People, Travel

BA Flights and Iranian Tourism

BA Flights and Iranian TourismBA Flights and Iranian Tourism

British Airways’ decision to resume flights to Tehran is an acknowledgement of the growing interest to visit Iran from the West.

The move follows a number of other developments that have made Iran more travel-friendly since the nuclear deal with the West, such as the UK relaxing its official advice for travelling to the country and the extension of visas on arrival for citizens of all but 11 countries.

For BA, it makes commercial sense. It was in 2012 that a spokesman claimed the service was “no longer commercially viable”, whereas now the airline views Iran as “an important destination” and has even doubled the number of its flights to Tehran to six a week to compete with Air France, which also resumed its service to the Iranian capital earlier this year.

Both BA and Air France recognize Iran’s tourism appeal. They also realize that this will grow further, as their direct flights cut journey times for many coming from, or through Western Europe. Until recently, a majority of western tourists have been avid adventurers and seasoned travelers, unperturbed by the challenges of visiting Iran. Today, flying is much easier, visas are simpler to obtain and 35 new four- and five-star hotels have opened their doors in the last three years. The expectation is that this will attract more casual holidaymakers keen to see a country that seemed so distant before.

Early signs are certainly positive. John Bealby, managing director of a London-based travel operator, told Daily Telegraph that he had seen an upsurge in passengers to Iran from 32 in 2013 to over 400 in just the first four months of 2016, while several other British travel operators have reported similar spikes in activity. However, while the demand is promising, it needs to be nurtured.

Iran’s Cultural Heritage, Handicrafts and Tourism Organization recorded a total of 5.2 million foreign visitors to Iran in 2015, leaving plenty to do to achieve its target of attracting 20 million foreign visitors a year by 2025.

More now needs to be done to communicate Iran’s travel credentials. Key historical sites and natural treasures must be better promoted and partnerships should be sought to attract a range of visitors. With so many years of underinvestment, the immediate focus has been on developing the tourist infrastructure, and rightly so.

New hotels and passenger aircrafts are on the rise, so thoughts will now shift to procuring the consultancy and expertise required to formulate a collaborative tourism operation. But given that policymakers in Iran are eager to establish tourism as an alternative source of revenue, especially in light of the fall in oil prices, the appetite is there to make it happen.

Shayan Saeidi is a business development consultant based in London, UK. You can reach him at: