People, Travel

UNWTO Says Helpless Against US Visa Ruling

UNWTO Says Helpless Against US Visa RulingUNWTO Says Helpless Against US Visa Ruling

The head of the United Nations World Tourism Organization has said his organization cannot interfere with the recent changes made to the US Visa Waiver Program, but insisted that Iran is capable of overcoming any and all obstacles.

In a letter written to UNWTO Secretary General Taleb Rifai following the approval of a bill that bars people who traveled after March 1, 2011 to Iraq and Syria — as well as Iran and Sudan — from participating in the visa-free program, Masoud Soltanifar, head of the Iran Cultural Heritage, Handicrafts and Tourism Organization, said the move by the US “goes against the peaceful nature of tourism.” He urged Rifai to “stand up for world peace, liberty and travelers’ freedom of choice, and warn the US against their blatant disregard for the global travel industry.”

According to ICHHTO website CHTN, Rifai responded on Wednesday: “While the UNWTO has always pushed for the facilitation of travel and easing of visa regimes, at the end every sovereign country has the right to control who crosses their borders.”

“Security and tourism go hand in hand and are essential to sustainable development,” he added.

Pointing to Iran’s declared ambition to become a top holiday destination, Rifai said his organization is “fully aware of the Iranian government’s attention to tourism” and encouraged officials to “capitalize on Iran’s vast natural and cultural potential to overcome the ups and downs” and develop the industry.

Thirty-eight countries are affected by the VWP changes, which account for only 5% of Iran’s five million inbound tourists.

Days after the visa policy changes were approved, Foreign Minister Javad Zarif denounced the move and said it violated the historic nuclear deal signed last July between Iran and the United States along with five other world powers (France, the UK, Russia, China plus Germany).

US Secretary of State John Kerry was quick to assure his Iranian counterpart that the changes would not harm Iran’s business interests and said the Obama administration has “a number of potential tools” at its disposal to skirt the unhelpful changes.

One such tool is the issuance of multiple entry ten-year business visas, which would allow businessmen from the affected countries to travel to Iran without having to worry about getting a new US visa.

Iran can take further measures, according to Mohsen Mehralizadeh, head of the Tourism Commission at the Tehran Chamber of Commerce, Industries, Mines and Agriculture.

“We can issue landing slips, for instance, instead of stamping passports, thereby negating the VWP changes,” he said, according to the Persian daily Donya-e-Eqtesad.

“Naturally, the best way to counter what’s happened is for the Foreign Ministry to use diplomatic channels to press the US government into reversing the changes altogether, thereby sending a signal that we won’t accept anything that violates the nuclear agreement,” he said.