Domestic Tourism Gains Currency

Domestic Tourism Gains Currency  Domestic Tourism Gains Currency

Domestic travel grew by 9% during the Iranian New Year (Norouz) holiday (March 20 – April 1), thanks to a sharp decline in outbound travel, especially to Turkey and the UAE.

Speaking at a press conference on Monday, Morteza Rahmani Movahed, tourism deputy at Iran’s Cultural Heritage, Handicrafts and Tourism Organization, said the new data shows travel to Turkey dropped by 10% and to the UAE by 18%.

“We’ll have the official figures by the end of the month (April 19). But from what I’ve been told, domestic tourism is on the rise,” he told reporters, according to the Persian daily Donya-e-Eqtesad. “Overall, outbound travel dropped by 10% during the Norouz holiday.”

Experts attribute the drop in foreign travel, especially to the aforementioned countries, to a number of factors.

In the months leading up to the annual holiday season, a people-driven online campaign took off which encouraged holidaymakers to opt against traveling to Turkey and the UAE, calling them “state sponsors of Daesh (the Arabic acronym of the so-called Islamic State terror group)”.

The campaign became so popular that even the ICHHTO published articles on its Persian-language website expounding on the merits of traveling inside the country during the holidays and discouraging the foreign trips.

Furthermore, reports have emerged that the ICHHTO office in Alborz instructed travel agencies to scrap their Turkey tours, citing “mistreatment of Iranian tourists, inflated costs and lack of security.”

  Security Concerns

Turkey faces multiple security threats. It has seen several deadly suicide bombings in towns including Istanbul and Ankara over the past several months blamed on terrorist groups, such as Daesh. The embattled government has blamed some of the attacks on Kurdish separatist groups, namely the PKK.

Ankara is engaged in a renewed conflict with the outlawed PKK (Kurdistan Workers Party), a Kurdish militant group pushing for autonomy in the southeast. The military has also been shelling the bases of the Syrian Kurdish  fighters across the border.

Turkey’s tourism revenues dropped 14.3% in the final quarter of last year. Full-year tourism revenues fell 8.3%, according to the Turkish Statistics Institute. Tour operator TUI this month reported a 40% drop in summer bookings to Turkey due to safety concerns.

Eight cruise companies - MSC, Costa, Thomson, Aida, Crystal, Norwegian Cruise Line, Oceania Cruises, Regent Seven Seas Cruises - have cancelled cruises to Turkey because of security concerns, according to the Chamber of Commerce of Izmir, a coastal district.

  Boosting Domestic Tourism Imperative

According to a study by the Majlis Research Center last year, Iran’s inbound tourism generated barely $1.1 billion in 2013; whereas money spent by Iranian holidaymakers abroad was estimated at $7.5 billion in that year.

Experts have routinely urged the ICHHTO and its chief Masoud Soltanifar to focus on encouraging Iranians to travel domestically by upgrading the ageing facilities and infrastructure. Some say if a third of the outbound tourists decide to travel inside the country, it would generate much higher revenues compared to what foreign tourists spend in Iran.

Iran’s declared goal is to draw 20 million tourists a year by 2025 and generate $30 billion in revenue – a tall order if the past is anything to go by.