First Post-Sanctions Tourism Expo in Tehran

Travel & Environment Desk
First Post-Sanctions Tourism Expo in Tehran
First Post-Sanctions Tourism Expo in Tehran

The Ninth Tehran International Tourism Exhibition, or TITE, came to an end on Friday to a mixed reception.

The four-day event was the first international tourism exhibition held in Iran following the lifting of economic sanctions last month that took a high toll on the travel sector. So the general thinking prior to the start of the expo was that this year’s event would be bigger, more organized and compatible with persistent calls from higher ups to lift the holiday industry as the economy opens up to the outside world. What indeed was on show was a far cry from what it should have been.

Despite being an international exhibition, local exhibitors were clearly aiming for domestic travelers rather than the international market, possibly because they did not expect a huge foreign visitor turnout.

Along with Greece, Egypt and Italy, Iran boasts an ancient civilization dating back millennia, but unlike its peers it has failed to promote the unique attractions on the international stage. On the other hand, international exhibitors at the ninth event seemed more than determined to tap into the multi-billion-dollar Iranian travel market.

  Larger, Not Better

In order to capitalize on the post-sanctions environment and Iran’s enhanced global image, tourism officials set out to hold a bigger travel exhibition compared to recent editions. They did that in terms of occupied space and the number of foreign exhibitors.

Organizers rented out a total of nine halls, up from seven last year, and international participants occupied a space twice that of last year’s. Forty-four firms from 16 countries took part in the expo, up from 11 in 2015.

Three halls specialized in promoting Iranian culture and craft. Hall 38, where the exhibition was inaugurated, showcased special features of Iran’s provinces with a stage in the center where traditional bands dressed in local attire performed folk music. Pavilions in Hall 35 were modeled on Iranian mansions to promote ancient Persian architecture, while Hall 38 B was dedicated to handicrafts.

One of the highlights of this year’s expo was the strong presence of hospitals and medical service providers. Iran is hoping to boost its inbound numbers by keying in on the lucrative medical tourism sector, since the country has made significant strides in medical sciences.

The remaining halls were taken by travel agencies, hotels and related industries, including several recreational facilities, whose representatives were seeking sponsors to complete unfinished projects. Finally, the expo also offered a platform for tourism publications and online travel websites to promote their wares.  

Three specialized conferences were held on the sidelines of the event focusing on health, food, and halal tourism — a growing subcategory of tourism geared toward attracting pious Muslims.

Consulting firms were also busy advising visitors on matters ranging from getting a job in the sector to investment opportunities.

  International Exhibitors

Teams from 16 countries, namely Spain, Thailand, the Republic of Azerbaijan, Turkey, Russia, Vietnam, Malaysia, South Korea, Greece, Italy, Oman, China, Iraq, Bangladesh, Syria, and Sri Lanka, showcased their nations’ top attractions in the hope of swaying outbound Iranian travelers to visit their countries.

Some countries were clearly more determined than others. Through its music and movies, South Korea in recent years has managed to gain popularity among the Iranian youth, prompting Korean officials to capitalize on the development to attract Iranian tourists.

Delegates from the East Asian country told the Financial Tribune that complicated visa requirements and a lack of direct flights have hindered leisure travel between the two nations, matters they hope to resolve in talks with Iranian officials.

Having facilitated visa requirements for Iranians, the Russian Federal Agency for Tourism had a prominent presence at the expo and even opened their first tourism information office in Tehran when the exhibition kicked off on Tuesday.

A big problem with this year’s TITE was its timing. The event shared the Tehran Permanent Fairgrounds with the Eighth Exhibition of Gold, Silver, Jewelry, Watch and Related Industries, and coincided with the 37th  International Fair of Tourism (February 19-22) in the Serbian capital Belgrade. The largest such expo in Southeast Europe and a popular platform among industry professionals, the Serb event may well have overshadowed TITE, drawing tens of thousands of potential visitors away from Tehran.

Set in the backdrop of thawing relations with the West, tourism officials had high hopes for this event and have set themselves ambitious goals, including attracting 20 million tourists a year by 2025. A tall order but doable depending on how serious Tehran is about improving entire  infrastructures from roadways/airways to hoteliering and giving private enterprise its fair share  of the tourist industry.