Kish Resort Eying More Tourists, Investors

Kish Resort Eying More Tourists, InvestorsKish Resort Eying More Tourists, Investors

Iranian investors are pouring money into Kish Island in the Persian Gulf, hoping its white sand beaches and coral reefs could make it a major tourism destination.

From the pristine beaches of Kish, it is only 200 kilometers across the water to Dubai and it is the booming city state's tens of thousands of wealthy expats that the investors are hoping to lure.

The wide, palm tree-lined boulevards that circle the island of 100 square kilometers are full of top-end cars, including luxury American models, AFP reported.

The buildings are modern, the hotels comfortable and new shopping centers are sprouting everywhere.

Diners pack late-night, roof-top restaurants offering live music. During the day, men walk the long jetties in bermuda shorts—looked down upon in most parts of Iran.

A motorboat zooms past, techno music blaring, with families having a great time together.

There are no bars or clubs while men and women must use separate beaches.

   Halal Tourism

Iran is in the midst of a tourism boom, thanks to the efforts of the current moderate government under President Hassan Rouhani to rebuild ties with the West.

Visitor numbers have leapt from 2.2 million a year in 2009 to 5.2 million in 2015, the government says, and an even bigger increase is expected this year.

But most westerners are drawn by Iran's ancient cities and historical treasures, rather than a beach break.

Ali Jirofti, one of the managers of Kish Free Trade Zone, recognizes that the island's best hope is to focus on Muslim holidaymakers.

The priority is "high-end halal tourism", he said.

Kish already attracts some 1.8 million visitors per year, mostly Tehranis hoping to escape the horrendous traffic and pollution of the capital.

Shopping is another big draw, as Kish was the first and most significant of seven free-trade zones set up during the 1990s to attract investment and help import consumer goods.

There are now some 40 hotels and US-style malls are everywhere.

The free trade zone also wants to double the number of international flights by Kish Air and create a car-free "ecological paradise" on the nearby island of Hendorabi, where an airport, port and hotel have already been built.

Investors are also pushing health tourism, with two top-end hospitals already running on the island, boasting leading doctors, particularly plastic surgeons.

"Forty more luxury hotels of four to five stars are under construction," said Jirofti.

"Our aim is to reach 2.6 million tourists within 10 years."

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