Unlocking Iran’s Travel Potential

Travel & Environment Desk
Unlocking Iran’s Travel PotentialUnlocking Iran’s Travel Potential

Organizing international conferences exposes Iranians to the success stories of global corporations, helps them establish contacts and breeds a generation of individuals adept at both IT and marketing.

This was stated by Hamid Sepidnam, an organizer of the Fifth Digital Marketing & Tourism Conference, in an exclusive interview with Financial Tribune.

The confab, which aims to bring veterans to help get the online travel industry in Iran off the ground, will be held at Tehran’s Milad Tower on August 28.


Online travel agencies had gross bookings exceeding $150 billion in 2013, representing 38% of the global online market. But can Iranian companies compete with established international corporations?

“The problem in Iran is the lack of qualified people in the online travel industry,”

He says the misconception in Iran is that one needs to be an IT expert to establish a successful online business.

“Being an IT expert doesn’t mean they know marketing,” Sepidnam says.

He says the problem is that many people think setting up a website and a LinkedIn page is sufficient to attract clients and emphasizes the importance of employing online marketing experts.

Sepidnam has been organizing the conference for the past five years to make people aware of the potential of e-commerce for marketing and promoting tourism.

  Stability Essential

The organizer says the Iranian market is very attractive to foreign investors, but they will not invest unless they are assured of Iran’s economic stability.

Sepidnam stresses that Iran needs to prepare an environment that not only attracts investors, but also encourages them to stay and augment investment.

“They’re signaling that they’re interested, so we have to support them,” he said.

In the past, Sepidnam had problems convincing foreigners to speak at conferences in Iran. He approached the organizers of Search Engine Strategies conferences in London a few years ago and inquired about the possibility of holding an international event in Tehran.

“They laughed at me,” he recalls. “They said Iran is not a safe place and it upset me. But we still went ahead and organized our first conference a few months later.”

The first conference drew 120 Iranians, but when they held the second edition of the conference six months later, 600 people from across the world attended.

“The foreigners were treated like celebrities, and when they went back, they put up pictures of the conference and had only nice things to say about Iran,” he said.

Word of mouth can be an extremely powerful method of promotion.

  Competition Breeds Excellence

International tourism conferences provide a platform for industry heavyweights to share their experiences with aspiring individuals hoping to carve a niche in emerging markets.  Experts have called post-sanctions Iran “the best emerging market for years to come”, and international businesses monitoring the Mideast nation for some time are now beginning to make their move.

Iran’s vice president for tourism, Masoud Soltanifar, has said no other industry in Iran will see a bigger boost than tourism as a result of the nuclear accord, so it is hardly surprising that major international companies are eying this specific sector.

While it may have been tough at first to even get foreign speakers to come to Iran, now international firms are eager to establish a foothold in the country.

Sepidnam says he has been directly notified by Destinia, a prominent Spain-based online travel agency, that they have entered the Iranian market.

Beatriz Oficialdegui, the agency’s marketing director and a speaker at the conference, confirmed the news on her official Twitter account, stating that Destinia is the first western travel agency to claim a stake in the Iranian online travel market.

The entry of foreign companies into the Iranian market challenges domestic firms, which Sepidnam welcomes.

“They are going to provide stiff competition to domestic companies, including my own, and I like it,” he says. “Companies not up to the task will be in trouble.”

  Gov’t Support Necessary

“Running such conferences is really difficult … We don’t get enough support [from the government]” Sepidnam says.

“A conference like this costs at least £300,000 ($470,000/15.5 billion rials),” he notes, adding that the reason they have managed to put up seven billboards in Tehran is because the private sector helped them out.

Sepidnam says someone wrote to the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance demanding to know why foreigners were coming to speak at the international conference.

“There are people who have the time to write letters to criticize the conference, instead of helping the industry grow,” he said.

One of the main aims of the conference is to attract potential investors and Sepidnam says next year they intend to advertise the event globally, especially in the Middle East.

“To that end, Mr. Shoushtari [a high-ranking official at Tehran Municipality] has assured me that the mayor’s office will help us out as much as it can next year,” he said.

The Fifth Digital Marketing & Tourism Industry Conference, boasting a stellar lineup comprising representatives from Expedia and Destinia, will be held in Tehran (Aug. 28), Mashhad (Aug. 30), Tabriz (Sept. 1) and Bandar Abbas (Sept. 3).

Visit to register at the conference.