Last updated: 07:10 PM ET, Sun October 18 2015

Iran Preparing For Major Tourist Influx

Destination & Tourism | Michael Isenbek | October 18, 2015

Iran Preparing For Major Tourist Influx

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Iran is getting ready for a greatly expanded role as tourist host.

A deal with world powers that has the nation curbing its nuclear program in exchange for a lifting of sanctions will open the traveler floodgates. With this eventuality in mind, Masoud Soltanifar, Iran’s vice president and chief of the country’s Cultural Heritage, Handicrafts and Tourism Organization, revealed to the Associated Press what the future holds for Iranian tourism.

"In the post-sanctions era, tourism is an industry that will get a boost more than any other sector," Soltanifar said to the AP. "Tourism is certainly the driving engine to get Iran's economy out of recession. Iran's tourism sector is a flourishing market for investors. We are anticipating a tsunami of tourists after sanctions are lifted."

The AP noted Iran is “a country rich in historical and cultural treasures largely unseen by Western eyes,” and mentioned it has 19 UNESCO-registered sites.

In terms of attracting foreign investors and boosting the tourism industry, the news service said Iran will be issuing an investment package of 1,300 projects “in the coming days.”

According to the AP, Soltanifar credits President Hassan Rouhani's moderate policies and the relaxing of visa rules as a big help in getting foreign tourists to visit.

The vice president told the AP that officials are trying to remove barriers for tourists, saying nationals of 190 countries can be issued visas on arrival at Tehran’s airport. These would be valid for 30 days, with a possible 15-day extension. Electronic visas are in the works for next year, he added.

American and British citizens entering Iran will need a visa ahead of time, the AP said, citing the governments of each nation.

Soltanifar did note an increase in American tourist visits to Iran, and told the AP the number was 3,400 in 2014, up from 1,800 in 2013.

The AP said Iran’s aim is to host 20 million tourists a year by 2025, growing tourism into a $30 billion industry.

But as the AP put it, the country “lacks sufficient accommodation and transportation for that number of tourists,” and placed the number of hotels and guest houses in Iran at 1,100, with 130 rating at 4 or 5 stars.

"We need to increase our four and five star hotels from 130 to 400 in 10 years,” Soltanifar declared to the AP. “We are providing low-interest funds out of the National Development Fund to private investors to build modern hotels," he revealed.

The AP did note that last month, an Iran firm signed an agreement with AccorHotels, a leading French accommodations chain, to use the Novotel and ibis brands, the first such deal in three decades.

Iran’s commercial airline industry, debilitated by sanctions across decades, needs a major boost as well. The AP said 400 new passenger jets are required, and of the 250 planes Iran has, 100 are grounded due to lack of spare parts. Meanwhile, the remaining 150 aging aircraft have to be renovated.

"We need to renovate our air transportation system and buy new planes after sanctions are lifted. But this will be time-consuming," Soltanifar said to the AP.

The AP did say that Iran “has a history of air crashes in recent years, leading to hundreds of casualties,” and mentioned an incident just last week when an Iranian commercial jet with 426 aboard had part of an engine fall off during flight.

Iran's Guardian Council has ratified into law this week a parliamentary bill implementing the nuclear deal, the AP said, a welcoming gesture in a country where, as the AP noted, the U.S. is known by hardliners as the “Great Satan.”

Soltanifar, called “a moderate politician” by the AP, said, "American tourists and investors are welcome. There is no obstacle or restrictions for them to visit Iran or invest in the country."

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