Spaniards Eye Iranian Attractions

Spaniards Eye  Iranian AttractionsSpaniards Eye  Iranian Attractions

The foreign policy of President Hassan Rouhani’s administration, which aims to boost Iran’s global profile, has been hailed by both foreign and domestic experts as a major driving force for the rise in the number of foreign tourists.

The number of Spanish tourists visiting Iran has increased threefold since President Rouhani took office, Fars News Agency quoted Spanish Ambassador to Iran Pedro Antonio Villena as saying.

Following the historic nuclear agreement between Iran and the six world powers (five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany), reached on July 14 in Vienna, ambassadors of western countries to Iran began making diplomatic trips to several Iranian cities.

Visiting Khorramabad, Lorestan Province, Villena said the province’s most important resource is its people.

He said “Iranophobia” does not exist in his home country and stressed that Spain “was only respecting the sanctions against Iran” in the past few years, which saw relations between the two countries weaken.

“Even though Spain was not involved in the nuclear talks, there is no doubt in my mind that the agreement will help boost bilateral ties,” Villena said, adding that three Spanish ministers, including top tourism official Jose Manuel Soria, are due to visit Iran in September.

  Unfulfilled Promises

The Spanish diplomat’s call for expanding ties and the current administration’s ability to strengthen diplomatic ties with other nations have raised hopes that the memorandum of understanding between Iran and Spain aimed at boosting tourism—signed 13 years ago and never enacted—will finally be upheld, the Persian daily Donya-e-Eqtesad reported.

Numerous meetings between tourism officials of the two states have taken place in the past two years, but not all have borne fruit. Reestablishing direct Tehran-Madrid flights was discussed by both sides in 2014, but it did not materialize.

Even in 2015, during the 35th edition of FITUR tourism exhibition in Madrid, Ebad Reza Eslami, director for tourism and handicrafts affairs at Iran Tourism and Auto Racing Center, said Iran-Spain flights would be restarted at the beginning of summer—six weeks ago.

Organization of familiarization (fam) tours was another measure that was discussed, yet it never happened. Iran’s Cultural Heritage, Handicrafts and Tourism Organization had expressed eagerness to hold such tours, but it is unclear why fam trips have not been organized for Spaniards.

On the sidelines of the 98th session of the UN World Tourism Organization in Spain, ICHHTO chief, Masoud Soltanifar, said the Iranian tourism market provides an attractive investment opportunity to Spanish investors and noted that Spanish officials are committed to strengthen tourism ties with Iran.

  Private Firms More Active

In May, Spain’s Melia Hotels International announced interest in the Iranian market, Gulf News reported.

Maria Zarraluqui, managing director for global development at Melia, said the huge demand for more hotels in Iran has not been met.

 “We know that Iran faces challenges because it’s closed to international markets but we see the potential. We see that there is huge internal demand that is not very well treated at the moment. So Iran is a market we would like to explore,” she said at the time.

According to Zarraluqui, Melia Hotels is interested in introducing its midscale brand, Innside, and its upper upscale brand, Melia, in the country.

Earlier this week, Financial Tribune reported that Destinia, a prominent Spain-based online travel agency, had entered the Iranian market, making it the first western travel agency to claim a stake in the emerging Iranian online travel market, according to the agency’s marketing director, Beatriz Oficialdegui.

While the tourism officials of Iran and Spain have made little headway in establishing tourism ties, it is clear that Spanish private sector firms are aware of Iran’s tourism potential and have already started making their move.