EghtesadOnline: Mesmerizing Safavid architecture and world heritage sites make Isfahan Province a popular destination for both Iranian and international holidaymakers, especially at a time when an outward-looking government is sending a positive signal to those curious about Islamic civilization and culture.
As a nuclear deal reached by Iran with six world powers in 2015 leads to the record-breaking influx of foreign travelers to the central province, decision-makers have banked on the landmark accord to bring international companies to expand its tourism capacity.
Soon after the nuclear pact—officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action—went into effect in January 2016, talks officially started between Iran and the French construction company Vinci SA to develop Isfahan’s airport.
“Vinci will invest $120 million during 36 months to build a new terminal for Isfahan’s airport,” the airport’s CEO, Hassan Amjadi, told Financial Tribune.
“In the first phase, a 25,000-square-meter terminal will be built. It will be extended to 36,000 square meters afterwards.”
In the first month of spring, more than 85,000 foreign tourists visited the province, which has been described by authorities as a 40-year high. This is while in March 2013-17, a total of 280,000 tourists had travelled to Isfahan.
Even though Isfahan is a historical province with two world heritage sites, such an inrush of overseas travelers in just one month had not happened since the 1979 Islamic Revolution. And this is while tour operators are advised not to travel in Norouz, when the locals are also rushing to the city during the two-week Iranian New Year holidays.
Tourists from 44 countries visited Isfahan in the first Iranian month (started March 21), with French, German, Italian and Spanish visitors topping the list.
Isfahan’s tourists have increased by 400% since President Hassan Rouhani—an architect of the nuclear deal—took office in August 2013.
Local officials are under pressure due to the fivefold rise in visitors to build hotels and increase the province’s accommodation capacity.
Fereydoun Allahyari, the head of the provincial office of Iran’s Cultural Heritage, Handicrafts and Tourism Organization, said late April that Isfahan’s goal is to quadruple its capacity.
Isfahan International Airport annually handles more than 2.5 million passengers. The new terminal will increase this figure to 4.5 million. And once the second phase is complete, the capacity will reach 9 million passengers per year.
By 2025, the government is planning to bring 20 million tourists each year to visit Iran and infrastructure development in Isfahan—one of the most-visited destinations in the country—will be essential to meet this target.
Amjadi said a few issues need to be resolved before the contract with Vinci SA is signed, including problems pertaining to land ownership, hoping the challenges will soon be overcome.
“Vinci’s representatives and experts were here earlier this week. They have made frequent visits to conduct studies regarding the construction of the terminal,” he said.
Vinci has reportedly picked its domestic partner. It has signed a contract with Iranian firm Kayson Inc. to invest in the development of two airports in Isfahan and Mashhad. Unconfirmed reports published in the local media have put the agreement’s value at $404 million.
The deal includes a development project in Mashhad International Airport located in the northeastern Khorasan Razavi Province as well as collaboration in the development of Isfahan International Airport.
Vinci SA—which is the biggest construction company in terms of revenue—signed a preliminary agreement with the government to implement the projects, after representatives of the European company participated in a business forum at Iran Chamber of Commerce, Industries, Mines and Agriculture’s headquarters on January 31 this year.
French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault, who was accompanied by a 100-member economic delegation, attended the forum.
A 43,000-square-meter international terminal and a 25,000-square-meter domestic terminal will be constructed in Mashhad International Airport on the basis of a build-operate-transfer contract.
The annual capacity of Mashhad International Airport is estimated to reach five million passengers after the two terminals become operational.
The Roads Ministry has said that it seeks to develop the airports of Mehrabad, Imam Khomeini, Tabriz, Mashhad, Isfahan, Kerman and Shiraz mainly through foreign investment.
“About $2.35 billion worth of memorandums of understanding have also been signed to develop the airports of Mehrabad, Mashhad, Tabriz and Isfahan,” Rahmatollah, Mahabadi, the managing director of Roads Ministry-affiliated Iran Airports Company, said.