Domestic Economy

Plan to lift Visa Restrictions to Revive Covid-Hit Tourism Sector

Plan to lift Visa Restrictions to Revive Covid-Hit Tourism Sector
Plan to lift Visa Restrictions to Revive Covid-Hit Tourism Sector

The spring of tourism [is coming], wrote the government-run Iran newspaper on Sept. 21, covering a ceremony in which Ezzatollah Zarghami was sworn in as Iran’s new minister of cultural heritage, tourism and handicrafts.
Zarghami told the event that following his conversations with President Ebrahim Raeisi, Iran plans to lift visa restrictions to help the severely hit tourism industry. He did not specify the date on which those regulations would be scrapped. 
However, several Iranian media outlets reported that twice-vaccinated foreign travelers would be embraced under the updated regulations, Al-Monitor wrote.
The announcement came as Iran’s Health Ministry is reporting progress toward curbing a stubborn fifth wave of the coronavirus pandemic, which has seen daily mortalities of up to 700 in recent weeks. 
As of Sept. 21, the figure dropped to below 400 as the government boasted about its once lethargic vaccination rollout now gathering pace and reaching half of its population of 83 million.
Since April 2020, amid the raging pandemic, Iran’s National Coronavirus Headquarters under former president, Hassan Rouhani, introduced a strict visa regime, suspending all tourism-related entries and allowing visitors solely for medical, business and academic purposes.
Iran is home to 24 UNESCO World Heritage Sites. 
With those restrictions in place, all businesses across the tourism sector — from travel agents and hotels to transport companies and restaurants — have been in the red, some reporting bankruptcy and closures, with thousands of redundant staff members thrust into the unemployed community. 
Leading companies in the sector have relentlessly urged the headquarters to ease at least partly some of those rules, but to no avail.
Multiple estimates have been released on the extent of pandemic-triggered loss incurred by Iranian tourism. Only months into the outbreak, Zarghami’s predecessor, Ali Asghar Mounesan, lamented the “near-zero level” nosedive of the sector, which came as little surprise as the country was and remains the Middle East’s worst Covid-hit nation.
Nevertheless, even before the pandemic, Iran’s tourism was already grappling with challenges, on top of international sanctions. And Iranian officials have blamed much of the tourism industry’s failures on what they believe is Western “media propaganda” aimed at scaring travelers away from the country.

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