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EghtesadOnline: The visa waiver program for Chinese tourists has gone into effect.

As per the terms of the visa waiver program, effective as of July 16, all citizens of the People’s Republic of China may stay in Iran for up to 21 days from the date of entry without having to apply for visa, Vali Teymouri, the deputy head of Cultural Heritage, Handicrafts and Tourism Organization, announced on Tuesday, IRNA reported.

On June 29, the Iranian Cabinet approved the no-visa policy for Chinese tourists visiting Iran. The decision was made to attract more foreign tourists to the country. 

However, it was a unilateral measure, i.e. Iranian tourists visiting China still need to obtain visas, Financial Tribune reported.

China is already the world’s largest outbound travel market and is set to grow further. In 2018, Chinese travelers made more than 150 million trips overseas. 

Iran is determined to attract one million Chinese in the next five years through the visa waiver program. 

In a recent interview with South China Morning Post, Teymouri said Iran expects to “attract one million Chinese in the near future” through the visa waiver, a significant increase on the more than 52,000 Chinese who visited the Middle East country in 2018.

“We believe that the two countries have had common cultural and trade communications for a long time. So we should facilitate and improve mutual collaborations, especially in the tourism industry,” he said.

Ali Asghar Mounesan, the head of ICHHTO, said the decision was “an effective step” to help increase the number of Chinese tourists and “we want to host two million tourists from China each year”.

“We should believe that the tourism industry is [capable of] generating more income than the oil industry and that sanctions do not work on the tourism sector,” Mounesan said in June.

A total of 2,030,523 tourists traveled to Iran during the first quarter of the current year (March 21-June 21) to register a 41% growth compared with 1,443,551 inbound tourists during the same period of last year.

While the US State Department has long issued strong advisories against traveling to Iran and despite the 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.

The tour operators, who spoke with Skift, strongly disagree with the US State Department warning that Iran is not a safe travel destination, maintaining 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.

According to the 2019 Travel Risk Map, launched by global risk experts International SOS in collaboration with Control Risks, Iran is as safe as a majority of European countries when it comes to travel security. 

A majority of European countries are deemed low risk, including the UK, as are Iran, Jordan, Oman, Qatar, the UAE, Kuwait, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Armenia and Uzbekistan. Canada, the US, Australia and New Zealand are all low risk, too. 

According to International SOS, a low travel security risk means violent crime rates are low and racial, sectarian or political violence or civil unrest is uncommon. 

“Security and emergency services are effective and infrastructure is sound. Industrial action and transport disruption are infrequent,” the company said in a blurb on its website in reference to "low risk" countries.


Iran Visa Waiver Chinese Tourists