2015 in Review

2015 in  Review2015 in  Review

Despite a slow start to 2015, the industry became more active as the year progressed, especially after the signing of the landmark nuclear deal in July.

As the curtain falls on 2015, here’s a look at the year’s most important events.

 January; A Good Start

Iran began the year with a bang, when it managed to beat the likes of Denmark and Singapore to host the 2017 International Convention of World Federation of Tourist Guides Associations, despite opposition from a handful of countries that questioned Iran’s ability to host a secure event.

Iran received 18 votes, beating Singapore’s 11 and Denmark’s 3 to host the sought-after event.

 February; Low-Key Expo

The 8th Tehran International Tourism Exhibition (Feb. 12-15) was held at Tehran’s Permanent Fairgrounds. Despite a 75% rise in the number of domestic travel agencies that participated in the expo, the event itself was not very well received.

 March; Welcome News

March 20 marked the end of the Iranian year 1393, which saw five million foreign tourists travel to Iran — 2.5 times more than the previous year.

According to the Iran Cultural Heritage, Handicrafts and Tourism Organization, about half of all inbound travelers were pilgrims and religious tourists, with 1.7 million visiting Mashhad, where the shrine of the eighth imam of Shias, Imam Reza (PBUH), is located.

 April; Going Global

In a rare move to promote Iran tourism abroad, ICHHTO opened nine  tourist information offices in eight countries, including Spain, Italy, Switzerland, Japan, Singapore, Malaysia, Oman and China, where two offices where launched.

ICHHTO chief, Masoud Soltanifar, said his organization would open 10 more offices by March 2016, but with three months left, there have been no reports of new offices in other countries.

 May; Bittersweet Reports

Two reports on the key industry were published separately by the World Economic Forum and the Majlis Research Center, which highlighted the ups and downs in Iranian tourism.

Iran was labeled the world’s most affordable destination by the WEF report, while also receiving far-from-stellar marks for its woefully aging infrastructure.

The Majlis report confirmed ICHHTO claims that Iran tourism was slowly recovering, but highlighted the industry’s negative balance: Iranian tourists spent over $7.5 billion abroad, while inbound travelers spent a meager $1.1 billion in Iran, meaning the industry ended the previous year with a gross tourism income deficit of $6.4 billion – a substantial setback given the need for hard currency to rebuild and restore the country saddled with international economic sanctions for more than a decade.

 June; Setting Goals

The ICHHTO announced it had prepared a list of 40 target markets in which to promote the travel industry in cooperation with the Foreign Ministry. While officials did not disclose the list, later reports suggested that China, Russia and India  -- all three countries with close economic and trade ties to Tehran -- topped the list.

 July; A New Dawn

July was a busy month.

Iran and the six major world powers (the US, Britain, Russia, China, France plus Germany) signed an historic nuclear deal, according to which Iran agreed to restrict its nuclear activities in return for the lifting of all economic sanctions.

Days after the signing of the accord, the UK revoked a travel advisory it had in place against Iran since 2011, with the Foreign Secretary Phillip Hammond citing “decreasing hostility under President Rouhani” and “reduced risk to British nationals” as the driving forces of the decision.

Furthermore, the historic city of Susa in Khuzestan Province and the ancient troglodyte village of Meymand in Kerman Province were inscribed on the World Heritage List, becoming Iran’s 18th and 19th UNESCO-listed sites respectively.

In an effort to develop medical tourism, ICHHTO gave travel agencies and tour operators two months to apply for special health tourism permits, allowing licensed agencies to bring medical tourists to Iran.

Following two bomb blasts on the railroad in eastern Turkey, Iran suspended train services to Ankara and warned against land travel to the neighboring state.

 August; Restoring Ties

Following Britain’s lead, France eased its travel advisory for Iran and French media and tour operators began promoting the Mideast country a potential holiday destination.

Moreover, the UK reopened its embassy in Tehran after four years to reestablish bilateral ties, making travel between the two states easier.

In a bid to revamp the aging air fleet, the Rouhani government announced its intention to purchase 90 new planes a year. Tehran has made known that it wants to purchase around 450 new planes.

 September; International Recognition

Cultural heritage officials were forced to close Badab-e-Soort spring in Mazandaran Province, a top attraction, due to severe damage to the site as a result of carelessness on the part of officials and tourists.

Tabriz and Isfahan were inscribed as ‘World Crafts City’ by the World Crafts Council, becoming the only cities in Iran to be conferred the title.

Furthermore, tourist SIM cards and credit cards were launched to overcome obstacles such as high roaming charges and unworkable international credit cards in Iran due to the economic sanctions.

 October; Visa Facilitation

The first major investment by an international company in Iran following the nuclear accord was made by the French group AccorHotels, which opened two new hotels — Ibis and Novotel — near Imam Khomeini International Airport, Iran’s main airport 35km south of Tehran.

Iran’s new visa rules went into effect, giving month-long visa-on-arrival at airports to nationals of almost all countries. Citizens of Colombia, Somalia, Britain, Canada, USA, Bangladesh, Jordan, Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan are not on the list.

 November; Top Destination

November was a good month for the sector, with Iran being named as one of the top three emerging markets by a World Travel Market report.

Also, Tabriz was chosen as the host city of the 2016 meeting of the World Crafts Council, two months after receiving the prestigious ‘World Crafts City’ title.

 December; Hectic Ending

Whereas the industry started the year off quietly, it ended it with a lot of noise.

The changes made to the US Visa Waiver Program, which imposes a visa requirement on national of VWP participants who visited Iran, Syria, Iraq and Sudan in the past five years, made global headlines and drew the ire of both Iranian and EU officials who said the move violates the nuclear pact signed earlier in the earlier.

Furthermore, hoteliers announced their intention to raise fares by 20% in winter to offset losses endured as a result of low occupancy rates. The move was followed by domestic airlines raising ticket prices shortly after the government deregulated airfares.

Assessors from the World Federation of Tourist Guides Associations visited Iran and toured Tehran before endorsing the Iranian capital as the host of the federation’s 2017 convention, dispelling any doubts about Iran’s security.

Also, tourism ministers of Islamic countries endorsed the selection of the historical city of Tabriz as the capital of Islamic tourism in 2018, rounding off a great year for ancient city.

Finally, the country’s largest hotel, Espinas Palace Hotel, was inaugurated on December 27.