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Iran's tourism nosedives after Ukrainian plane crash

  • Maysam Bizaer
  • 27 Jan 2020

Attempts by the Islamic Republic of Iran to attract more tourists have taken a significant hit following geopolitical tensions.

People ride a horse and carriage through Isfahan's central square in June 2014. ( Getty Images )

Iran’s tourism industry is facing a new challenge following the crash of a Ukrainian Airline passenger jet earlier this month after cancellations of most foreign incoming tours.

According to Jamshid Hamzei, the Head of Iran’s Hoteliers Association, as much as 80 percent of all incoming tourism tours to Iran from Europe and USA have been cancelled over recent incidents, the state IRNA news agency reported.

The Ukrainian Boeing 737-800 plane en route to Kyiv crashed on January 8 shortly after take-off from Tehran, killing all 176 people on board. A few days later, Iran announced that they had shot it down by mistake.

Although there has been no official announcement about the number of cancelled tours from the related government bodies, separate remarks from officials all indicate the numbers are substantial. 

Ali Ebadi, the acting deputy manager of tourism ministry’s administration office in Alborz province says, “the latest figures indicate that 70 percent of [incoming] tours from Asia and 100 percent of tours from Europe to Iran have been cancelled, this will have a significant effect on the income of hoteling and tourism industries,” the Iranian Student News Agency reported.

Shiraz, the capital city of Iran’s Fars province is among the country’s top destinations for foreign travellers. Speaking about the consequences of the Ukrainian plane crash on the tourism industry, Seyed Hassan Siyadatan, the head of the hoteliers association of the province, was quoted by ILNA news agency that, “all foreign incoming travellers that had booked rooms for this year’s new year [Nowruz, the Persian New Year which marks the first day of spring on March 21] have cancelled their reservations across the province.”

Ali is a sales manager of a travel agency in Tehran who asked to be named only by his first name. He described the situation as “very bad” and added that their business is undergoing a very “tough situation” after the plane crash. 

“All our incoming tours from France have been cancelled for the next 3 months, we are not sure when things will turn back to normal again,” he told TRT World.

US sanctions

The new shock to the country’s fragile tourism industry comes as Iran is already under intense economic pressure from US sanctions which has targeted the country’s income from oil, gas and other industries.

US President Donald Trump re-imposed the country’s sanctions against Iran after withdrawing from the international nuclear agreement with Tehran in 2018. As part of Washington’s “maximum pressure” policy, rounds of new sanctions have been imposed on Iran, targeting nearly all its major industries and trade from oil and gas to banking, shipping, and steel among others.

In return, Iran had tried to boost its tourism industry as a top source of income to replace its shortcomings from the oil exports which dropped dramatically over the past year.

As part of its 20-year Outlook Plan, Iran eyes attracting 20 million incoming tourists per year by 2025 that would generate an estimated $25-30 billion in income. According to officials, 7.8 million foreigners travelled to Iran in the past Iranian calendar year (ending on March 20, 2019) generating over $10 billion.

Ali Asghar Mounesan, Iran’s Minister of Culture Heritage, Tourism and Handicrafts said last October that over, $47 billion” has been invested in 2,451 tourism projects across the country of which more than 500 projects are in residential and hotel units.

Iran is among the top 20 countries with the highest number of tourist attractions which range from the world-renowned 2,500-year-old ruins of Persepolis to the Susa archaeological mounds. Iran is home to 19 UNESCO-designated World Heritage sites.

With the major depreciation of national currency over the past years, Iran has become one of the top cheapest travel destinations in the world.

Despite all efforts and investments in Iran’s tourism infrastructures in recent years and its lucrative and competitive rates, the country’s tourism industry is expected to face a much greater blow during its upcoming peak season starting in March, if tensions between Washington and Tehran continue to grow.

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