian year ended in March 2020), such as floods, fuel [price rises], the martyrdom of the [Commander of the IRGC Quds Force] Major General Qassem Soleimani, regional conflicts and the crash of a Ukrainian airliner, we still witnessed an unprecedented growth under [U.S.-led] sanctions, and that is because employment in the field of tourism is potentially stable.”

“Protocols outlined by the [both] Ministry of Health, and National Headquarters for Coronavirus Control are being strictly implemented.”

Elsewhere in his remarks, Mounesan reminded guidelines and instructions formulated to ramp up the safety in hotels, guest houses, eco-lodge unites, tourist destinations, transport facilities, recreational centers, and restaurants.

“In a situation when the country is fighting against the coronavirus outbreak, we have never closed hotels but strict protocols have been declared to them….. However, many hotels did not have customers and shut due to high costs.”

He said that strict health protocols can be executed and monitored within package tours both for international or domestic ones. 

“We want to open the way for foreign tourists to enter Iran in a way that neither we get them coronavirus nor catch the virus from them… We know that if the trips take place in the form of a tourist tour, hygiene can be controlled during the trip because the transport fleet now observe health protocols and regarding to hotel rooms, if used by one person, they would not be rented to another during the next 24 hours.”

The official attached great importance to jobs generated by tourism and hospitality sectors: “Tourism [industry] can bring many [public] benefits, even if it receives only a little support. It is possible to create a job [through little investment such as] 50 million tomans (some $11,900 based on a fixed official rate of 4,200 toman per U.S. dollar), but in the industrial sector, a job can be generated with at least 500 million tomans.”

“Despite all the odd events happened in 1398 (the past Iranian year ended in March 2020), such as floods, fuel [price rises], the martyrdom of the [Commander of the IRGC Quds Force] Major General Qassem Soleimani, regional conflicts and the crash of a Ukrainian airliner, we still witnessed an unprecedented growth under [U.S.-led] sanctions, and that is because employment in the field of tourism is potentially stable.”

“Revenues from tourism in Iran are not like oil revenues that go directly to the government treasury, but our foreign exchange earnings go directly to the market through tourism insiders; different currencies enter the country, which are spent in tourism markets and its different sectors, but these incomes are not visible.”

“With 32,000 works, relics, rituals and sites registered as national cultural heritage, and 24 [UNESCO] World Heritage sites, we (the ministry) have very little budget and we have to spend part of this budget to [maintain and conserve] historical monuments and sites… though we have been able to use people’s capital to restore some of the monuments,” the minister explained.

He noted the boutique hotels are amongst victims of the pandemic fears. Boutique hotels are on the verge of being bankrupt…. In normal situations, boutique hotels are usually overbooked for the next six months, and the Iranians could hardly fit in.” 

“Besides, many historical inns and caravanserais have been restored and repurposed to be guest houses. Moreover, many eco-lodge unites have been come on stream over the past couple of years.”

Last month, Mounesan announced the number of foreign travelers to Iran had drastically plunged due to the global coronavirus pandemic as the Islamic Republic registered only 74 visits during the spring season. “Iran’s [inbound] tourism came to almost zero and the country had 74 foreign tourists in the first three months of this [Iranian calendar] year (started on March 20), due to corona outbreak.”

Tourism [industry of Iran] was growing before the corona [outbreak], its revenues reached $11.7 billion in 2019, which accounted for 2.8% of GDP, near the average share of tourism in the world GDP, which was 3.2 percent, the minister explained.

He said 8.7 million foreign nationals visited Iran during the past [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. “On the onset of coronavirus, tourism faced a sharp decline in the world including our country. So that in the first three months of the current [Iranian] year the number of foreign tourists dropped to 74 --- it was reached almost zero!.”

The minister reminded that some 2.3 million foreign nationals visited the Islamic Republic during the spring last year that showed a 40.66 percent increase year on year. The country hosted 1,443,551 million travelers during the same period a year earlier. Talking about losses to the travel and hospitality industry of the country, the minister said that the virus decease has caused damage to many countries around the world, and our country’s travel sector has so far suffered a loss of 12 trillion rials (some $2.85 billion at the official rate of 42,000 rials).

In August, Mounesan proclaimed: “If the second wave of the coronavirus pandemic is contained, all the tourism businesses across the country will have the capacity to fully resume their activities both in domestic and foreign markets.”

“Many tourism projects have been completed, or are being implemented, showing that a very good capacity has been created in the field of tourism in the country and [this trend] should not be stopped.”

According to Mounesan, 2,451 tourism-related projects worth 1,370 trillion rials (around $32 billion) are currently being implemented across the country that “signals a prosperous future for Iran’s tourism sector.”

Iran expects to reap a bonanza from its numerous tourist spots such as bazaars, museums, mosques, bridges, bathhouses, madrasas, mausoleums, churches, towers, and mansions, of which 24 being inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage list. Rooted in ancient Persian civilization, the nation that has survived numerous alien invasions and natural disasters over its rich history while maintaining its appeal to local and foreign tourists.

AFM/

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