Iranians Flock to Turkey

Despite terror threats, Turkey remains the top foreign destination for Iranians due to its affordability and accessibility
Tomb of Rumi (Molana in Persian) in Konya is a major attraction for Iranian tourists.Tomb of Rumi (Molana in Persian) in Konya is a major attraction for Iranian tourists.

Iranians' love of travel is well known and the passion they have for traveling to Turkey is unrivaled.

In the course of the past year-and-a-half, Turkey has been the subject of all forms of terrorist attacks and security problems: Suicide bombings in crowded places, shootings at Ataturk Airport, a coup attempt—you name it.

Most countries have upgraded their security alert for Turkey, including Britain and the US, in view of the high terrorism threat in the Near East country, ISNA reported.

Following the failed coup attempt by a small faction of the Turkish military in June, Iran suspended flights to the neighboring country for a day and placed a month-long ban on organized tours to Turkey.

The only other measure taken by Iranian officials in response to terror threats in Turkey was taken earlier this month when Iranian consulates closed for a day and tourists were asked to avoid any non-essential travel to Turkey following the assassination of Russia's ambassador in Ankara, Andrey Karlov, by an off-duty policeman.

Despite everything that has transpired in the past few months, Turkey is still the top foreign destination for Iranians. According to Babak Nematpour, an Iranian tour guide in Konya, even at this time of the year when the temperature plummets to as low as -5 degrees Celsius, Iranians still visit the industrialized city.

"A lot of Iranians come here to commemorate the death anniversary of Rumi (eminent Persian poet who died on December 17, 1273). They're keeping the city alive while Europeans have abandoned it," he said.

"Although the numbers have dropped compared to the past few years due to recent developments in Turkey, some 2,500 Iranians visited the city between Dec. 8 and 18 this year."

According to Riza Hakan Tekin, Turkey's ambassador to Iran, inbound tourism from Iran suffered as a result of Tehran's ban on tours earlier this year, leading to a 30% decline in numbers in Jan.-Sept. period compared to a year ago.

"Some might have canceled their trips for personal reasons, but without a doubt the main cause of the 30% drop in the number of Iranian tourists was the ban," he said.

The number of Iranian tourists, however, has been rising steadily in the past two years from 1.6 million in 2014 to 1.7 million in 2015.

Turkey is accessible (tens of weekly flights), affordable and convenient, thanks to the visa waiver agreement between Tehran and Ankara.

Iran is an important market for Turkey, and for good reason: No matter what happens, Iranians still prefer to travel to the neighboring country than opt for alternative destinations.

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