Iran is turning to tourism to bolster its economy after years of sanctions imposed because of its nuclear programme.
The 2015 landmark nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) gives Tehran access to western business opportunities.
According to Iran’s Cultural Heritage, Tourism and Handicrafts Organisation (CHTHO), foreign tourist arrivals in Iran have been more than doubled compared to the global average since the implementation of the deal.
CHTHO Director Zahra Ahmadipour has said that her country needs to breathe fresh air into the sector in order to achieve sustainable growth and profit from the boom in the number of foreign arrivals.
In order improve the sector, the CHTHO plans to bring a variety of Iranian hotels, accommodation and other services under a single umbrella brand to provide travellers with guaranteed standards.
This comes after years of embargo. Western economic sanctions were eased in 2015 in exchange for a deal on the country’s controversial nuclear programme.
Largely welcomed by the international community, the deal has been a boost for the economy and investments, stimulating urban renewal and reforms in the energy sector.
The government’s 2025 Tourism Vision Plan expects to increase the number of tourism arrivals from 4.8 million in 2014 to 20 million in 2025.
Before international sanctions, Iran was one of the most popular tourist destinations. Now Forbes Magazine is promoting Iran as one of “The 10 Coolest Places to Go in 2017”.
In September 2016, Mastercard Global Destinations Cities Index released its annual report, placing Tehran in ninth place of the top-ten fastest growing destination cities based on the 132 most visited cities in the world. The report notes that Tehran saw a 13 per cent growth in terms of international overnight visitor arrivals.
Massive efforts made by the government with the private sector have stimulated growth. However, in comparison to established international norms, tourism is pretty young in Iran resulting in quite poor accommodation and transport infrastructure in many parts of the country.
However, French multinational hotel group AccorHotels has massive plans to build 100 hotels across Iran within a decade.
To make it easier and more profitable for investors, Iranian authorities are offering to grant years of tax exemption to both domestic and foreign businesses and individuals as an incentive to invest in the sector.
This should favour growth in a country that offers natural beauties, major historical and cultural sites (21 on the UNESCO World Heritage list), and original destinations, from the ski slopes of the Alborz mountains to the beaches of the Persian Gulf and the Caspian Sea.
Of course visitors will have to comply with local laws and customs, such as no alcohol and compulsory head covering for women in public, in accordance with Sharia (Islamic law).
However, for Melissa Biggs Bradley, founder of the travel website Indagare, this is more than offset by Iranians’ natural hospitality.
“I have never felt more genuinely welcomed by the local people in any of the more than 100 countries I have visited,” Biggs Bradley wrote.