Iran Sets Tourist Target: 6.5 Million by March 2018

Iran's main goal is to attract 20 million foreign tourists annually by 2025, an ambitious target that Iran is likely to miss
Regional countries make up the bulk of inbound tourists.Regional countries make up the bulk of inbound tourists.
Around 9.5 million Iranians traveled abroad in the last Iranian year (March 2016-17)

Iran has set itself a target of 6.5 million inbound tourists in the current Iranian year that ends on March 20, 2018, a senior official at Iran's Cultural Heritage, Handicrafts and Tourism Organization said.

The objective has been set by the Resistance Economy Headquarters, which also aims to increase domestic tourism numbers to 120 million by the yearend, IRNA reported.

"With proper planning and development of infrastructure, it is possible to meet our goals," Morteza Rahmani Movahed, deputy for tourism at ICHHTO, also said at a high-level meeting with tourism executives on Sunday.

"However, it takes time to heal Iran's international image," he added, referring to years of smear campaigns against Iran led by most western media outlets.

Led by First Vice President Es'haq Jahangiri, the headquarters' main task is to lay out policies that help Iran become more self-reliant to shield it from the impacts of international developments, such as sanctions, that would otherwise hurt the country's economy.

Iran's ultimate goal is to draw 20 million foreign tourists annually by 2025. However, with only eight years to go, the target appears to be very ambitious.

Last year, some 5.5 million travelers visited Iran, generating about $8 billion for the country.

Regional countries make up the bulk of inbound tourists, with no European country cracking the top 10 source markets for Iran, according to Gholamheydar Ebrahim-Baysalami, chief executive of Tourism Holding Company.

"Politics play a key role in tourism … the main difference between us and countries such as Turkey and Malaysia is that their governments have always prioritized tourism," he said.

"But, for instance, tourism was ranked 43rd on the list of priorities outlined in the Third Five-Year Economic Development Plan (2000-5). Governments only have time to work on the first eight priorities," he added.

About half of foreign tourists in Iran are pilgrims headed for the holy city of Mashhad, where the shrine of Imam Reza (PBUH) is located.

According to Ebrahim-Baysalami, 9.5 million Iranians traveled abroad in the last Iranian year (March 2016-17).

"Assuming that every person spent only $100, that's almost $10 billion in foreign exchange leaving the country," he said, adding that there's an imbalance here as Iranians spend more abroad than foreign tourists do in Iran.

A number of key tourism players, including Akbar Ghamkhar, a travel agency owner, attributed the problem to lackluster marketing on the part of both officials and the private sector.

"Our private sector hasn't matured yet and it receives little support from the government. Foreign investors will only put their money in Iran when they see domestic entrepreneurs getting the support they need," he said.

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