Salvation of Free Zones

Salvation of Free ZonesSalvation of Free Zones

Development of tourism and socio-cultural activities in Iran’s free trade zones – except Kish Island – had all but stopped prior to President Hassan Rouhani’s administration, according to a deputy at the Center for Free and Special Economic Zones.

Speaking to Mehr News Agency, Hujjat al-Islam Mohammad Ali Zam, said, “The previous government did not allocate budgets to the country’s free zones, which hindered progress.”

Instead, there was a small budget given to regional authorities, and they usually spent the credit on votive foods, placards and charity. Until recently, no free zone was recognized as a tourist region other than Kish Island in Hormozgan Province.

Noticing the tourism potential of Iran’s free zones, the Rouhani administration has made the development of tourism a priority.

 “Developing infrastructure and assessing the regions’ attractions are important first steps,” Zam said, adding that developing tourism can help fight unemployment.

According to the official, the authorities have realized that the best way to save the dwindling economy of the free zones is to invest in cultural tourism, “and get local communities involved.”

Despite heavy investment in the past, free zones failed to realize their economic potential, because local communities had no place in economic plans and programs.

  Tourism Leading the Charge

Zam said tourism development is a viable solution to the stagnated economy of the free zones, and added that investment in the tourism sector has already started.

“Investing in tourism not only helps economic growth, but also helps develop infrastructure which improves quality of life for the residents,” he stressed.

Around 10% of the revenue of each free zone is to be spent on each region’s infrastructure, such as hospitals, schools, universities, cinemas, recreational centers and green spaces, among others, he said, adding that without these basic infrastructure free zones will look more like garrisons and less like holiday resorts.

“Although the allocated budget is in no way sufficient, the mere act of allocating a fixed figure is a promising step,” he noted.

Zam said that proper use of human resources and promotion of tourist attractions are also helpful in developing tourism. “Turning these regions into tourist destinations is a colossal task; nevertheless, steps are being taken to ensure the success of the mission.”