People, Travel

Talks Over Tourism Ministry Undermine Cultural Heritage

Talks Over Tourism Ministry Undermine Cultural HeritageTalks Over Tourism Ministry Undermine Cultural Heritage

A cultural heritage expert has criticized lawmakers for what he sees as blatant disregard for cultural heritage during talks to turn Iran's Cultural Heritage, Handicrafts and Tourism Organization into a ministry.

Ahmad Riahi, a cultural heritage expert, believes that the emphasis on tourism sector and even labeling the would-be entity as "Tourism Ministry" would undermine the key role of cultural heritage and handicrafts.

"Authorities seem to have forgotten that the underpinning factors oiling the wheels of tourism industry is the country's cultural heritage and handicrafts," Mehr News Agency quoted Riahi as saying.

"It is clear that the driving force behind tourism in Iran is cultural and historical attractions. It is strange that recent talks have so far been only in favor of tourism industry, at the expense of others."

The critic suggested establishing separate ministries for each of the three sectors (tourism, handicrafts and cultural heritage) covered by ICHHTO, as none of them "should take priority over the other".

The conversion of the organization into a ministry has so far raised concerns about the tourism plans and programs underway. Critics say any such decision will temporarily halt tourism plans, holding back progress for a very long time.

Mohammad Ali Najafi, who briefly helmed the ICHHTO when President Hassan Rouhani took office in 2013, told lawmakers in an open session over three years ago that elevating the status of the organization “would delay our efforts by a year and ultimately lead to a weakened tourism authority”.

Zahra Ahmadipour, the current head of the organization, says making a snap decision is harmful and “in-depth studies are needed to see if restructuring the organization, which will no doubt be needed, is feasible”.

Observers say that by turning the organization into a ministry, the public will start paying more attention to its actions, which in turn will put pressure on officials to deliver.

Iran’s 20-year Vision Plan aims to achieve the target of 20 million tourists annually by 2025. However, only 5.5 million people traveled to the country last year. That is, however, more than double the 2.5 million people that visited Iran in 2012.

The government argues that it received an economy in ruins and a battered tourism industry from the previous administration, stressing that the industry has been registering double-digit growth every year since 2013.

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