Arvand Visa Waiver Triggers Tourist Influx

Although the visa rule in AFZ has only just been enacted and many are not informed yet, a great number of Iraqi tourists have surged to the zone especially at weekends
Arvand Free Zone is accessible by road, rail, sea and air. Arvand Free Zone is accessible by road, rail, sea and air.
Many locals have relations across the border and the visa regime has increased family reunions

The visa waiver scheme enacted in December 2017 by Arvand Free Zone, Khuzestan Province, has led to a surge of tourists from the neighboring Iraq.

Based on the new scheme, citizens of all countries (except the Occupied Palestinian Territory) can enter the zone, obtain a visa and cross over into the mainland.

"Although it has been only a little more than a month since its launch and many Iraqis are not yet informed of the new rule, their arrivals have registered such a significant increase that at weekends, the entry gates overflow with tourists," Seyyed Morteza Nematzadeh, deputy for cultural, social and tourism affairs at AFZ, was quoted as saying by ISNA.

However, Nematzadeh did not mention the fee paid by visitors to get the visa.

The visa rule applies to all free zones, but has had little impact on tourist numbers in other zones.

Mohammad Moheb-Khodaei, deputy for tourism at Iran's Cultural Heritage, Handicrafts and Tourism Organization, had earlier said FTZs' visa waiver program is not a special advantage to rely on "because travelers can simply get a visa on arrival at any airport in Iran anyway".

"Arvand Free Zone has gone against the common trend and draws between 3,000 and 5,000 Iraqis every day," Iraj Masjedi, Iran's ambassador to Iraq, said.

Nematzadeh noted that apart from those who choose the zone as their destination, a noticeable number enter the zone to head for the mainland.

"Some 1,000 to 1,500 travelers pass through the zone with a visa to other parts of the country," he said.

The official noted that the rise in visa-free travelers is mainly attributed to word-of-mouth advertising (because the benefit has not been widely promoted yet).

"Many of the locals have tribal and ethnic relations with people in Iraq and the visa regime has increased family reunions among those who are separated by the borders," he said, stressing that the law is still one-sided.

To make more precise plans for the zone's tourism, questionnaires have been prepared and are given to travelers upon entry to determine their nationality and motivation for making the trip.

"The data collected are still raw but primary assessments indicate that a majority of foreign nationals travel to visit their relatives, for leisure or shopping," he said.

Shopping is a key motive, according to the official, thanks to better prices.

The number of health tourists from Iraq has also increased since the enactment of the law.

"General and specialized medical services are available in the zone, which is very economical for the citizens of the neighboring country," Nematzadeh said.

Affordable goods and services in the AFZ benefit tourists and have a positive impact on Arvand Free Zone's economy.

With an area of 37,400 hectares, Arvand Free Zone is located to the northwest of Persian Gulf at the confluence of Karun and Arvand rivers. It covers the cities of Abadan, Khorramshahr and Minou Island, and borders Iraq and Kuwait.

The zone is accessible by road, rail, sea and air.

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