Among other areas, Iran’s tourist industry was severely stung by George W. Bush’s labelling of the country as the ‘axis of evil’, and economic sanctions have crippled the country for decades. However, with the recent nuclear deal in Vienna and the lifting of sanctions and thawing of relations it is expected that tourists will begin to flock to the country. There has already been an increase in tourist activity since President Hassan Rouhani took office in 2013.
As it stands, tourists must go through third parties to plan their trips to Iran and undergo complications throughout the process which are often frustrating, uncertain and confusing for the client and service provider alike. Banking restrictions have been installed in various forms since the 1979 Islamic Revolution. The removal of these restrictions will allow ease of travel for foreigners in terms of bookings for tours, accommodation and travel, using credit cards and transferring money. This is why Iran’s Vice President and Head of Cultural Heritage, Handicrafts and Tourism, Masoud Soltanifar, sees the tourism industry as benefiting from the nuclear deal more than any other industry in the country. Rouhani’s government aims to extent the current 15-day tourist visa to one month. Additionally, a plan to implement e-visas is underway. Tour operators like Travel the Unknown and Wild Frontiers—both of which are experienced in operating tours in Iran and consider it a safe country to visit—are already seeing a spike in bookings and expecting more to come.
International hotel chains are, for the first time, making plans to open hotels in the country. The UAE’s Rotana hotels plans to open four hotels in Iran, and France’s Accor hotels, one of the world’s top hotel groups, is opening two hotels in Tehran. Smaller, local hotels and Bed & Breakfasts also hope that booking platforms such as Booking. com can work with Iran to increase the ease of the booking process.
Iran has a combination of Zoroastrian and Islamic heritage, bringing countless sites of beauty and intrigue, especially for Western tourists who are unaccustomed to Persian culture and history. Places of interest include the ancient city of Persepolis, which was the capital of the world’s largest empire, and the cities of Isfahan and Shiraz. Iran has 19 sites on UNESCO’s World Heritage Site List and two more just got added—the village of Maymand in central Iran, and the archaeological site of Susa. Additionally, the terrain is suitable for hiking, trekking and skiing during certain times of the year.
In addition to building up Iran’s economy and tourism industry this change is a great opportunity for cultural understanding and respect to gain ground. It is important for Westerners to see Iran for what it truly is, not from the inaccurate perspective advocated by the U.S. government, which has tarnished Iran’s reputation. Tourists coming back from visiting Iran remark about how beautiful the country is, but say the thing they loved and will remember most is the kindness of the Iranian people.