“the most surprising country for positive experiences”
An overview of the tourism industry in Iran:
At the heart of the Middle East stands a vast and fascinating country with a 5,000-year-old history that bears home to 22 World Heritage sites. Iran’s name for long has thrilled and brought excitement shivers to the hearts of history enthusiasts as well as culture vultures. What needs to be emphasized though is that on top of its diverse array of historical, architectural and cultural attractions including various architectural masterpieces, traditional bazaars, Iran also enjoys a favorable and four-season climate, as a result of which it has become home to mesmerizing sceneries and landscapes of distinct types. From deserts to ski slopes; from sea to the mountain; from jungle to vast meadows and so on. On top of that, the hospitality shown towards foreign tourists from locals and host community is also something that has been appealing to those visiting the country from outside. With its ancient history; historical monuments and architectural remnants some of which date back somewhere between an average of 2000 years; and rich cultural treasures, Iran has been listed among the top 20 countries with the highest number of tourist attractions.
Upon Iran’s agreement with the West over its peaceful nuclear program in 2015, which was followed by the uplifting of the economic sanctions on Iran, there was a rise in the flow of the incoming tourists to the country. What encouraged these tourists to choose Iran immediately after the collapse of the sanctions was that due to being (perhaps unjustly) assumed beyond the reach of outsiders before sealing the deal with the West, there was a thirst for visiting the country in the international tourism market. Indeed for many tourists, a trip to Iran is more than just a holiday. It is a journey into the unknown, with a frisson of risk added which when combined with Iran’s ancient history, its young and open-minded population, its food and culture and so on, makes Iran an exceptional choice of destination. Traveling to Iran can provide any tourist with the chance to make remarkable experiences and have fascinating stories to tell and remember for the rest of their lives. Consequently, this flow of tourists is just bound to increase steadily and reach Iran’s government’s goal of receiving 20 million tourists by 2025 with the aim to attain a USD 30 billion tourism industry.
Facts and figures about tourism industry in Iran:
- At present, there are about 1,100 hotels throughout Iran 104 of which are listed as five-star and four-star hotels
- 35 four- and five-star hotels have become operational in the past three years. 170 more such hotels will be built over the next five years
- ICHHTO has made plans to build 300 four- and five-star hotels within five years in cooperation with the private sector that has initiated the construction of more than 170 hotels so far.
- In 2014, Iran hosted over five million tourists, bringing in some $7.5 billion (£4.8 billion) in revenue.
- With the %6.6 growth in tourism sector’s contribution to GDP Iran stands well above the average growth rate of 4.8 in the Middle East.
- The 10% growth in the number of Iran’s inbound tourists since the lifting of western sanctions, which is more than twice the global average, indicates the country’s flourishing tourism market.
- As part of its 20-year vision, Iran is hoping to attract 20 million tourists per year by 2025, generating an estimated $25 billion to $30 billion in revenues.
- Based on data from the World Travel and Tourism Council, the direct share of domestic and foreign tourism in Iran’s gross domestic product equaled 7.6% in 2015.
Iran’s Plans for Future Investments and Expanding of its Tourism Industry
Iran is the 18th largest economy and perhaps one of the biggest untapped markets in the world. Having recognized the significance of tourism industry in today’s world both in terms of its contribution to employment as well as to the economic growth of countries, Iran’s government has addressed tourism as of Tourism's contribution to employment and economic growth as one of the 10 main subjects in country’s 6th Five-year economic development plan. As part of its 20-year vision, Iran is hoping to attract 20 million tourists per year by 2025, generating an estimated $25 billion to $30 billion in revenues.
There are in particular a few tourism markets and niches that Iran aims to target including:
Cultural Tourism (expandable):
“Isfahan is among those rarer places, like Athens or Rome, which are the common refreshment of humanity” Robert Byron, The Road to Oxiana
Iran is the ultimate hub for those interested in visiting new cultures and also making a time travel and visiting historical lands and monuments
- With the latest addition of city of Yazd, known to be world’s largest inhabited adobe city, Iran is now home to 22 world heritage sites, which puts Iran highest ranked country in the Middle East regarding the number of its inscribed world heritage sites and eleventh worldwide.
- Amongst more famous heritage sites are the ruins of Persepolis and Pasargadae, Naqsh-e Jahan Square of Isfahan, Tabriz Historic Bazar complex and so on.
- Iran enjoys a vast array of museums including The treasury of the National Jewels, the National Museum, the opulent Golestan Palace in Tehran, and the Sheikh Safi Museum in Ardabil to name the few.
- Iran is home to many different ethnic and religious groups ranging from Fars to, Kurds, Lurs, Turkemans, Balooch, Azerbaijanis, Arabs, Assyrians, Armenians, Jews and much more.
Religious Tourism (Expandable):
It is thought that 1.5 million foreign tourists visit Mashhad each year. Mashhad is generally considered to be the holiest Shia shrine in Iran and is sometimes ranked as the third holiest Shia shrine in the world.
- With the expansion of Islam in Iran, the tombs of the Imams (descendants of the Prophet of Islam and Shiite religious leaders) were gradually changed to places of pilgrimage and shrines loosely referred to as Imamzade. The number of Imamzades, which are spiritual and religious as well as recreational sites for Muslims and are places of important significance for Sufism as well, in Iran was speculated to be around 10500 according to official sources in the year 2012
- Iran is the birthplace of Zoroaster, the founder of the Zoroastrian religion one of the oldest religions of the world. Zoroastrianism is based on three main principles: Good Thoughts, Good Words, Good Deeds.
- Zoroastrians of Iran, who live mostly in Yazd and Tehran, annually go to Persepolis, Naghsh-e-Rostam, Taq-e-Bostan and Bistoon Inscription for their religious ceremonies and rituals. The old Azargoshasb Fire-temple in Takht-e-Solaiman, Kashmar Tower in Khorasan, and Orumieh Lake are other sacred sites for Zoroastrians. Armenians travel to St. Tatavoos Church, located in Siyah Cheshmeh close to Maku, in summers for pilgrimage.
- In the heart of Iran, the city of Yazd is a Zoroastrian temple with a sacred burning fire since 1,500 years ago.
- There are also 13 churches in Jolfa (Esfahan), which are sacred places for Armenians, as well as many other historic churches in other parts of the country may be pointed out like many old churches in Azerbaijan (of which the most beautiful is St. Stepanous Church), Salmas, and Maku as religious sites for Christians.
- The church of “Naneh Maryam” (which mean Mother Mary in Farsi), is one of the oldest churches in the world and is located in Urmia, northwest of Iran.
Eco Tourism (Expandable):
Iran is one of the five countries in the world with the widest range of biodiversity
- With only 5% of its area occupied, an area of over 8 million hectares, Iran is endowed with more than 28 national parks, 43 protected wildlife zones, and 166 protected areas
- National Park, Kavir National Park, Lar Protected Area, Bakhtegan Lake, and Bamu National Park are amongst some of the most popular for ecotourism attractions.
- Iran is home to 514 bird, 172 mammals, 199 reptiles, 20 amphibian, 173 fish and 9000 plant species
- Coastal areas: Caspian Sea (630 km) and the Persian Gulf and Oman Sea (1880 km) and a multitude of islands
- In-land waters recognized as important bird areas with more than 50 inland lakes and 22 internationally important wetlands
- Popular ecotourism activities in Iran include trekking in mountains, desert treks, bird watching in coastal areas and wetlands, and diving
- Iran is home to the hottest deserts in the world (Lut Desert)
- From 2013 and with Iran’s president, Dr.Hasan Rouhani’s administration emphasis on developing ecotourism, the number of natural tourist sites in Iran has grown from only 23 to over 320 at present, in addition to implementation of some 530 ecotourism schemes
- In 2016, the government announced a joint deal with Omid Entrepreneurship Fund to allocate 145 billion rials ($3.6 million) in the form of loans to ecolodge owners to help expand their operations.
- The government plans to increase the number of ecolodges across Iran to 2,000 by the end of the sixth five-year economic development plan (2017-22).
- About 274 eco-lodges have been built throughout the country since the beginning of 2016
- The government plans to increase the number of eco-lodges in Iran to 2,000 by the end of the sixth five-year economic development plan (2017-22)
- Iranian ecolodges were nominated for the United Nations World Tourism Organization’s prestigious Awards for Excellence and Innovation in Tourism held on January 20 in Madrid
- 68 investors have received loans worth $28,000 each with a 4% interest rate to help them build eco-lodges
Medical Tourism (Expandable):
Geographical proximity, numerous hot and cold mineral springs in various parts of the country as well as low-cost and high-quality health services in the fields of fertility treatment, stem cell treatment, dialysis, heart surgery, cosmetic surgery and eye surgery are contributing to new opportunities for health tourism in Iran
- Neighboring 15 developing countries which are mainly inferior in medical services quality, offers Iran a target market of around 200 millions of people
- Iranian Rial’s value has dropped rapidly within the past four years and lost two – third of its value. As a result, under the new conditions, Iranian medical services are offered in one – third of their previous prices to medical tourists
- Of the 270 hospitals in Iran active in health tourism, 125 centers have so far acquired licenses from the Health Tourism Strategic Council, which comprises members of the foreign and health ministries, ICHHTO and the Islamic Republic of Iran Medical Council
- In the last few years, official bodies and local hospitals have claimed that Iran receives 30,000 medical tourists who seek medical treatments, mostly from neighboring countries per year
- By making an average of ($5,600) from each medical tourist, Iran's revenue from medical tourism last year amounted to $588 million, slightly more than the previously reported figures
- Iran’s annual revenue from health tourism is between $400 million and $500 million, which is expected to reach $2.5 billion in the foreseeable future.
- Based on the sixth economic development plan (2017-22), Iran is projected to attract between 500,000 and 600,000 medical tourists every year
- Iran’s ultimate goal is to earn around $25 billion a year through tourism by 2025, around $2.5 billion of which will be sustained through medical tourism
Why choose Iran for Investment?
To conclude and summarize Iran is indeed an investment heaven for those seeking to make a guaranteed profit with outstanding investment potentials as well as young and talented workforce, available at competitive costs. After the 2013 election of President Hassan Rouhani the number of incoming tourists to Iran surged by a nearly a quarter to 4.8 million, according to the World Tourism Organization and Iran is speculating for this number to raise to 20 million tourists by the year 2020, for which, Iran needs to have raised $11 billion investments. This ambitious goal calls for extraordinary measures as well. Consequently Iranian government has taken some steps both towards facilitating the entering of the tourists into the country on the one hand, and on the other paving the way and offering economic incentives to investors to encourage them towards investing in country’s hotelier as well as tourism industry in order to construct the required infrastructure for hosting 20 million tourists. Some of the steps taken by the government towards sustaining addressing these requirements are as below:
- The availability of the Visa on Arrival facility significantly influences tourists' travel plans to any country. Knowing this Iran now issues visa on arrival at ten international airports to citizens of over 180 countries for a maximum stay of 30 days
- Over 1,750 tourism projects are currently underway in Iran, 820 of which are one- to five-star hotels and hotel apartments with 10-90% progress.
- From 2015, warranties for foreign investment exceeding $9 billion have been issued
- The transferring of capital and profits has been guaranteed in the form of a law
- Foreign Ministry is tasked to issue three-year extendable residence permits for foreign nationals involved in investment projects.
- Based on Iranian laws, no foreigner is allowed to own property in Iran, but the foreign investment law allows the ownership of land once an applicant registers a company in Iran
- Investment in Iran's free trade zones are exempt from taxes for up to 20 years
- A 50% tax exemption will be granted to all the investments in tourism enterprises and a 100% tax exemption lasting between 5 to 13 years (5 years for other parts of the country and13 years for investments in underprivileged areas) is granted for hoteliers investing in Iran
Some of the ongoing international tourism and hospitality projects in Iran:
- Partner to and collaborating with Telegraph, Wild Frontier is a travel company based in London, which has been organizing inclusive package tours to Iran claiming to give the tourists “the most exclusive experience in the country”
- Steppes Travel organizing the first ever “Golden Eagle” rail journey through the heart of Iran in partnership with Telegraph Travel
- Mountain Heaven, a British tour operator is set to its first eight-day escorted tour to Iran, visiting three ski resorts by the end of February 2018
- Rotana hotels group building 4 hotels in Iran (2 in Tehran and another 2 in Mashhad) opening in 2018
- French owned, Accor hotel groups opened a Novotel and an Ibis near Imam Khomeini airport in Tehran in 2015
- Jumeirah hotel group is planning on building hotels in the country
- German hospitality company, Steigenberger Hotel Group, is set to build 10 hotels in different parts of Iran over the next ten years
- First hotel group from outside Iran to open a five-star property in the country. Construction of “Gran Melià Ghoo hotel in Salman Shahr of Iran, owned by a Spanish company, is announced to be finished by the end of this year and provide its guests with a luxury stay and services
Travel & Tourism (Economic Impact 2015 Iran)
Travel & Tourism Competitiveness Index 2017 edition