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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

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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Here are 4 Travel Destinations for Couples

Honeymoon destination worth considering

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Couples
Here are some travel destinations for couples seeking a romantic holiday. Pixabay

One can pick from a wide array of idyllic locales such as Greece, Switzerland, South Africa, and Italy. But how do you choose whether you want to snuggle up in front of a fire and relax to the sound of the tides on a hammock? Heres is a list of this seasons handpicked hotels for the discerning traveller. Couples seeking the ultimate romantic holiday can choose from a range of experiences and settings such as – hidden getaways, wellness retreats, culinary sojourns and adventure in the wilderness.

1. The SECLUDED RETREAT

Myconian Villa Collection, Greece

Nestled into the hillside above Elia Bay, the Mykonian ?Villa Collection is a unique luxury? resort? ?concept. ?This tranquil island escape offers impeccable service with quintessential Greek decor accented by bespoke wood-crafted furnishing and vibrant fabrics. The essence of Myconian beauty and lifestyle runs like a blue thread through a constellation of exceptionally spacious suites and rooms, while superb villas offer the discreet yet boundless opulence of a private house in Mykonos. Leaning into the mountain, the terraced villas have uninterrupted views of the Aegean Sea, culminating in a 360-degree panorama on the vast entertainment deck with its plush bar, epicurean restaurant and saltwater infinity pool.

Travellers can choose the luxurious privacy of the Lover’s Suite where special services such as in-room evening meals, couples’ massages on the scenic deck, and other such intimate indulgences can be experienced. This Cycladic Island combines a romantic ambience for newlyweds with sandy beaches, turquoise waters and a world-class nightlife scene for evenings that take guests into the morning hours.

Guests can book a longer stay for 3 nights or more, and save up to 30% on the Best Available Rates at this member hotel with the �Stay More Save More Offer’ from Preferred Hotels & Resorts. This offer is valid for bookings made from now till December 31, 2019; for stays through March 31, 2020.

Greece couples
A holiday in Greece provides secluded retreat to couples. Pixabay

2. The WELLNESS GETAWAY

The Capra, Switzerland

An intimate, alpine luxury spa lodge in a spectacular natural setting. The Capra is a car-free Swiss ski resort, also a favourite among winter sports connoisseurs. There is guaranteed high-quality snow, and authentic charm – combining the cosiness of a chalet with the comforts of a luxury hotel. Expansive suites in warm earthy tones have panoramic views of snow-frosted peaks, pristine valleys, and wide-open skies where guests can relax, recharge and reconnect with nature. The fire-lit lounge, well-appointed library, and deluxe spa are designed to soothe the senses. Even more indulgent is the wholesome farm-to-table cuisine offered at the hotel.

The Spa at the resort is run and managed by Peak Health. Their goal is not only to help guests to unwind, but to develop personal strategies and holistic approach to resetting health based on the latest scientific research by a team of wellness experts from around the globe. The Spa offers a fully immersive retreat programme that helps guests transform their lifestyle, it also consists of indoor and outdoor hydrotherapy pools, salt-therapy rooms, saunas, fully equipped gym, yoga studio, and a varied selection of intensive treatments for the mind and body.

3. ADVENTURE ESCAPE

Gondwana Game Reserve, South Africa

Less than a four-hour drive from Cape Town International Airport, along South Africa’s scenic Garden Route, the 11,000-hectare Private Game Park offers a distinctive and luxurious safari destination with free-roaming Big 5 safari animals (lion, buffalo, elephant, rhino, and leopard). Gondwana Game Reserve is known for its well-appointed safari lodge accommodation, awe-inspiring views, attentive service, exquisite South African cuisine, and an array of adventure-linked activities including game drives, birdwatching, fynbos walks, mountain biking, hiking trails and more. Luxury accommodation is offered in Kwena Lodge, a modern twist on the traditional Khoi-San dwelling. The 14 open-plan suites are nestled into the breath-taking natural surroundings with 180-degree views, skylights for star gazing, fireplaces and deep baths.

Gondwana Game Reserve is an ideal African honeymoon destination for adventure enthusiasts. It is a picture-perfect retreat where guests can create lasting memories on their romantic vacation, from immersing themselves in the spectacular scenery, enjoying private dining experiences, to the reinvigorating Africology massages at the spa and more.

Italy couples
Italy is a very romantic travel place for couples. Pixabay

4. CULINARY SOJOURNS

Il Castelfalfi, Italy

Nestled amid the sun-kissed Tuscan hills, surrounded by vineyards, centuries-old olive trees and period farmhouses, Il Castelfalfi is the perfect getaway to plan a romantic escape. Sample traditional ingredients and flavours with a cooking class at Rosso Toscano Cooking school and visit the local vineyards to discover the favourite wines. Once set in a village, the grounds now surrounding the resort are filled with charming shops and restaurants sure to transport travellers to a different era.

At the gourmet restaurant – La Rocca di Castelfalfi, top chef Michele Rinaldi reinterprets traditional cuisine for guests to savour. Located within the medieval castle brought back to life after a meticulous restoration, the restaurant is a landmark in the village, where guests enjoy the authentic taste of

Also Read- Top 5 Tourist Places in South Korea’s Incheon

The above-listed hotels are members of Preferred Hotels & Resorts – Legend Collection. Guests can book a longer stay for 3 nights or more, and save up to 30% on the Best Available Rates at this member hotel with the �Stay More Save More Offer’ from Preferred Hotels & Resorts. This offer is valid for bookings made from now till December 31, 2019; for stays through March 31, 2020. (IANS)