Monday, 16 September, 2019

Iran to woo Chinese tourists with visa-free entry ‘within weeks’

Iran is hoping to attract up to one million Chinese tourists from next month in a bid to shore up its falling economy, badly hit by US sanctions.

Vali Teymouri, Iran’s deputy director for tourism affairs, told the South China Morning Post that the Iranian government’s new visa waiver program for Chinese visitors – first announced in June – could be implemented as early as the end of this month.

Teymouri said Iran expected to “attract one million Chinese in the near future” through the visa waiver, a significant increase on the more than 52,000 Chinese who visited the Middle East country in 2018.

“We believe that the two countries have had common cultural and trade communications for a long time. So we should facilitate and improve mutual collaborations, especially in the tourism industry,” he said.

Iran’s economy has been sliding towards recession since last year and has been deeply affected by sanctions imposed by US President Donald Trump’s administration.

Tehran’s Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) reported in late June that the Iranian government had passed a regulation to cancel visa formalities for Chinese nationals, at the suggestion of the country’s foreign ministry and the tourism agency, Cultural Heritage, Handicrafts and Tourism Organisation (ICHTO).

Ali Asqar Munesan, head of the ICHTO, said the decision was “an effective step” to help increase the number of Chinese tourists and “we want to host two million tourists from China each year”.

The move is aimed at increasing the number of Chinese people who want to visit Iran and to raise the government’s non-oil revenues.

“We should believe that the tourism industry is [capable of] income generating more than the oil industry and that sanctions do not work on the tourism sector,” Munesan said, in the IRNA report in June.

Tourism contributed more than 7 per cent to the Iranian economy in 2017, along with investment of US$2.8 billion and nearly 5 million international tourists.

Munesan’s deputy Teymouri said the agency was “working to implement” the visa-free programme for Chinese tourists and “hope we will declare it at the end of July”.

“We believe the two countries have had common cultural and trade communications for a long time. So we should facilitate and improve mutual collaborations, especially in the tourism industry,” he said.

Iran’s GDP contracted by 3.9 per cent in 2018 and its economy is expected to shrink by 6 per cent this year, according to the Washington-based International Monetary Fund.

In April, Washington further tightened the sanctions by stopping all countries from buying Iranian oil and, last week, Trump threatened to “substantially” increase sanctions following Iran’s breach of the uranium stockpile limit set by the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said on Sunday that Tehran was “ready for talks” with the US if sanctions were lifted to end the economic pressure, Al Jazeera reported.

“We have always believed in talks … if they lift sanctions, end the imposed economic pressure and return to the deal, we are ready to hold talks with America today, right now and anywhere,” Rouhani said in a televised speech.

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