Alternative Destinations Thrive as Turkey Suffers Slump

The constant threat of terrorist attacks and political instability has made Turkey lose its allure among Iranian tourists
Aerial view of the seaside resort of Golden Sands in northern Bulgaria, where 60% of the total hotel capacity were occupied by Iranian holidaymakers.Aerial view of the seaside resort of Golden Sands in northern Bulgaria, where 60% of the total hotel capacity were occupied by Iranian holidaymakers.

Despite Iran lifting the ban on tours to Turkey in mid-August, Iranians have not shown the enthusiasm they once did for the Near East country.

When the ban was imposed following a failed coup attempt to oust Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Iranian tour operators wasted little time in offering alternative destinations, such as Georgia, Azerbaijan, Bulgaria and Armenia.

“Bulgaria has become a hot destination for Iranian holidaymakers, so much so that 60% of the total hotel capacity in the seaside resort of Golden Sands (on the Black Sea) were occupied by Iranians this summer,” Babak Nematpour, a travel agent, told ISNA.

While, by some accounts, Turkey still remains the top foreign destination for Iranians, many say it has lost its allure due to a lack of political stability and the constant threat of terrorist attacks.

Another factor that has helped make Bulgaria popular at the expense of Turkey is tour operators’ disinclination to organize big tours to Turkey. Influential players in the sector say the temporary ban helped reveal problems in contracts signed between Iranian travel agencies and Turkish parties (such as hotels and airlines), which must be resolved if the two countries want to normalize tourism ties.

“Bulgaria, along with Azerbaijan, Georgia and Armenia, have emerged as top destinations, even though they have been on Iranian tourists’ radar for years,” Nematpour said, adding that Turkey’s plight has helped push people to explore new destinations.

He said Bulgarian hotels in regions frequented by Iranians “are out of capacity” and even though there are about 10 weekly flights between the two countries, “we can’t send packed tours simply because there’s no space left”.

The travel agent said Bulgaria suffers from a lack of quality hotels, forcing tour operators to book rooms in hotels they previously had no business with.

“Four- and five-star hotels are fully booked, so we have to find other means of accommodation,” he said.

  Foolproof Contracts

Criticizing the deals signed between Iranian and Turkish tour operators, Nematpour said the contracts lacked any mention of unforeseeable circumstances (or force majeure).

“Because there were no articles about what needs to be done in case of an extraordinary event, such as a terrorist attack, Iranian travel agencies incurred massive losses in the aftermath of the coup,” he said.

The travel agent called on Iran’s Cultural Heritage, Handicrafts and Tourism Organization to step in and ensure the contracts signed with Bulgarian or parties in other countries are foolproof to avoid a repeat of what happened with Turkey.

“This is especially important in the case of Azerbaijan and Armenia, which aren’t on the best of terms with each other,” he said, referring to the border conflict between the two states.