Sprint Long Distance

The Iranian


email us

Sprint Long Distance

Flower delivery in Iran

Fly to Iran

Sehaty Foreign Exchange

    News & views

Iran hopes its new moderate image will help tourism

Tehran (Reuters) - Iran hopes its improving image abroad will help lift its depressed tourism industry, but many fear Islamic social restrictions could keep foreigners away. "The bitter truth is that our negative image, created by negative propaganda, has been a fatal poison for our tourism industry since the revolution," says Iran's chief tourism official Mohammad Moezzeddin.

"We want to improve this image and President (Mohammad) Khatami's open-door and detente policy is the main key to this goal," he told journalists this week. Iran's once-vibrant tourism industry all but died after the 1979 revolution as the ruling Shi'ite Moslem clergy tried to construct a pure Islamic state.

Intense anti-West feelings and the bloody 1980s war against Iraq scared away many foreigners. Some of the best relics of pagan and Islamic tradition in the historic cities of Shiraz and Isfahan were left as neglected ruins.

Tourism collapsed and the new rulers, wary of the cultural drawbacks of the industry, ignored it for almost a decade. The idea to revive tourism resurfaced after the war, when Iran needed hard cash to rebuild, and it is still seen as an alternative source of foreign currency to oil exports.

But tourism in Iran has never got back on its feet, with progress hampered by religious concerns and Iran's image abroad. A ban on alcohol and some entertainment, segregated beaches and a mandatory dress code for women are among religious restrictions that remain in force.

Khatami's limited social liberalisation and foreign policy overtures have been of some help to the tourist industry. More people are travelling to Iran, but visitors are largely limited to Moslems and small groups of ageing Westerners, usually on tours.

Officials say about 1.7 million tourists visit Iran a year, spending up to $800 million. Iran hopes the number of foreign visitors will more than double in five years' time. In a country where vital economic interests often clash with deep-seated moral values, tourism officials are struggling to highlight Iran's natural and historical advantages against religious controls in hopes of enticing tourists.

Moezzeddin said Iran preferred "cultural tourism", where the country's historical and religious heritage are promoted as opposed to the more "morally dubious" attractions of mainstream tourism.

"A growing number of young people who travel to Iran from European countries are attracted to our cultural roots, not casinos, discotheques and beaches," he said. He said Iran's religious lifestyle was far from repressive and could even appeal to Westerners as exotic.

"Many Westerners are surprised to see women working as doctors, engineers and politicians, even (covered) in hejab," the mandatory all-encompassing outfit for women, he said. But many Iranians doubt that cultural offerings are enough to build a robust tourist industry. "We have said this for years and nothing has come out of it. Cultured tourists are not always the ones who have money," said one industry insider.

Another drawback, critics say, is Iran's tottering tourism infrastructure. No major hotels have been built in Tehran or other major cities in two decades. The existing ones, though refurbished, are ill-equipped and poorly managed.

To improve accommodation, the government and other public bodies are selling off hotels seized after the revolution.

But with the lack of a clear tourism policy, many private investors avoid making long-term investments. Efforts to draw foreign investment have yet to produce results. Moezzeddin blamed "ambiguous" regulations for the slow progress, but said an amendment to laws on foreign investment, currently under review, could greatly help.

Iran is generally a safe place for foreign tourists, but old suspicions and hostilities die hard. There have been scattered acts of violence against Western tourists, some of whom were suspected of being spies.

Last year religious hardliners harassed foreign tourists who had travelled to Isfahan to view a solar eclipse. The attackers accused the visitors of not respecting Islamic codes of dress and conduct.

Tourism officials have privately sought fatwas, or religious decrees, to try to create a more inviting climate for foreign tourists and spurn hardline rage against tourists. Nothing concrete has come out of these meetings, but some religious elders have openly backed efforts to revive tourism.

"We ought to remove negative impressions in society about foreign tourists. We must do away with a mentality that sees tourists as spies or lechers," said Grand Ayatollah Nasser Makarem-Shirazi.

At present, Iran is happy enough to draw tourists from Moslem countries, whose nationals are seen to be more at ease with the Islamic republic's social mores. "We are an Islamic country and we have to develop tourism in a way that is free of negative (liberal) drawbacks," Moezzeddin said.

Iran will host an Islamic tourism conference in early October and has already waived or eased visa regulations with some Moslem states, including Saudi Arabia


 MIS Internet Services

Web Site Design by
Multimedia Internet Services, Inc

 GPG Internet server

Internet server by
Global Publishing Group.