People, Travel

Travel Industry Awaits Funding

Travel Industry Awaits Funding
Travel Industry Awaits Funding

Attracting foreign investment is one of the government’s biggest challenges to meet the target of 20 million tourists a year as envisioned in the 20-year Vision Plan (2005-25), said the head of the Iranian Tourist Guides’ Association.

Iran currently attracts 5 million foreign tourists a year, meaning it has to increase that figure four-fold in the next 10 years to meet its ambitious goal.

Masoud Abdollahi told ILNA Tehran has already “lost precious time and further delays in attracting foreign investment would seriously impede the development of infrastructure.”

He said the international economic sanctions, which prevented many countries from investing in Iran, are “largely to blame for the woefully underdeveloped infrastructure.” His opinion and that of other relevant officials has often been dismissed by experts and observers who insist that all the country’s ills cannot and should not be put on the doorstep of the nuclear-related sanctions.

Academia and many independent observers point to the oil windfalls in the past and shockingly poor management of the holiday industry for the present problems. In the years past when the government was taking comfort in more than $100 billion a year from crude export, there was little time and energy for developing the tourist infrastructure.

The steep decline in oil prices over the past two years changed all that and now lethargic officials have come to realize the value and worth of the tourist sector saddled with a mountain of problems and the need for billions in infrastructure investment, form both domestic and foreign sources.

Iran has invited foreign firms to help finance hotel projects in an attempt to raise the number of four- and five-star hotels from 130 to 400 in the next decade, but so far no concrete offers have been made. Last October, the French group AccorHotels opened two hotels in Iran, but it only manages the facilities and did not invest in the projects.

The other major challenge is a shortage of staff in the hospitality and travel sectors, which have failed to keep pace with demand. However, the government has begun to address this by cooperating with NGOs, the official said without elaboration.

In addition to the shortage of skilled workforce, Iran’s ambition to become a global tourism attraction is hampered by the lack of an efficient and modern hospitality industry. Many hotels are run by under-qualified managers and guests are served by untrained staff.

Tehran recently signed a memorandum of understanding with the French to use their expertise in training hotel managers and staff. When the document come into effect is not clear.