Inbound Visitors Rise 45%

The total number of foreign arrivals in Iran has increased largely thanks to regional markets
Inbound Visitors Rise 45% Inbound Visitors Rise 45%
Iraqis stood at the top of the list with 1.263 million travelers in the first five months of the current year

Over the first five months of the current Iranian year (began March 21), the number of incoming visitors saw a 45% hike compared with figures for the same period last year with 3.14 foreigners traveling to Iran, a top official at Iran’s Cultural Heritage, Handicrafts and Tourism Organization said. 

Mohammad Sabet-Eqlidi, director of the tourism monitoring and assessment office at ICHHTO, provided ISNA with the data pointing out that the figures have been obtained from the Immigration and Passport Police with no manipulation by ICHHTO. 

“The total number of visitors was 2,159,882 during the same period of last year which had decreased by 1% from 2,183,422 in the equivalent period of the previous year,” he said. 

According to the official, Iraqis stood at the top of the list with 1.263 million travelers in the five months. Azerbaijan with 619,000 visitors came next followed by Afghanistan and Turkey which sent 400,000 and 330,000 tourists to the country respectively. 

However, travel from Europe declined by an average of 22%. The German market experienced the greatest fall in the period with 21,000 travelers coming to the country down from 31,000 in last year’s initial five months recording a 32% drop. 

From France, only 16,000 tourists arrived in Iran while the number was 21,000 last year. Dutch travelers shrank in number by 25% as well from 12,000 to 9,000. 

 Shifting Trends 

Despite the data that shows a significant growth in inbound travel, tourism communities have been complaining about disruptions in the business and the loss of their markets. 

This mainly stems from the difference in the definition of tourist. While tour operators and travel agencies put certain groups of people under the category of tourist, the Immigration Police counts all arrivals which include workers, students, immigrants and business travelers among others. 

“The statistics show a major shift in the composition of the traveling population,” Sabet-Eqlidi explained. 

While travel from regional states is making a comeback after a downturn, the European market has sustained its downward trend.  

The number of Iraqis who came to Iran in the five-month period almost equals their total number during the entire last year. This is while this group had registered a negative growth last year. 

“Last year, 1,356,185 Iraqis traveled to Iran which saw a 3.1% decline compared with the previous year with 1,398,201 travelers,” the official said. 

The same is true with Azerbaijani tourists whose numbers dipped by 2.2% last year to reach 959,653 down from 981,200 in the previous year. 

According to Sabet-Eqlidi, the drops resulted from the operations of middlemen which had discouraged Iraqis and Azerbaijanis. 

Both markets are not only making up for their depression, but have also begun an uptrend. 

On the other hand, 257,219 citizens of the EU traveled to Iran last year with a slight decline from 289,148 in the previous year. The five-month figures of this year indicate that the downtrend is becoming steeper. 

The general growth in arrivals, however, has failed to offer tour companies much benefit since the majority of incoming visitors are traveling independently. 

Sabet-Eqlidi said ICHHTO is focusing on emerging markets that have been less affected by anti-Iran propaganda but tour operators can help revive incoming tours from other countries by advertizing the low costs of travel to Iran and offering more reasonable prices. 

 Controversial Iraqi Visitors 

Travel from Iraq that has chiefly contributed to the growth has been criticized by some experts who refuse to describe them as real tourists. 

Iraqi citizens are allowed to cross the borders in Arvand Free Trade Zone visa-free which combined with the favorable exchange rates in Iran has recently encouraged them to make a trip to Iran to meet a number of their needs. 

But they have been blamed for buying their basic needs at border cities instead of paying for souvenirs and handicrafts as tourists are expected to. 

Sabet-Eqlidi maintained that these populations are spending money and generating some revenue for the locals after all and the economic boom will benefit other regions as well over time. 

“If there are concerns that essential goods or those that are entitled to subsidized exchange rates might flow out of the country, relevant laws need to be modified [rather than restricting Iraqis’ travel],” he said, suggesting the introduction of regulations at borders so that local people would not be affected. 

He highlighted the advantages of the Iraqi market including their habit of traveling with their extended family and staying for long periods. 

“Moreover, Iraqis no longer travel for the purpose of pilgrimage alone; in addition to Isfahan and Shiraz, they are visiting lesser-known cities [in provinces] such as Chaharmahal-Bakhtiari,” he said. 

Their spending is even more than that of the Chinese (globally known as extravagant tourists) and other tourists, he added. 

“Most Iraqis travel to Iran for medical treatment and need to stay for a while for recovery and therefore spend more,” he explained. 

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