Iran extends ban on group tours in bid to contain coronavirus   

July 19, 2020 - 18:23

TEHRAN – Iran has decided to extend a ban on inbound group tours as the country is still grappling with the coronavirus pandemic, deputy tourism minister Vali Teymouri said on Sunday. However, travel agencies can organize business tours for individuals, he added, ISNA reported.

The Ministry of Cultural Heritage, Tourism and Handicrafts attempts to bring the flow of [foreign] travelers back to normal as of mid-July which was concurrent with the opening of some borders of the country, he explained.

The national headquarters for the coronavirus control has issued a permit for solo travelers to enter the country in accordance with health protocols, but group tours will be prohibited, he reiterated.

Last month, Mohammad Ali Vaqefi, the vice president of the Iranian Tour Operators Association, warned that the coronavirus pandemic may turn tours and travels in Iran into luxury items as observing health protocols will rise the cost of travel in the country.

“With the continuation of the coronavirus outbreak, tourists may prefer individual travel rather than tours. They may also choose to go on a trip by their own vehicle and stay in tents or in nature instead of hotels…. So far, 90 percent of the 2020 inbound tours have been canceled, and the possibility of canceling the remaining 10 percent is still high,” he explained.

The tourism ministry last month announced that it expects the country would start hosting foreign travelers as of mid-summer with the priority given to travelers from the neighboring countries.

“Based on our tourism marketing program monitoring and data analysis from the neighboring countries, the Persian Gulf littoral states, and the European Union, an initial forecast suggests that Iran will open land borders to neighbors as of 15th of Tir (July 5) and some of its air borders as of 1st of Mordad (July 22),” said Mohammad-Ebrahim Larijani who presides over the ministry’s advertising and marketing office.

The rapid spread of the novel coronavirus has plunged the travel and tourism industry and economy in the global scene over that past couple of months as passenger traffic on airlines and hotel occupancy rates have fallen off a cliff compared to the same periods previous years.

Some experts expect Iran to achieve a tourism boom after coronavirus contained, believing its impact would be temporary and short-lived for a country that ranked the third fastest-growing tourism destination in 2019.

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. Under the 2025 Tourism Vision Plan, it aims to increase the number of tourist arrivals from 4.8 million in 2014 to 20 million in 2025.

The latest available data show eight million tourists visited the Islamic Republic during the first ten months of the past Iranian calendar year (started March 21, 2019).