Tourist Card: Pros and Cons

Tourist Card:  Pros and ConsTourist Card:  Pros and Cons

The much-hyped tourist card unveiled last week may not be as convenient as its proponents claim.

The card, backed by Iran’s Bank Sepah, functions as a prepaid cash card with a maximum balance of $5,000. It is rechargeable and only offered to travelers entering Iran via the Imam Khomeini International Airport.

The motivation behind offering the tourist card is Iran’s isolation from the international banking system due to the western sanctions that limited Iran’s access to the global financial network. What this means is that international credit cards, such as Visa and Master Card, cannot be used in Iran.

The card allows for transactions through Shetab Banking System, an electronic banking clearance and automated payment system used in Iran.

According to Seyyed Kamel Taqavinejad, CEO of Bank Sepah, foreign travelers can easily open an account and charge their tourist cards from their home country before embarking on their trip to Iran, Persian travel news website Donyaye Safar reported.

While this may seem convenient, some experts question the balance limit imposed on the card.

“An authentic, handmade Persian carpet costs around $4,000,” said Mahsa Motahhar, secretary of Iran Federation of Tourist Guides Associations, adding that a card with such a low limit on its balance is only useful for backpackers and solo travelers.

She said if the main goal of the tourist card is to help tourists with payments, then it fails to deliver on that promise.

“These cards cannot replace international credit cards. How can you expect travelers to buy pricey handicrafts and pay their hotel charges with such a meager amount?” she argued.

If only officials could take time to hear tour guides out. Thanks to the nature of their profession, tour guides have intimate knowledge of foreign tourists’ expenses since they guide them through markets and know the hotel prices in Iran’s metropolises.

Proponent of the card may counter Motahjar’s arguments by suggesting that the tourist cards can be recharged. While that may true, it does raise questions about the convenience of these debit cards.

In order to avoid having to recharge the cards every two days, tourists may opt to spend less to avoid long queues in Iranian banks that rarely have cashiers fluent in English.

It goes without saying that being cut off from the international banking system has taken a toll on Iranian businesses and economy. But until Iran’s reentry into the global financial network, tourism officials must take steps to minimize the impact of economic sanctions on Iran’s tourism industry. Increasing the cap on tourist cards could help with that.