Iran Reignites American Curiosity

Iran Reignites American CuriosityIran Reignites American Curiosity

Now that US President Barack Obama has secured the minimum 34 votes he needs for the Senate to ratify the recent nuclear accord with Iran, the suspense is over. The treaty will be upheld and those who have been waiting for approval before making plans to travel to Iran can go back to planning.

Caravan-Serai Tours of Seattle has been offering tours to Iran for 15 years, but lately, since the diplomatic agreement between the US and Iran, more people are calling about Iran than ever. Many of them are not yet quite ready to go, but they are asking questions, Travel Pulse reported.

“Now I am finding that we are getting calls daily,” said Rita Zawaideh, founder of Caravan-Serai. “People think it is safer now, though honestly it has always been safe.”

Zawaideh has been offering tours to the Middle East since 1984. She was born in Jordan and moved to the US when she was 14 and has always had one foot firmly in each culture. She was able to make the transitions easily from one to the other and to understand what her clients would need to know to travel in the Middle East.

The company offers tours to Algeria, Armenia, the Caucasus, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia and Turkey.

Though formerly on Caravan-Serai’s list of destinations, Libya is now out and Syria is off the map as well. The company operates in an area of the world where a great deal of specialized knowledge is required to provide services for western travelers.

Caravan-Serai is one of the few operators that are deeply rooted in the culture and the region, and can offer a real insider’s glimpse.

But the Middle East is constantly in a state of flux, and while Libya and Syria have dropped off the map, Iran has become an emerging travel destination since the recent signing of an accord with the west.

Zawaideh said Iran does not yet have a hotel infrastructure sufficient to handle a large influx of western tourists. But as interest grows, hoteliers will be trying to stay a jump ahead.

Meanwhile, interest in Iran in the US sparked sharply when the nuclear accord was reached in July. As Americans start to consider travel to a place most of them have considered off limits for decades, it starts with tentative inquiries.

“Iran has been up and down,” says Zawaideh. “In the past, we would do maybe two or three groups a year, never more than 15 people, sometimes as small as five, as well as individual travel.”

Now suddenly calls are coming about Iran practically every day, and many specific questions.

“Now we’re getting calls daily about something for Iran or just a question about Iran,” says Zawaideh. “’Is it still safe to go? Would you recommend going? Can you give us names of people who have recently been on your trips? If I have certain countries’ stamps on passport, is that going to be a problem?’ That’s the type of thing people are asking about.”

American women want to know about the dress code. Is it restrictive?

“We have a thing on our website that shows the three different kinds of dress that you can wear,” says Zawaideh. “Somebody could wear a long Indian tunic and we would just tell them that with pants, it’s okay.”

Western women traveling in Iran need guidance in regard to clothing codes in Iran. Caravan-Serai gives its clients pictures to guide them in how to dress.

And what happens to westerners who defy the restrictions?

“If a westerner does not comply, the police will usually stop her and if she’s on a tour they will talk to the tour guide and tell her to be dressed properly …The westerners are not given tickets; they’re given a warning.”