EghtesadOnline: A total of 4,998,215 tourists visited Iran during the first half of the current Iranian year (March 21-Sept. 22) to register a 26.34% growth compared with the same period of last year, according to the deputy minister of cultural heritage, handicrafts and tourism.
Vali Teymouri added that Iraq, Azerbaijan, Afghanistan, Turkey and Pakistan were the main source of tourists to Iran in H1, ISNA reported.
Although rising tensions between Washington and Tehran are hitting visitor numbers, especially from Europe, the increasing number of travelers arriving in Iran for religious and medical purposes is making up for the loss.
According to Ebrahim Pourfaraj from Iranian Tourism Association, the weak rial helps bring in tourists to Iran, Financial Tribune reported.
"They come on pilgrimage or for medical treatment. To some extent, that makes up for the losses," he told DW in an interview.
Iran has been ranked first worldwide in terms of price competitiveness in the World Economic Forum's "The Travel & Tourism Competitiveness Report 2019" with a score of 6.7.
Scores range from 1 to 7 where 1 means worst and 7 means best.
The report attributes Iran's top ranking to low ticket taxes and airport charges (seventh), fuel prices (fifth) and high purchasing power (fifth).
Teymouri noted that 4,258,944 Iranians traveled overseas during the same period, indicating a year-on-year increase of 15.95%.
The devaluation of Iran's national currency rial against foreign currencies last year has had a dual effect: On the one hand, it led to a decline in the purchasing power of Iranians overseas, on the other it gave a boost to inbound tourism as travelling to Iran has become cheaper for foreign holiday-goers.
The rial lost about two-thirds of its value against the dollar last year. In recent weeks, however, the national currency has pared some of the losses against foreign currencies.
Iran hosted more than 7.29 million foreign tourists in 2018, about 50% more compared to the year before, according to the United Nations' World Tourism Organizations.
The country had a 2.1% share from global tourist arrivals and more than 22% in South Asia last year.
A total of 4.86 foreign tourists visited Iran in 2017, 1.5% less compared to the year before.
An earlier report by World Travel and Tourism Council indicates that Iraq was the main source of tourism for Iran last year 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 tourist spending, the 2018 figure was not available in the UNWTO report. But it says foreign tourists spent more than $4.4 billion in Iran in 2017.
Iranian authorities have redoubled efforts to boost the tourism sector to increase foreign currency revenues and create jobs.
About 7.8 million tourists traveled to Iran during the last Iranian year that ended March 20, 2019, to register a 52.5% growth compared with preceding year.
"The development of tourism infrastructure, considerable volume of investments in the tourism sector, issuance of electronic visa and visa waiver for target countries could be named as the main causes of the growth in foreign travelers," Minister of Cultural Heritage, Handicrafts and Tourism Ali Asghar Mounesan has been quoted as saying.