People, Travel

Lebanese Tourists Could Replace Saudis

Lebanese Tourists Could Replace SaudisLebanese Tourists Could Replace Saudis

Iranian travel agencies and tour operators, some of whom also operate oversees to bring tourists to Iran, are looking to Lebanese tourists to make up for lost revenue from the recent political rift between Iran and Saudi Arabia.

Last year, 55,000 Shias from Saudi Arabia traveled to Mashhad to make pilgrimage to the shrine of the eighth Imam of Shia Muslims, Imam Reza (PBUH).

However, following Saudi Arabia’s execution of prominent Shia cleric Sheikh Nimr on January 2, a group of Iranian protesters broke into the Saudi Embassy in Tehran and its consulate in Mashhad, prompting the Saudis to break off diplomatic relations with Iran two day later.

The oil kingdom has also imposed cash penalties on is citizens who travel to Iran in defiance of a state ruling banning their travel to Iran, ISNA reported.

“Even though 55,000 isn’t a large figure, inbound tourists from Saudi Arabia were on the rise, but with recent developments it’s unlikely that we’ll have tourists and pilgrims coming in from that Arab country any time soon,” said Akbar Ghamkhar, board member of the Tehran Tour and Travel Agencies’ Association.

As such, the TTTAA is exploring other markets to promote Iran tourism, especially religious tourism. Lebanon, India and Pakistan are its top targets.

“We’ve already entered the Lebanese market and believe it to be a very good substitute for Saudi Arabia,” Ghamkhar said, citing similarities in Iran and Lebanon’s culture as well as Iran’s good image in the country.

He said India, which has the world’s second-largest population of Muslims in raw numbers (176 million), and Pakistan are on also on the TTTAA radar.

“These countries have large Shia populations, many of whom are wealthy and eager to visit Iran,” he said, adding that exploring Muslim markets abroad would help boost Iran’s tourism revenue.

Nearly half of Iran’s five million inbound tourists visit Mashhad, most of whom are pilgrims. About 25 million people from Iran and overseas make the pilgrimage to the shrine city in the northeastern Khorasan Razavi Province every year.