Economy, Domestic Economy

Subsidized Travel: Yea or Nay?

Travel & Environment Desk
The new tourism scheme aims to encourage more people, particularly families, to visit off-the-radar destinations.
The new tourism scheme aims to encourage more people, particularly families, to visit off-the-radar destinations.

Iran’s tourism authority has announced a scheme to subsidize travel for select destinations to help promote domestic tourism.

Masoud Soltanifar, the head of Iran’s Cultural Heritage, Handicrafts and Tourism Organization, said on Saturday his office will shoulder 20% of the costs of a tour per person to less visited locations across the country.

The ICHHTO’s scheme, introduced in May by tourism officials to encourage people to visit off-the-radar destinations, has received a mixed reception.

While at first the term “travel subsidy” misled people into believing they would receive a payment to travel, it was later clarified that the subsidy would be paid to travel agencies conducting tours to those locations.

These destinations include the provinces of Kerman, Kermanshah, Kurdestan, Lorestan, South Khorasan, Sistan-Baluchestan and Hormozgan.

  The Good

The scheme, the officials argue, will encourage more people to travel and help bring much needed cash to areas whose economies are in dire straits. Tourism creates jobs, which will boost the local economies and improve the quality of life of their residents.

According to the most recent figures released by the Statistical Center of Iran, 46% of Iranians did not travel this summer for a variety of reasons, including low purchasing power.

Subsidizing travel can no doubt help reduce that figure, as most families opt not to travel simply because it takes a toll on their coffers.

 The Bad

In theory, the scheme appears to be an admirable attempt by tourism officials to oil the wheels of the country’s budding tourism sector. However, some have questioned the efficacy of the plan.

Critics point to the chronic lack of infrastructure in selected destinations and high hotel prices, arguing that if people aren’t satisfied with their trip, word of mouth will ensure the scheme becomes yet another failed attempt to develop tourism.

Iran’s top holiday destinations, including Isfahan, Shiraz, Kish and Qeshm, suffer from a lack of adequate and affordable lodging facilities. If popular destinations cannot keep pace with the growing tourist demand, there is no doubt that isolated destinations will have a more difficult task coping with an influx of tourists.

While it is true that tourism officials are pushing ahead with plans to build more hotels, critics say they are only concerned about four- and five-star establishments used only by the wealthy. The officials deserve to get the benefit of doubt to see what places are prioritized by their designated travel agencies.

The critics argue that the travel subsidy should instead be used to develop infrastructure and offer loans to tourism projects, which will increase traveling options and cater to the needs of a wider cross-section of people.

However, that’s a totally different ball game to be played over a long-term framework. Should people wait until such projects pass through the bureaucratic labyrinth to see the light of day?

Something needs to be done now to help people escape their daily drudgery and allow some fresh air and green vistas into their lives. Any small step in that direction should be welcomed.


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