EghtesadOnline: A total of 1,759,749 Iranians traveled abroad in the first quarter of the current Iranian year (March 21-June 21), indicating a 6.5% decrease compared with 1,882,414 outbound tourists in the same period of last year.
According to a report by the Persian daily Donya-e-Eqtesad, the sudden rise in the value of foreign currencies against the Iranian rial and the decline in the purchasing power were the main reasons behind the downturn in Iranians’ overseas journeys.
Iranian travelers have either switched to domestic destinations or cut traveling from their leisure activities.
The decline in outbound travel has resulted in the closure of a significant number of travel agencies and the downsizing of others, Financial Tribune reported.
“One of the shortcomings in Iran’s tourism industry is the government’s issuance of work permits to travel agencies without taking into consideration the number of inbound and outbound tourists. Less than 5% of travel agencies in Iran are active in organizing inbound tours, whereas 95% of them have focused on outbound tourism,” Hormatollah Rafiei, the head of Travel Agents Guild Association, said.
Redirecting Tour Destinations
To tackle this problem, the association has decided to set up a committee tasked with curtailing the number of travel agencies’ closure by channeling them toward conducting more inbound tours.
“In two months, between 30 and 50 agencies are going to direct their activities toward attracting tourists from 10 countries, including Iraq, Afghanistan, Turkey, Pakistan, Turkmenistan, Georgia, Armenia and China,” Rafiei added.
While the US State Department has long issued strong advisories against traveling to Iran and despite tensions between the two countries, tour operators and travel mavens such as Rick Steves maintain that Iran is a safe and hospitable destination for travelers, Americans included.
The available tours, which include everything from culinary themes to women-only sojourns, are intriguing options for travel advisors to recommend to clients looking for new cultural experiences, New York City-based media company Skift wrote recently.
Tour operators, who spoke with Skift, strongly disagree with the US State Department warning that Iran is not a safe travel destination, declaring instead that Iran has proven to be a safe and remarkably hospitable place for travelers, including Americans.
The biggest obstacle they see is the widespread misperception that the country is not safe, or that visitors will be met with hostility.
Arrivals and Departures
The World Travel & Tourism Council's latest report shows Iraq was the main source of tourism for Iran in 2018, as Iraqis constituted 24% of all inbound visitors.
Other major sources were Azerbaijan (17%), Turkey (8%), Pakistan (4%) and Bahrain (2%). The remaining 46% came from the rest of the world.
As for outbound tourists, Turkey was the most popular destination, accounting for 41% of all overseas visits.
It was followed by Iraq (18%), the UAE (11%), and Syria and Armenia (4% each). The remaining 22% went to other parts of the world.
According to Ali Asghar Mounesan, the head of Iran’s Cultural Heritage, Handicraft and Tourism Organization, seven million Iranians travelled overseas in the last Iranian year (March 2018-19), indicating a significant decline compared with the year before.
As many as 10 million Iranians visited foreign countries in the fiscal 2017-18.
Although the drop in the value of national currency has helped attract more foreigners to the country, it has made many Iranian families rethink their plans for making foreign trips.
WTTC's review of tourism spending in Iran in 2018 shows 93% of visitors spent for leisure purposes while only 7% spent on business purposes.
The council ranked Iran 20th from among 185 countries in its 2017 power ranking, which evaluates countries in terms of absolute size growth measured in US dollars in the field of travel and tourism.
The latest WTTC’s new Power and Performance report, published in September, looks at the performance of countries from 2011 to 2017.
The power ranking shows Iran’s travel and tourism share in GDP grew around $10.4 billion over the seven-year period, which shows the 19th biggest growth from among the 185 countries under consideration.
The figure rose to $30.7 billion in 2017 (accounting for 7.3% of Iran’s total generated GDP that year), which positioned Iran at 35th place.
Domestic spending, which is the money spent by travelers on both business and leisure trips inside the country, had the lion's share of all tourism expenditure and the remaining 21% belonged to international spending.
While money from domestic tourism is not new money to a country, its use in terms of informing residents of countries’ natural and cultural attributes, and engendering a source of pride is essential for social harmony, according to WTTC.
Iran's travel & tourism sector grew at 1.9% to contribute 1,158 trillion rials ($8.83 billion) or 6.5% of overall GDP and 1,334 jobs (5.4% of total employment) to the economy in 2018, the council's new report shows.
The WTTC report also shows international visitors spent a total of 168,954 billion rials ($1.28 billion) in Iran in 2018. The council expects the number of international arrivals to stand at 6.5 million in 2019.