People, Travel

Tourism Authority Scraps 437 “Special Zones”

Tourism Authority Scraps 437 “Special Zones”Tourism Authority Scraps 437 “Special Zones”

Iran’s Cultural Heritage, Handicrafts and Tourism Organization has ticked off 437 Special Tourism Zones from a list of 1,168, clearing it of zones that did not meet the organization’s criteria.

The designation of Special Tourism Zones was a strategic plan suggested by ICHHTO in 2003 as part of efforts to enact the Fourth Five-Year Economic Development Plan (2004-09), ISNA reported.

The zones are first selected based on their historical, cultural and/or natural importance, popularity with tourists, ease of access and adequate infrastructure. They are then introduced to private investors to secure funding to develop infrastructure.

The initial plan had envisioned the designation of up to 200 zones across the country, but the number exceeded 1,000 over the past 10 years due to unsystematic selections.

Work has begun on only one-tenth (fewer than 100) of the designated zones with little progress.

Of the 1,168 zones, 1,161 were designated as such during the tenure of the past two governments, while only seven have been added by President Hassan Rouhani’s administration that came to power in 2013.

“Some areas where work was supposed to start but had not for a variety of reasons were also removed from the list,” Jalal Tajik, director of special zones and tourism infrastructure at ICHHTO’s Investment Office, who has been in charge of organizing STZ affairs since 2014 in collaboration with provincial officials said.

“These zones were either part of private lands or biosphere reserves, or in the vicinity of important dams, which created obstacles for investors.”

Tajik added that the government has to approve the removal of the zones from the list before they are eliminated.

The assessment program has been carried out in all provinces, except Markazi, whose ICHHTO officials have not yet agreed to allow evaluators to assess the designated sites in the province out of fear of losing the zones.

Also, the ICHHTO has demanded the dismissal of investors in 53 zones for failing to finance projects despite the areas meeting the organization’s criteria.

“They appear to be relying on government aid while the whole point of the plan is to get the private sector to invest in these zones,” he said.