People, Travel

Spotlight on 5 Target Markets

Spotlight on 5 Target Markets
Spotlight on 5 Target Markets

Iran’s top tourism goal is to attract 20 million foreign visitors a year by 2025.

To realize that, Iran’s Cultural Heritage, Handicrafts and Tourism Organization, in cooperation with the Foreign Ministry, compiled a list of 40 target countries, ranking them in terms of their significance.

In line with its ambitious goal, Iran hopes to attract 1% each of Russia, Chinese and European tourists, not to mention 3% of Shia Muslim travelers and 1% of all Muslim tourists in the next decade.

“That amounts to about 32 million tourists, which will help us hit our target of 20 million visitors a year,” the Persian daily Donya-e-Eqtesad quoted ICHHTO chief, Masoud Soltanifar, as saying on Saturday.

But how feasible is this plan?

  Fewer Russians Travel

Russia’s outbound tourism, which has traditionally had high figures, has slowed down considerably, decreasing by a record 31.3% in 2015, thanks to international sanctions that has worsened the country’s economic situation. In 2014, 46 million Russians traveled abroad.

The Russian Tourism Industry Union attributes the decline to the weakening of the Russian currency as well as the ban on flights to Russia’s two most popular international tourist destinations, namely Turkey and Egypt.

Assuming Iran is targeting 1% of Russia’s 46 million outbound travelers, tourism officials are hoping to draw 460,000 Russians to the country annually, a herculean task considering that in 2013 only 19,159 out of Russia’s more than 50 million outbound tourists visited Iran.

In fact, more Iranians have traveled to Russia in recent years than the other way around.

Ever since Moscow banned all travel to Egypt and Turkey, Iran has been trying to become an alternative destination for Russians, but reports show that East Asian countries, such as Vietnam and Thailand, have fared better than Iran.

  Pinning Hopes on China, Europe

According to China’s Tourism Research Institute, 120 million from the world’s most populated country traveled abroad in 2015 and spent around $104.5 billion, marking an increase of 12% and 16.7% respectively compared with 2014.

Experts attribute the rise in foreign travel and expenditure to rising personal income, favorable policies and appreciation of the Chinese Yuan.

While it may not appear difficult for Iran to get a 1% share of China’s massive tourist outflow, one should not inflate one’s expectations.

According to the most recent official statistics dating back to 2013, Iran hosted 35,000 Chinese visitors, about 0.036% of the Central Asian country’s 98.19 million outbound travelers in that year.

Lack of Chinese-speaking tour guides and restaurants that serve authentic Chinese cuisine have been cited by Iranian officials as major obstacles to attracting visitors from the world’s top contributor to tourism.

Moving on to Europe, Iran may have its work cut out for it. In 2013, Europeans made up 37.32% of tourists visiting Iran, only 1% of whom were from European Union countries.

With more than 426 million outbound tourists annually, the EU is a lucrative market for any country looking to boost its travel industry. To be able to draw 1% of that figure (4.26 million), observers say Iran needs to overhaul its tourism, transportation and hospitality infrastructure and bring them up to international standards.

  Muslim Tourists: Iran’s Saving Grace

During an interview with the Financial Tribune in March, Soltanifar said developing halal tourism and tapping into the ever-growing Muslim travel market are key to jumpstarting Iran’s tourism sector.

Iran is home to almost a third of the world’s Shia Muslim population, which means attracting 3% of the overseas Shias comes out to between four and five million. This is a very feasible target, as nearly half of Iran’s more than five million annual visitors are pilgrims who visit the multitude of Islamic shrines in Tehran, Qom, Mashhad and Shiraz.

In the list of target countries, 16 enjoy special priority, 10 of which are in the Middle East. This shows Iran is not only looking to attract Shias, but is in fact hoping to become a top destination for the entire Muslim community in the region.

At $142 billion, halal tourism could help breathe new life into Iran’s economy. With more than 1.6 billion Muslims in over 100 countries and the fact that Muslims are increasingly taking up traveling, halal tourism offers huge prospects.

Whereas other countries have only recently started paying attention to the lucrative market of halal tourism and invested substantial amounts of money into the sector, Iran has all it needs, thanks to its laws that enforce Islamic teachings.