Iran Daily interviewed Naser Rezaei, a leading expert from Tourism Research Center affiliated to Iran’s Cultural Heritage, Handicrafts and Tourism Organization, to learn more about the impacts of the US law on the number of tourists visiting Iran.
The law has changed the Visa Waiver Program (VWP), which normally allows nationals from 38 countries to travel to the United States without visas. As a result of the changes, the program no longer includes dual nationals from Iran, Iraq, Syria and Sudan, or anyone else who has traveled to the four mentioned countries in the past five years.
About 20 million European nationals visit the US each year. This large figure can indicate how Iran’s tourism industry will be affected by the changes in the VWP.
The majority of tourists come to Iran from Germany, France, Belgium, Britain and the US.
Iran plans to attract about 20 million foreign tourists per year by 2025 to achieve the objectives of the Sixth Five-Year Economic Development Plan (2016-2020).
Excerpts of the interview:
IRAN DAILY: How many foreign tourists visited Iran last year? Has Iran witnessed a significant growth year-on-year?
NASER REZAEI: More than 4.5 million foreigners visited Iran in the year to March 2015, during which the number of outbound tourists and the number of arrivals were balanced for the first time after so many years.
Iran witnessed a 200-percent growth in the number of arrivals in spring 2015 compared with the figure for the corresponding period last year.
In addition, most hotels, tourism agencies and accommodation centers across the country are reportedly fully booked up to March 2016 with the number arrivals expected to exceed five million during this period.
IRAN DAILY: Iran ranked among top 50 destinations in 2015 despite negative reports by certain media outlets to tarnish Iran’s tourism industry. Iran was also internationally recognized as a secure and peaceful nation with hospitable people in 2015. What are the main objectives of tourists visiting Iran?
NASER REZAEI: Tourists come to Iran for various reasons including sightseeing, enjoying natural attractions and making pilgrimage. Some of the tourists also come here for treatment.
Pilgrims constitute the majority of tourists to Iran followed by tourists interested in historical sites.
Health tourism has witnessed a significant growth over the past few years thanks to steps taken by the incumbent administration to improve health centers.
Iran has many breathtaking natural attractions which still remain unknown to many tourists.
We also lag behind other nations in attracting sport tourists, most of whom are the youth.
IRAN DAILY: Which European nationals constitute the majority of arrivals to Iran?
NASER REZAEI: Germans make up the majority of foreign tourists to Iran, followed by French, Belgium, and British nationals. More Europeans wanted to travel to Iran after Iran was ranked among the top 50 destinations last year.
Although the number of European tourists to Iran is much lower than the number of Asian tourists and those coming from neighboring nations. European nationals play a greater role in increasing Iran’s tourism revenues because they spend much more.
IRAN DAILY: How can changes in VWP prevent European nationals from traveling to Iran?
NASER REZAEI: The law can have negative impacts on Iran’s tourism industry. While, it is true that most hotel rooms and accommodation centers are fully booked in Iran until March 2016, such a negative and anti-Iran law can lead to a decline in the number of arrivals.
Such a law not only hurts Iran’s tourism industry but also places restrictions on scientists who have to travel to Iran for scientific research projects.
IRAN DAILY: What can the government do to avoid the adverse impacts of such law?
NASER REZAEI: Iran Cultural Heritage and Tourism Organization (ICHTO) is unable to solve this problem alone. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs must be involved in solving the problem.
For years, Iran has been seeking to ease travel restrictions so that nationals of certain nations can travel to Iran without visas. Such programs are helpful in reducing the adverse impacts of such an anti-Iran law.
IRAN DAILY: Experts have predicted that the number of Russian tourists to Turkey would decline as a result of the recent developments in relations between the two nations. Many neighboring countries have planned to attract Russian tourists. How do you evaluate Iran’s chances in drawing Russian tourists?
NASER REZAEI: Turkey’s tourism industry has grown in the past few years. According to official reports, Turkey’s income from tourism industry increased from $14.5 billion in 2006 to $24.4 billion in 2014.
Russians make up the majority of tourists to Turkey after the Germans. The decline in the number of Russian tourists to Turkey can hurt the country’s tourism industry. While all neighboring countries seek to attract Russians, Iran is after restoring peace in the region.
A sense of security is the most important factor for tourists when they make a decision on traveling to a region. A tranquil Middle East is to the benefit of all regional nations.
Iran is an ideal destination for every tourist since it has high tourism potentials. However, the country needs to improve its tourism facilities to be able to serve tourists and satisfy them.
Fortunately, the government believes that offering high-quality services to lower number of tourists is much more important than attracting large number of tourists without being able to provide necessary services to them.
Iran must be capable of catering for tourists from all age groups and preferences.