The deal struck between Iran and six world powers over its nuclear program should see sanctions against the country beginning to ease by next year – and Iranians are hoping the lifting of travel restrictions could prompt an influx of international tourists. Travel agencies already are seeing an increase in demand.
With its ancient architecture, breathtaking landscapes and warm people, tour companies describe Iran as one of the unexplored jewels of the Middle East.
But the country’s isolation since the 1979 Islamic Revolution has seen visitor numbers from the West fall. The latest figures show only 90,000 arrivals from North America and the European Union in 2013.
Former diplomat Mehrdad Khonsari said there’s a lot of work to do.
“The difficulties we’ve had in Iran have definitely hurt the tourist industry in the sense that people are afraid to go. But those people that ventured and overcame these considerations and visited Iran were never sorry,” said Khonsari.
Iran’s embassy reopened in London this week. The July deal struck by Tehran and six world powers over the country’s nuclear program is already helping ease travel restrictions. British travel agency Wild Frontiers has seen a spike in demand, according to founder Jonny Bealby.
"Two things have happened since the nuclear deal. First of all, the [British] Foreign Office have changed their advice against travel to Iran, and that's made it much simpler for people to get insurance and that sort of thing, so the numbers have gone up again," said Bealby. We've had to put on three extra departures this year alone to cope with demand for the autumn season to Iran."
British traveler Buggsie Heath-Brown has traveled to many corners of the globe. She is looking forward to joining one of the Iran tours later this year, saying it's long been on her wish list.
"We decided to get on one of the first trips that we could to get out there; see the sights, meet the people before the big rush of the rest of the world."
Iran says it wants to attract 20 million visitors a year by 2025, generating up to $30 billion in revenue over that time frame.
“Now that this outside face of Iran is beginning to change, I think that tourism offers a great opportunity for the Iranian economy,” said Khonsari.
Tour operators say obtaining a visa remains a major hurdle for many visitors, while international sanctions on Iran’s banking system mean that most transactions need to continue to be in cash.