People, Travel

Thaw in Ties With Britain Opens Up Iran Tourism

Thaw in Ties With Britain Opens Up Iran TourismThaw in Ties With Britain Opens Up Iran Tourism

A thaw in relations and renewed British Foreign Office advice is opening up Iran for tourism for the first time since the 1970s, Chris Maxwell writes for London-based Director Magazine.

Anybody skeptical about Iran’s “back in business” status need only look at the number of European trade delegations to have touched down in Tehran recently.

Since July, when the country struck a historic deal with western politicians to limit its nuclear development powers in exchange for the UN lifting sanctions, trade missions have flooded in. They have arrived from Italy, Germany and the UK—when a group led by British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond witnessed the reopening of the British Embassy after four years.

Wherever trade goes, of course, tourism follows.

“No other industry in Iran will see a bigger boost than tourism as a result of this deal [Vienna nuclear agreement],” said Iran’s Vice President for Tourism Masoud Soltanifar, who aims to attract 20 million tourists to the Islamic Republic within a decade.

With the British Foreign Office recently declaring almost all of Iran safe for travel (bar the borders with Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan), UK travelers are expected to contribute to that rise.

Most tourists bypass polluted capital Tehran to visit scenic Isfahan, with its turquoise-tiled mosques, teahouses and grand bazaar.

Iran’s ancient civilization can be explored via the ruins of Persepolis, Yazd’s mud-brick alleys or Chogha Zanbil’s impressive ziggurat.

Meanwhile, exotic skiing holidays are on offer at the Alborz mountain resorts of Shemshak and Dizin, while the Persian Gulf’s Kish Island is the nearest thing Iran has to Waikiki.

British visitors, however, can still only visit the country on organized trips, but a host of operators offer tours.

Persian Voyages runs a 15-day “Highlights of Iran” package (£2,350 / $3,628 per person), alongside horse-riding and skiing holidays. Golden Eagle Luxury Trains offers the Danube Express from Budapest-Tehran (£9,895 / $15,277) while Journeys Beyond the Surface has a 12-day architectural tour (also visiting nomadic families) from £1,822 ($2,813).

Those who have already traveled return enthusing about Iran’s legendary hospitality. One European family was so impressed by Persian bonhomie, they emblazoned ‘Iran Is Great’ across their van. Is Iran truly great? There’s one way to find out.