In view of efforts to improve diplomatic relations with the West, Iran’s tourism industry is anticipating improvements after years of stagnation. However, the government’s lack of support and certain shortages are challenging travel agencies, tour organizers and the hospitality sector.

Iran’s debts to world tourism exhibitions have put Iran on their blacklist, and there is concern that Iran would no longer be invited to these events. According to the head of the Society of Tour Guides, Iran’s debt of 78,000 euros is already a formidable obstacle to participating in the ITB Convention in Berlin.

Ebrahim Porufaraj went on to tell a meeting of the tourism industry that, even last year, the ITB Convention was refusing to reserve stands for Iranian applicants, and he insisted that Iranian public and private companies will not be allowed space in the convention until Iran pays its unpaid debts for space rental and stand construction.

The Iranian private sector met with the German organizers to resolve the matter and get some space in the convention. The head of the Society of Tour Guides says the former administration kept denying that it owed money to the convention.

Protests against the New Budget
Despite Hassan Rohani’s promises about government support for tourism in Iran, people in the industry believe the commitments have not been fulfilled.

A provision in the proposed budget charges each city to collect five percent of accommodation charges from all tourist centres and deposit it in a fund to be used for the promotion of tourism, crafts, and the protection of cultural heritage and the environment. Hotel owners and tourism workers believe this will increase the cost of tourism services and damage the industry. Hotels already pay 15 percent in duties and taxes.

Hotel owners have called for this provision to be scrapped and they have sent letters to Parliament urging lawmakers to avoid creating any problems for the industry. The provisions, according to the head of the Iranian Hotel Owners Society, would omit traveling from the household budget in Iran; it would also lead to an increase in unauthorized accommodation services and heavy losses for legitimate hotel services. Jamshid Hamzehzadeh explains that currently in many regions of the country, such as Mazandaran on the coast of the Caspian Sea, a number of accommodation services without permits outnumber those offered by official hotels. accommodations. Many private owners rent out their homes or rooms to tourists and as hotel prices rise, the number of this form of accommodation increases.

Head of Air Travel and Tourism says the government has not had any positive influence on this industry. Mohammad Hassan Kermani says the prices charged by hotels are not dictated by the government anywhere else other than Iran. He stressed that travel agencies should not count on the support of the government and cited Turkish and Malaysian success in tourism due to its lack of dependence on the government.

Situation of Hotels in Iran
Experts in the tourism industry explain that the hotel system in Iran is basically managed by the government and most of the high quality hotels are under government control. Head of the Iranian Society  Tour Guides sees this as a great disadvantage because in the private sector, businesses can offer attractive discounts to tourists in competition with other hotels but government-controlled hotels do not have this freedom of action as they will be accountable to public auditors.

According to Ebrahim Pourfaraj, another problem in the sector is that there are enough accommodation centres to meet the demand for growth in the industry; he explains that for instance in Isfahan, a major tourist destination, all hotels are already fully booked for next summer and no more tourist packages could be accommodated in the city.

Inappropriate Treatment in Embassies
Another element that discourages foreign travellers from choosing Iran as a destination is reportedly lack of positive promotion of the industry in the embassies. Some Eastern European travelers were apparently discouraged from travelling to Iran at the embassy by an embassy staff member who told them they would not be safe in Iran.
ISNA has also published reports of embassy employees telling foreign citizens that they would be better off not traveling to Iran in the current situation.

Head of the Cultural Heritage and Tourism Department Mohammad Ali Najafi has told Guardian that visa regulations for travelers to Iran is under review, and other than ten countries, citizens of other countries will soon be able to obtain visitor visas in Iranian airports. The United States, Britain, Canada, Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan are reportedly amongst the ten restricted countries. The report indicates that the Tourism Department will especially concentrate on attracting travelers from China.