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EghtesadOnline: Iran and Oman are working to strengthen cooperation in the tourism sector.

A 60-member Iranian delegation, headed by Minister of Cultural Heritage, Tourism and Handicrafts Ali Asghar Mounesan, visited Oman from Oct. 21-24. The two sides reached an agreement to increase exchange of tourists. 

Oman has gained a noticeable share in Iran’s tourism market, overtaking Europe in the number of visitors, as 30,000 Omani tourists travelled to Iran last year (March 2018-19). This is while the total number of tourists from Europe to Iran stood at 26,000 during the period.

The number of Omani tourists in Iran exponentially increased this year (started March 21) as close to 50,000 of them visited the Islamic Republic during the first half of the current Iranian year (six months to Sept. 22), according to Financial Tribune.

According to Mounesan, the number of incoming Omani visitors to Iran in H1 shows a 362% year-on-year rise. He attributes the significant rise to Iran's abolition of visa requirements for Omanis.

There are currently 40 weekly flights between Iran and Oman. Omani tourists mostly visit the Iranian cities of Mashhad in Khorasan Razavi Province, Qom in Qom Province, Shiraz in Fars Province as well as the coastal regions of northern Iran.



Eight Bilateral Agreements

In an interview with Persian economic daily Donya-e-Eqtesad, Hormatollah Rafiei, the head of Travel Agents Guild Association, has listed agreements reached between Iran and Oman during the Iranian delegation's recent visit. 

A total of eight agreements were made between the two sides, which are as follows:

* Abolishing visa requirements for Iranian tourists. A similar measure was taken last year for Omani tourists visiting Iran, 

* Speeding up the check-in process at Omani airports for Iranian tourists,

* Launching a cruise ship between the two sides to transport tourists, 

* Adding Iran to the list of countries approved by the Omani government for health tourism services to Omani citizens. Omani patients receive medical subsidies if they visit government-approved countries for medical treatment. 

* Organizing joint tourism packages. The private sectors of the two sides will work to offer foreign tourists visiting Oman travel packages for Iran visit during their stay. About 8 million foreign tourists travel to Oman annually,

* Visa-on-arrival for Omanis at Iran's free zones,

* The Omani government has agreed to reduce the cost of transit for Iranian passengers en route to other destinations compared with transit costs in other neighboring courtiers, mainly Turkey and the UAE. The measure is aimed at incentivizing Iranian travelers to replace major transit spots, namely Dubai and Istanbul, with Oman.

* The Omani private sector will inform Omanis about the list of approved travel agencies in Iran to minimize the role of intermediaries in booking holidays.



Tourism Promotion

Iranian authorities have redoubled efforts to boost the tourism sector to increase foreign currency revenues and create jobs as the country faces economic constraints. 

About 7.8 million tourists traveled to Iran during the last Iranian year that ended March 20 to register a 52.5% growth compared with the preceding year.

"The development of tourism infrastructure, the considerable volume of investments in tourism sector, along with the issuance of electronic visa and visa waiver for target countries could be considered as the main causes of the growth in foreign travelers," Mounesan has been quoted as saying.

A total of 4,998,215 tourists visited Iran during the first half of the current calendar year (March 21-Sept. 22) to register a 26.34% growth compared with the same period of last year, according to Deputy Minister of Cultural Heritage, Handicrafts and Tourism Vali Teymouri.

Iraq, Azerbaijan, Afghanistan, Turkey and Pakistan were the main source of tourists to Iran in H1.

Although rising tensions between Washington and Tehran are hitting visitor numbers, especially from Europe, the increasing number of Iran travelers 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. 

"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).

A total of 4,258,944 Iranians traveled overseas during the same period, indicating a year-on-year increase of 15.95%, Teymouri told ISNA.

The devaluation of Iran's national currency rial against foreign currencies last year has had a dual effect. On the one hand, it has led to a decline in the purchasing power of Iranians overseas, but on the other, it has given a boost to the inbound tourism sector as travelling to Iran has become cheaper for foreign holiday-goers.


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