Tourism Industry Promising

Tourism Industry PromisingTourism Industry Promising

Iranians are uneasy when they notice that their neighbors like Turkey and the UAE (especially Dubai) could attract tens of millions tourists, but their country is at the bottom of ladder. To turn things around, President Hassan Rouhani has promised to improve the tourism industry and its income generation. Indeed during his election campaign, Rouhani called for the revival of the tourism sector, which can create jobs for millions of our youth at a time when their unemployment rates are hovering around 30 percent.

Vice president and head of the Iran Cultural Heritage, Handicrafts and Tourism Organization Massoud Soltanifar recently expressed satisfaction that more foreign tourists are showing interest in Iran. The flow of foreign tourists to Iran has risen by almost 200 percent, he has been quoted as saying.

Iran is now the most secure country in the region, and its relative political stability, compared to Egypt and Syria, once popular with tourists, has also encouraged visitors.

Nearly all foreign tourists who travel to Iran for the first time, say publicly there was a huge difference between what they and their family members imagined about Iran before travel and what they saw in reality. The difference is somewhat like horror or terror to enjoyment and exciting memorable travel by visiting friendly people.

In the new millennium, the tourism industry has transformed into one of the most profitable and expanding branches of the world economy in the service sector. The United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) forecasts that the number of tourist arrivals in the world continue to grow and in 2020 will reach 1.6 billion a year.

Tourism is among the key generators of wealth and employment in the world and the economic engine for developed and developing economies. According to World Travel and Tourism Council, the tourism industry constitutes 10 percent of global GDP directly or indirectly, supports 200 million jobs worldwide and 8 percent of total employment in the world. In the past three years, some 8.5 million jobs have been created as a result of growth in tourism. By 2020, the tourism economy contribution is estimated to grow to 12 percent of global GDP, and will support 250 million jobs, 9 percent of total employment.

Regarding tourism potential and opportunities to contribute to the attractiveness of country for tourists, fortunately Iran is ranked as one of the 10 top countries in the world but its tourism proceeds ranks 77th, and in terms of international tourist arrivals it is 70th. This is yet another indicator that our tourist industry is performing much below capacity.

According to UNESCO, Iran is among the top five oldest countries with ancient cultural and historical background, and major attractions including the ruins of Persepolis, a world heritage site, and Pasargadae, the tomb of Persian King Cyrus the Great, and the city of Isfahan.

The arts and cultural history/identity along with ancient treasures of countries are important factors that contribute to tourism and attract the foreign traveler. For example, Iranian traditional music goes back 1,700 years. This of itself offers enough opportunities to attract cultural tourists by performing concerts and music festivals. Iranian architecture has a history from at least 5000 BCE while Iranian cuisine and traditional dishes cater to different tastes.

Ours is a four season country. Tourists can travel from the hottest place on Earth (Lut Desert in southeast Kerman Province) to a very cold place within 45 minutes by air. Natural beauty, geographical attractions, unique islands, rare mineral hot-waters, sulphuric fountains, winter resorts, seashores and lakes, distinct weather conditions, ski resorts, diverse ecological jungles, mountains, natural museums…make Iran’s ecology unique for tourists.

Various religions in Iran such as Zoroastrianism, Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Sufism and the Persian Sufi are among other features that lure the foreign visitor.  

Devaluation of the Iranian currency compared to other currencies is one reason for the decreasing cost of travel to Iran. This offers a choice to many tourists who by far prefer less expensive spots when it comes to paying for accommodation, food, amusement et al.

So one may ask why Iran’s tourism industry with so much potential and attraction is lagging behind, and why it's international arrivals are low compared to other countries in the region.

The authorities’ general mistrust of foreigners and a lack of tolerance are the major obstacles preventing Iran from having a reasonable share of the international tourism revenue.

Other challenges include a lack of investment in tourism infrastructure in recent years, and the quality of our hotels, guides and transport is below world standard. In a broader sense, infrastructure calls for the development of modern communication and financial systems, transport (highways, railways, airports, ports), restaurants, shopping malls, entertainment centers, hotels, resorts…to promote international tourism and find our proper place on the global tourism map.

To move forward in this world of cut-throat competition, Iran must create a better political and social atmosphere. Eventually this will happen, and Iran will do what is needed to modernize its tourism infrastructure.