Visa Facilities, VAT Figure High in Tourism Confab

This year’s event revolved around key topics, including the value added tax, visa facilities, tourism infrastructure and marketing
The conference came to a climax with the announcement that paper visas will be scrapped by mid-May.	The conference came to a climax with the announcement that paper visas will be scrapped by mid-May.

A joint conference of Iranian tour operators with state and private sectors active in the tourism industry was held in Tehran earlier this week. The annual meeting is aimed at presenting the demands of tourism organizations to the country's policymakers.

This year's event was attended by officials from Iran's Cultural Heritage, Handicrafts and Tourism Organization and lawmakers and revolved around key topics, including the value added tax, tourism infrastructure and marketing, among others. Amid all talks and comments, the meeting came to a climax as Hassan Qashqavi, deputy foreign minister for consular and parliamentary affairs, made "a solemn vow" that paper visas to Iran will be scrapped and replaced by e-visas by mid-May.

"We will put an end to paper visas in 74 consulates across the world as it is a time- and energy-consuming process in the modern world of electronic services," he said, ISNA reported. An electronic visa is one that is not printed on paper or in the passport but registered in a system where passport control officials at points of entry can verify it. However, the mayor of Tabriz, the capital of East Azarbaijan Province, said despite improvements in visa issuance processes, the problems of inbound tourism will not be solved unless embassies and consulates adopt an approach that is fully centered on the attraction of tourists.

  Misguided Spending

"We would pay as much money as needed but we don't know where and how to spend it," he said blaming the government for failing to introduce policies to bring more travelers to the country. Shahabeddin Bimeqdar, a parliamentarian, also blamed both the government and the Majlis for not allocating adequate funds for tourism marketing.

"I have proposed a 2% increase in taxes on the import of non-essential goods to be spent on tourism exports." Ebrahim Pourfaraj, the head of Iranian Tour Operators Association, was the most outspoken critic. He pointed to value added tax on tourism services and went as far as threatening the authorities.

"Foreign companies accuse us of fraud and abuse of state regulations to enforce this tax," he complained, warning that 166 travel agencies of the total of 4,000 offices that bring tourists to Iran will stop organizing inbound tours if the authorities refuse to eliminate the tax.

The Ministry of Industries, on the other hand, adopted a more cooperative approach and offered a helping hand. Mojtaba Khosrotaj, deputy industries minister, said the assistance could be in the form of investment, for instance in the production of tourist minibuses.

"We have joint economic commissions in certain countries especially in Europe that we can draw on to help tourism. We can also be more cooperative in tourism exhibitions in 2018," he said.  Parvaneh Salahshouri, another member of parliament, highlighted the role of foreign tourists as messengers of Iranian culture.

"It is not that foreign tourists are aliens whose culture can affect our country, but it is rather the Iranian culture that would impress foreigners."

  Conspicuous Absence  

Interestingly, Ali Asghar Mounesan, the ICHHTO chief, was absent from the meeting despite pledging to attend. Saeid Ohadi, deputy for investment and planning, was ICHHTO's representative who, following the common convention in Iran, held other entities responsible for the lack of tourism infrastructure.

"Many of the means of development are not in the hands of ICHHTO," he said lamenting that ICHHTO's share of the subsidies for tourism infrastructure has dropped by half in this year's proposed budget bill.

Iran ranks 116th among 136 countries in terms of tourism infrastructure.

Add new comment

Read our comment policy before posting your viewpoints