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Long Avoided By Foreigners, Iran Looks to Tourism to Boost Ailing Economy since Islamic Revolution in 1979

Iran’s potential as a holiday destination is vast, but foreign tourists have largely avoided the country ever since the Islamic Revolution in 1979

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A tour of ancient ruins in Iran. RFE/RL
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May 31, 2017: Stunning landscapes, famous hospitality, and numerous World Heritage sites.

Iran’s potential as a holiday destination is vast, but foreign tourists have largely avoided the country ever since the Islamic Revolution in 1979.

The reasons are numerous. The visa process can be lengthy and complex. Some female visitors object to customary restrictions on dress. Alcohol consumption is heavily restricted. And, for many foreigners when considering a holiday in the Islamic republic, fears of detention and political upheaval enter the mind.

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Under President Hassan Rohani, a relative moderate who won a second term in office with a convincing first-round victory in Iran’s May 19 presidential election, the country has welcomed foreigners as part of an effort to improve its international image and boost an economy battered by low oil prices and years of crippling international sanctions imposed over Iran’s contentious nuclear program.

A tour of ancient ruins in Iran.
A tour of ancient ruins in Iran. RFE/RL

Since the signing of a nuclear deal with world powers in 2015 that was the crowning achievement of Rohani’s first term, tour companies have launched holiday packages and major European airlines have resumed regular flights to Iran. The number of foreign tourists has increased accordingly, and the cash-strapped government is planning to build on its tourism revival by easing visa restrictions and spending heavily to spruce up tourist accommodations and shabby transportation networks.

‘Tsunami’ Of Tourists

In 2015, Masoud Soltanifar, the head of Iran’s Cultural Heritage, Handicrafts, and Tourism Organization, said he was expecting a “tsunami of tourists” once sanctions were lifted following the nuclear deal under which Iran’s nuclear program would be curbed in return for the lifting of sanctions.

The World Bank said the number of visitors to Iran increased from 2.2 million in 2009 to 5.2 million in 2015, and Iranian officials expect that trend to continue.

The influx of tourists has brought the country billions of dollars in revenue and created badly needed jobs. In 2015, Iran earned some $7.5 billion in tourism revenue; the government hopes to attract some 20 million foreign tourists by 2025 and gross some $30 billion.

Business Insider and Bloomberg have both named Iran among the “Top 50” and “Top 20” destinations to visit in 2017 due to security and the country’s ancient architecture, famous bazaars, and natural beauty.

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To put Iran on the map for tourism in the region, authorities have announced sweeping plans that include easing visa restrictions to attract more foreign tourists. Issuing visas on arrival at the airport for nationals of 190 countries as well as issuing electronic visas are among the initiatives being considered by Iranian officials. Citizens from the United States, Canada, and Britain would still only be allowed to travel on escorted tours.

Seaside beach on Kish Island
Seaside beach on Kish Island. RFE/RL

The government has also announced plans to create sufficient accommodation and transportation for the growing number of tourists. There is a plan to increase the number of higher-end hotels from 130 to more than 1,000 in 10 years. Iran also plans to add 400 new passenger planes to its domestic fleet to compensate for shortages due to international sanctions over the past three decades.

The plan is to make Iran a hotspot that would rival regional destinations. Like Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, and Egypt, Iran is blessed with natural wonders. The Islamic republic also has a sunbaked coast with hundreds of kilometers of beaches. Iran is also a haven for culture buffs, with 19 World Heritage sites, including the ancient desert city of Bam and the ruins of Persepolis.

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Tourist Hub

Key to the government’s plans to boost tourist numbers is Kish Island, one of a handful of free-trade zones in Iran. The southern island in the Persian Gulf is known for its newly built, multistory malls; sparkling jewelry stores; and swanky, five-star hotels hugging the coast.

The island is a tourist hotspot that attracts an estimated 1 million people every year, mostly Iranians. But Tehran is stepping up its efforts to make the island, located 16 kilometers from the mainland, a destination for foreign visitors as well.

Iran’s first cruise ship since 1979 made its maiden voyage on April 13, docking at another Iranian Gulf resort island, Qeshm, with more than 200 passengers on board.

Sunny, the cruise ship to dock at Kish Island in nearly 40 years, shown in April.
Sunny, the cruise ship to dock at Kish Island in nearly 40 years, shown in April. RFE/FL

The seven-floor, Swedish-built cruise liner, named Sunny, is equipped with two cinemas, restaurants, a swimming pool, and a conference hall. With the capacity to carry up to 1,600 passengers and 200 vehicles between the two islands, the ship is intended to help launch a “boom [in] marine tourism,” according to Iran’s state IRNA new agency.

‘Oasis of Luxury’

Kish Island is known as an oasis of luxury and relative freedom in the otherwise conservative Islamic republic.

Women can be seen dipping their bare legs in the warm sea, alcohol is easier to come by, and even prostitutes can be seen on the promenades. It is a world away from the mainland where a strict ban on alcohol and prostitution is enforced and women must be covered.

Visitors to Kish are attracted by the duty-free shops, resort hotels, water sports, and an opportunity to escape the strict social norms on the mainland. A small number of foreigners are also going to Kish, where they do not need a visa and where they can mingle freely in foreigners-only parts of the island.

Authorities occasionally crack down on cinemas playing Western films, shops displaying mannequins that are deemed too exposed, and restaurants selling alcohol, but that is the exception.

Mina, a 21-year-old Iranian student who has visited Kish Island twice, says Iranians go there to escape the social restrictions on the mainland.

“I went there to relax because there is more freedom here than in cities like Tehran,” says Mina, who did not want to reveal her full name. “There are beaches here and there are things to do at night. You can do things here that you can’t in Tehran.”

Mina, who visited Kish last year, says she rented out an apartment with her friends, including male friends. In other parts of Iran, couples are required to prove they are married to rent a room.

She also says women do not have to cover their heads completely. They can wear their head scarves loosely or wear a hat, although authorities still say women should be dressed modestly.

“I saw more foreigners coming to Kish, and as long the infrastructure improves, more will come,” she said. (RFE/RL)

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10 Best Places To Visit In Delhi

The capital of India, Delhi is one massive city where you can find people from all walks of life.

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Delhi has many places which you must visit to get yourself acquainted with history and culture of India as a whole. Wikimedia Commons
Delhi has many places which you must visit to get yourself acquainted with history and culture of India as a whole. Wikimedia Commons

By Ruchika Verma

  • Delhi is the capital of India and attracts tourists from all walks of life
  • Delhi has many tourist destinations which attract all kinds of people
  • Delhi has something for everyone and has many places which one can visit

The capital of India, Delhi is one massive city where you can find people from all walks of life. Delhi is full of culture and history, it has something for everyone who comes to visit or live here. From modern nightclubs to old, historical monuments, there is nothing you won’t find in Delhi.

Delhi is one of the major tourist attractions of India. Wikimedia Commons
Delhi is one of the major tourist attractions of India. Wikimedia Commons

Delhi has various places which one can visit. You can be a religious person, history buff, science nerd or an art enthusiast or anything else, Delhi will definitely have something to offer you. Here is the list of 10 best places to visit in Delhi to quench your thirst for history, culture and entertainment.

India Gate

India Gate is one place which you definitely shouldn’t miss while you’re in Delhi. India Gate is one of the best places to visit in Delhi because of its beautiful parks and the ever-burning ‘Amar Jawan Jyoti.’ The area around India Gate is one of the cleanest and you should definitely not miss it during the evening when the place is full of food, people and jest.

India Gate is one the best places to visit in Delhi. Pixabay
India Gate is one the best places to visit in Delhi. Pixabay

Qutub Minar

One of the world’s tallest building, Qutub Minar has beautiful architecture and lots of history attached to it. You can click photographers, sit in the lush green lawns and enjoy amazing food while you’re in its compound. You can also visit Chhatarpur Temple near it, which is yet another place to visit in Delhi.

Qutub Minar is surrounded by lush green garden on all sides. Wikimedia Commons
Qutub Minar is surrounded by the lush green garden on all sides. Wikimedia Commons

Swaminarayan ‘Akshardham Temple’

Akshardham Temple is a relatively new tourist attraction. It is one of best places to visit in Delhi because of its beautiful architecture and peaceful environment. The temple will not disappoint you even if you’re not a religious person. The museum inside is definitely worth a visit as it takes you through various ages of India’s development.

Hindu Temples
Akshardham Temple is one the must-visit places in Delhi (www.akshardham.com)

Red Fort

Red Fort is another one of the tourist’s favourite destination to visit in Delhi. It is of great significance historically and politically. It is one of the top names when it comes to Delhi’s points of interest. In the day you can visit museums and soak the history while at night, you can enjoy the fabulous light and sound show.

Red Fort in Delhi is a place for both the history and political science buffs. Pixabay
Red Fort in Delhi is a place for both the history and political science buffs. Pixabay

The Bahai or Lotus Temple

Lotus Temple is definitely one of best places to visit in Delhi. It is a heaven for all the photographers out there. It is also famous for its quiet and tranquil environment. It is one of the best places to visit quietly and meditate in Delhi.

Night view of Lotus Temple. Wikimedia Commons
Night view of Lotus Temple. Wikimedia Commons

Jama Masjid

If you’re talking Delhi, you just can’t forget to mention Jama Masjid. Jama Masjid is huge and is famous for its beautiful architecture. You can sit in its compound for as long as you like and can even enjoy a picnic there with your friends or family. You can also climb up the tall Minar which will give you a full view of Old Delhi. Near it, you can visit Kebab shops and restaurants which will serve you with some of the best Mughlai food ever.

The Jama Masjid is not only a place to worship but also a place to enjoy small picnics to enjoy with friends and family. VOA
The Jama Masjid is not only a place to worship but also a place to enjoy small picnics to enjoy with friends and family. VOA

Chandani Chowk

Chandani Chowk is the economic hub of Delhi. From clothing to food, there is nothing you won’t find here. Visit the ‘Paranthe Wali Gali’ to experience some of the best Delhi food. You can also visit the famous ‘Old and Famous Jalebi Wala’ for a Jalebi and Rabri combination like never before. The place may seem crowded but it is definitely worth a visit if you really want to experience the essence of Delhi.

Chandni Chowk is famous for the amazing food which one can get there. Wikimedia Commons
Chandni Chowk is famous for the amazing food which one can get there. Wikimedia Commons

Purana Quila 

When we are talking about the best places to visit in Delhi, we just cannot forget the Old Fort. It is one of the most ancient and largest forts in India. It spans around in an area of 2 km. You can enjoy sightseeing and learn about the place. Apart from that, you can also enjoy boating in the lake inside the Old Fort.

Also Read: 10 llittle-knownfacts about Delhi Metro which makes it distinct

Bangla Sahib Gurudwara

Located near the Connaught Place, Bangla Sahib is one of the most famous tourist places in Delhi. It is beautifully structured and the lake in the middle is where you can sit comfortably and enjoy the view of various fishes inside it. Near the Gurudwara, you can also visit the famous Hanuman Mandir on one side and the Sacred Heart Cathedral Church on the other.

Bangla Sahib is one of the most famous place of worship of Sikhs in Delhi. Wikimedia Commons
Bangla Sahib is one of the most famous places of worship of Sikhs in Delhi. Wikimedia Commons

National Rail Museum

There are a plethora of museums which you can visit in Delhi, but out of all those National Rail Museum stands out because of a variety of rail models – be it static or working, or small or big. You can also enjoy a toy train while you are visiting the museum!