Last updated: 05:58 PM ET, Thu April 07 2016

Travel to Iran: Is It the Next Cuba?

Destination & Tourism | Janeen Christoff | April 07, 2016

Travel to Iran: Is It the Next Cuba?

Photo courtesy of Intrepid Travel

The U.S. State Department may be warning travelers against traveling to Iran, but no one’s listening. Americans are heading to Iran in droves and now that sanctions have been lifted, more will be on their way. Hotel companies are racing to get in and tour operators can’t create itineraries to the country fast enough. Airlines are beginning to offer easier access for travelers into Tehran, with new flights and increased frequency. More and more it appears that the interest of travelers wishing to travel to Iran has been piqued and the nation has the potential to be the next Cuba and experience exponential growth.

“Iran really does appear poised to become the next Cuba,” said Leigh Barnes, regional director for Intrepid Travel in North America. We’re seeing the exact same spike in interest from U.S. travelers as we did with Cuba a year ago. The people of Iran are incredibly hospitable and welcoming to not only U.S. travelers but travelers from around the world.”

The U.S. and Iran have a delicate balance when it comes to foreign policy and overall diplomatic relations. The Sate Department recently updated its travel warning, which states that “various elements in Iran remain hostile to the U.S.” and that Iran “has continued to harass, arrest, and detain U.S. citizens, in particular dual nationals.”

READ MORE: Iran’s Aviation Resurgence: Will Tehran Become the Next Dubai?

Despite warnings from the U.S. and other countries, travelers have continued to visit the country. Iran’s tourism industry is blossoming once again and the World Travel and Tourism Council estimates that more than 3 million international visitors traveled to Iran and that figure is predicted to grow steadily over the next 10 years. 

Western Hotels Open Up

But the lifting of Western sanctions has opened the door for the country to court business from Western nations and the hotel industry has moved swiftly.

French hotelier Accor has already opened two branded properties in Iran, the Novotel Tehran Imam Khomeini International Airport and the Ibis Tehran Imam Khomeini International Airport.

Spanish-based hotel company Melia Hotels International has announced a new Iran property. The project is being developed by one of the most important Iranian businessman and investors, Ahad Azim Zadeh, and showcases Melia’s desire to grow in emerging destinations. The project is a further step in its strategy to grow the presence of its brands in the promising Middle East market.

Meliá Hotels International operates two hotels in the Middle East already – the Meliá Dubai and the Meliá Doha — and the company is preparing to welcome five more properties: the Innside Doha, Innside Dubai, Meliá Dubai Residences, ME Dubai and, now, the Gran Meliá Ghoo, which is being built along the Caspian Sea in Salman Sahr, a popular holiday destination for Iranians.

READ MORE: Iran Preparing For Major Tourist Influx

Tour Demand to Iran Grows

Tour operators are also noticing a flood of interest in Iran – and this makes sense, as tours are one of the easiest methods of travel within the country.

Intrepid Travel has continuously had to add departures to meet the traveler demand. In 2015 the company’s U.S. bookings to Iran grew by 120 percent compared to 2014. Globally, Intrepid has already seen 28 percent more bookings to the country into 2016 than it did at the same time 2015, and the U.S. is again leading the charge.

Intrepid operated 24 departures of the 15-day HPSN – Iran Adventure trip last year, 60 percent more than in 2014. All of which operated at more than 90 percent full.

“Iran has a rich history, delicious cuisine and endless opportunities for local connections and cultural experiences,” said Barnes. “It is among the most complete travel destinations out there; offering urban adventures in modern cities such as Tehran and incredible Nomadic stays in places like the Fars Province. Not to mention a never-ending supply of ancient cities, ruins and temples.”

Intrepid’s 15-day Iran Adventure explores the country’s rich history, ancient ruins, modern culture and its fusion of civilizations. The group travels to Tehran, Shiraz, Eghlid, Caravanserai Zein-o-din, Yazd, Esfahan, Abyaneh and Kashan with a nomadic experience as well as a stay in a caravanserai, an ancient travelers inn.

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