Iran tourism industry attracting attentions

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Iran tourism industry attracting attentions

Iran is making a fresh pitch for tourists with the recent lifting of economic sanctions providing an opportunity to cash in, AFP wrote in a report on Thursday.

Tourists, and the healthy revenues they could generate, are among the huge economic changes stemming from the nuclear deal.

Ski resorts, UNESCO-listed world heritage sites and deserts combine with cities steeped in Middle Eastern grandeur and tradition, adds the report. 

A tourism push was launched after President Hassan Rouhani came to power in 2013.

Iranian officials have already said that about five million foreign travelers visited Iran in 2014, and that the country aims to attract 20 million tourists, spending $30 billion, by 2025.

Entry procedures have been simplified, meaning visitors from only 11 countries are not eligible for a visa on arrival.

The United States, Britain, Canada and France top the exclusion list but some people will not be put off by the restrictions.

The New York Times earlier this week reported that there has been a surge in bookings for Iran trips by American tourists.

Tour operators say the demand has been so acute that they are racing to add new departures and selling them in record time, it reported.

- Skiing and ancient cities -

Iran hosts some of the world’s oldest cultural monuments, including 19 UNESCO World Heritage Sites, and its varied terrain ranges from desert locales to ski resorts.

A tourism adventure to Iran could all start right in capital Tehran and with skiing if you are visiting the country during winters. The city’s Tochal ski resort is one of several close to the capital.

Most tourists will then make trips to Isfahan, Shiraz and Yazd, cities which are internationally known to be much more beautiful and relaxed than Tehran, AFP’s report added.

Among the popular sites in Isfahan is Imam Square, second in size only to Tiananmen Square in Beijing, but with water fountains and impressive architecture the Iranian site is much more attractive.

For Rouhani, tourism offers a way to offset falling oil prices that have slashed government income. It comes as tourists shun many parts of the Middle East because of war and a recent wave of terrorist attacks in countries including Egypt and Tunisia, the report added. 

International credit and debit cards still do not work in Iran, but arriving with foreign currency and converting it into a large bundle of local rial notes does not seem a handicap.

There have been 4.16 million visitors in the first nine months of the Iranian year, which started in March 2015, up five percent from a year earlier, according to the tourism ministry.

Two thirds of them come from neighboring countries, such as Iraq, Azerbaijan, Armenia and Afghanistan or Pakistan, and are predominantly religious pilgrims visiting the holy Shia cities of Mashhad, northeast of Tehran, and Qom, south of the capital.

French or English speaking guides are booked up to the end of 2017 and the four or five star hotels in Isfahan, Shiraz and Yazd are sold out months in advance, AFP added.