People, Travel

Foreign Tourist Surge

Foreign Tourist SurgeForeign Tourist Surge

Several media sources across the world, including the Associated Press, have now noticed the ever increasing surge of foreign tourists into Iran.

The number of foreigners visiting Iran jumped dramatically over the 12-month period ending in March, with 35 percent more tourists compared to the same period a year earlier, head of Cultural Heritage and Tourism Organization said Saturday, the Associated Press reported.

Masud Soltanifar said on state TV that the thriving industry could help boost Iran’s economy out of recession and bring in much-needed hard currency. He said 4.5 million foreign tourists came to the country over the period, and brought in some $6 billion in revenue.

He attributed the increase to the 2013 election of President Hassan Rouhani who has adopted a moderate policy.  Rouhani who has advocated tourism, hopes it will boost the country’s image.

“The new government has employed a language in its international relations that will lead to tourism growth,” Soltanifar said, adding that foreign tourists, most of whom are from neighboring countries, spend about $1,500 each in Iran.

Relaxation in visa policies has also helped. The government has instructed its embassies around the world to issue visas, especially for group tours, within less than a week, while in the past, the applications took over a month.

Tourism from Europe has grown by 200%, he said, thanks to fewer restrictions at embassies, especially in Germany.

Iran has 17 UNESCO-registered world heritage sites, and plans to host 20 million tourists a year by 2025, Soltanifar said, a sum that could fetch $30 billion annually.

To host the targeted number of tourists, a tripling in the number of four- and five-star hotels will be required, for which the government plans to offer incentives to investors.

“The government is ready to provide low-cost loan facilities out of the National Development Fund to investors,” Soltanifar said. “There is a strong government will to help promote tourism, and good coordination is being developed among all sectors to make that happen,” he added.

Ebrahim Purfaraj, a leading tour organizer, said all four- and five-star hotels on Iran’s three major tourist-destination cities of Isfahan, Shiraz and Yazd have been sold out for 2014 and are now being booked for 2015.