Tour Buses Take Backseat

Tour Buses Take BackseatTour Buses Take Backseat

While Iran’s well-established flight routes makes air travel to every corner of the country a breeze, many people still prefer to travel by land on Iran’s scenic routes.

However, a lack of standard tour buses dissuades most from opting for land travel.

To remedy the problem, the Iran Cultural Heritage, Handicrafts and Tourism Organization made an official request to the government over a year ago to facilitate the import of 1,000 quality tour buses by reducing their customs tax.

At the time, Iran was under crippling economic sanctions, which made it difficult to enter negotiations with foreign automakers. Once the sanctions were finally lifted in January this year, Iranian officials were approached by industry giants looking to beat the competition and establish a foothold in the Iranian market.

And yet, despite extensive discussions and negotiations with Japanese and European car manufacturers, the topic of tour buses has not even come up, ISNA reported.

“Standard tour buses are vastly different from public transport buses; so much so that one can’t really replace the other. We don’t have the means to produce tour buses domestically and we need to import them,” Saeed Shirkavand, deputy for investment at the ICHHTO, said last year.

There is a wide gulf in quality between buses used in Iran tourism purposes and standard tour buses, according to Mina Mehdinia, a tour guide and a board member at the Iranian Federation of Tourist Guides’ Associations.

“The seats aren’t comfortable, the seat belts are sometimes defective, even the air conditioning doesn’t work all the time,” she told the Financial Tribune. “You’d be lucky if the microphone works.”

To make matters worse, the drivers are not properly trained, if at all, she added.

  What’s the Hold-Up?

According to ICHHTO chief Masoud Soltanifar, who doubles as a vice president, the main reason the organization’s request has been disregarded is vehement opposition among Cabinet members.

“Some ministries and organizations oppose the idea, arguing that reducing customs tax to bring tour buses to Iran undermines domestic automakers,” he said. “They claim that we have the capacity to make these buses locally.”

This is while some, including Ebrahim Pourfaraj, president of the Iranian Tour Operators’ Society, say Iranian-made buses fail to meet international standards.

“They mount the body of a minibus onto a chassis made for a sedan, so how can you call that a standard vehicle?” he asked.

The ICHHTO has reportedly put in a request for 500 vans, 300 minibuses, 150 off-road vehicles and 50 buses.

Iran’s stated goal is to attract 20 million tourists by 2025, up from five million in 2014. The country’s woefully underdeveloped tourism infrastructure is in dire need of renovation and expansion and while efforts are being made to build more hotels and renovate the aging air fleet, nothing has been done to address the shocking lack of quality tour buses.