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2018 Was A Good Year For Tourism In Iran

By Orkhan Jalilov May 7, 2019


The director of Iran's Cultural Heritage, Handicrafts and Tourism Organization, Ali-Asghar Mounesan inaugurated the 21st Gachsar Tulip Festival in Asara district in the northern province of Alborz, on May 4, 2019. / Maryam Hashemi / Young Journalists Club

U.S. sanctions have hit Iran hard, but revenue from tourism hasn’t been all that bad.

Foreign travelers spent about $11.8 billion between March 2018 and March 2019 according to Iranian government data, or about three percent of an economy worth roughly $431 billion.

“According to the central bank’s latest data, the country’s tourism sector has earned 11 billion and 800 million dollars last year [the Iranian fiscal year ending on March 20],” said Ali-Asghar Mounesan, the director of Iran’s Cultural Heritage, Handicrafts and Tourism Organization. Mounesan was speaking at an opening ceremony for a major tulip festival in the northern province of Alborz on Friday and quoted by Fars news agency.

The annual Gachsar Tulip Festival in Asara, which lasts between late April and early May and showcases tens of thousands of flowers, attracts thousands of domestic and international vacationers each year to what is a garden measuring one hectare (2.47 acres).

“[The] tourism sector, because of its specific circumstances, has suffered the least damage from the sanctions, and therefore tourism can aid Iran’s economy. In addition, the sector indirectly helps to boost social vitality is treasured.”

Mounesan admitted that the lower cost of travel packages for trips to Iran is a critical factor that has made the Caspian and Middle Eastern country a more attractive tourism destination lately, due to the steep decline in the value of Iran’s national currency, the rial. Yet he was upbeat about the possibility of revenue from tourism off-setting some of the losses currently faced in the oil sector.

In January, Mounesan said, "Iran has 157 four- and five-star hotels, and by the end of President Hassan Rouhani's second term in 2021, the figure will increase to 210. When the infrastructures are complete, income from tourism will replace oil revenues.”

With oil at $60 per barrel, Iran can rake in about $45 billion in export revenues. How it plans to drive up tourism revenue to that figure has not been explained.

Iran hosted some 7.8 million foreign nationals during the Iranian calendar year of March 2018 to March 2019, which reflects a 52.5 percent increase compared to the same period the year prior. Shiite Muslims travel to Iran as pilgrims, paying a visit to the holy shrines in Mashhad, Shiraz, Qom, Isfahan, Yazd and Ardabil.

“A majority of foreign tourists visiting Iran last year were from neighboring countries as well as European and American countries," the deputy head of the Islamic Republic's Cultural Heritage, Handicrafts and Tourism Organization, Vali Teymouri, said on May 2.

Iran is considered an ideal destination for what is called “health tourism,” which by some estimates is worth $20 billion in Iran annually, due to the high quality of medical care at a much lower cost than in many developed countries.

Officials say Iran has over 850 government and private hospitals that match global standards, which can provide medical treatment for various diseases and ailments. About 400,000 “medical tourists” travelled to Iran during 2017-18 year, bringing in roughly $1.2 billion in foreign exchange.