An international survey of the travel industry sees Iran as the next tourism hotspot thanks to “its unique culture and heritage” as a web of sanctions tied around the country is removed soon.
Released in London this week, the WTM Global Trends Report 2015 cites the country’s hot adventure potential including its historical and cultural draws, predicting Iran to become “a key player” in the Middle East’s tourism boom.
Iran boasts more World Heritage Sites than any country in a region which is home to one of the world’s earliest civilizations, with 19 landmarks registered by the United Nations cultural heritage body UNESCO.
The list is growing: the Susa archeological mounds and the Meymand village were the latest attractions added as recently as September.
Tourists on religious, historical or natural visits accounted for an estimated 90% of the annual 5 million international arrivals to the country in 2014, according to Vice President Masoud Soltanifar.
But the report also mentioned the more exotic and unlikely attractions of Iran, home to 19 ski resorts, hiking, mountain climbing and bird-watching.
“There is certainly pent-up demand to visit Iran, and it is centrally located with good air links to Africa, Europe and Asia, so we expect those tourist numbers to boom,” said Caroline Bremner of Euromonitor, a market research firm that prepared the report.
The country plans to attract 20 million foreign tourists in order to generate up to $30 billion of revenues a year by 2025, according to officials.
Officials have embarked on an ambitious plan, relaxing visa rules and developing new hotels. Last month, local media reports said the country had started issuing 30-day visa for tourists of 58 countries upon arrival in its airports.
“For tourism development in Iran, our organization has prepared a package for $25 billion of investment in 1,300 projects,” Soltanifar said in September.
International travel and hotels groups are salivating at the prospects of big business, pushing to boost their portfolios in Iran as the country opens up to foreign investors.
France’s AccorHotels signed a deal with Iran’s Tourism Financial Group to run two hotels near Imam Khomeini International Airport in Tehran, with plans to book 100 more hotels.
The UAE-based Rotana has hotel projects in Tehran and in the pilgrimage city of Mashhad. They are expected to be completed from 2015 onwards, including the five-star, 200-key Rayhaan in 2017.
Iran's sharing economy is also burgeoning, with an estimated 50,000 Iranian hosts registered on Couchsurfing.com, the WTM Global Trends report said.
Switzerland’s OrientStay recently launched an Airbnb-style accommodation service in Iran for people to list, find, and rent lodging.
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