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Iran lifts visa restrictions on Chinese visitors in bid to draw tourism

  • 2 Jul 2019

Iranian authorities are looking to attract around two million new visitors as the country hit by US sanctions moves to find new sources of revenue.

A seller waits for customers at his shop in a shopping street known as "Grand Bazaar" in downtown of Tehran, Iran June 23, 2019. ( Reuters )

Iran has passed a law on Sunday lifting visa restrictions for Chinese tourists, according to the state news agency IRNA.

Officials for the presidential office said that the move would increase tourism, a potentially large source of revenue in a country that was hit with renewed US sanctions in 2018 after Washington withdrew from the Iran nuclear deal or JCPOA.

Ali Asqar Munesan, an expert on Iranian tourism, said that two million Chinese tourists could visit the country within a year of the visa requirements being lifted.

Some 150 million Chinese citizens visit other countries each year and the number visiting Iran currently stands at 52,000 a year.

Mounesan told Iranian media that the tourists would be drawn the “country's numerous attractions."

Iran is home to empires and civilisations dating back millennia. The country has relics dating back to the Elamite, Ancient Persian, and Islamic periods.

The north of the country is also home to Caspian coast resorts, while its mountain ranges offer skiing opportunities.

Iran already has existing mutual visa exemption agreements with a number of countries. Citizens of Azerbaijan, Bolivia, Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Georgia, Armenia, Venezuela, Egypt, and Malaysia are exempt from visas when entering Iran.

Iranian academic Dr Mohammad Marandi told TRT World there was a direct link between the decision to lift visa requirements on Chinese national and the reintroduction of US sanctions.

Encouraging tourism was a means of countering the damage the Americans want to inflict on the Iranian economy, Marandi said.

“Americans are waging economic warfare,” he said, describing the policy as “economic terrorism” aimed at making life miserable for Iranian people.

“(US pressure) is forcing the administration to become less wasteful, to become more efficient and be more dynamic in finding ways to get the economy to grow.” Marandi added.

Around 7.8 million tourists visited Iran last year, marking a 52.5 percent increase in visitors from the previous year.

The country wants to attract 20 million tourists annually by 2025. 

Marandi pointed out that religious tourism from neighbouring states like Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan was on the rise but a number of other areas also had potential for growth. 

"I think there is a great deal of potential that has not yet been explored,” he said.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has also ordered border officers not to stamp passports for tourists visiting the country so that they do not encounter issues traveling to countries who could penalise them for doing so, such as the US.

Currently, visitors to Iran face extra scrutiny when traveling to the US, with the possibility that they may not be granted entry at all.

Additional reporting by Alican Tekingunduz

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