Iran hopes to encourage more tourism

Anzali, on the Caspian Sea, is an Iranian tourist spot.
Anzali, on the Caspian Sea, is an Iranian tourist spot.

KISH, Iran — Iran’s new president, the moderate cleric Hasan Rouhani, has promised to support the country’s largely untapped tourism sector, but the arrests of European tourists this spring have cast a shadow over that effort.

Rouhani has been adamant about the importance of tourism to Iran’s economic growth, and since being elected, he has set a goal of more than doubling, to 10 million, the number of foreigners who visit Iran each year.

Such an increase, over the current level of 4 million tourists, would ‘‘create jobs for 4 million people, solving the problem of 3.5 million unemployed people in this country,’’ Rouhani has said.


On Kish, an island in the Persian Gulf that is a favorite destination of Iranians, developers have been waiting for years for an administration that is serious about tapping Iran’s tourism potential.

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In accounting for Iran’s relatively low number of visitors, Rouhani blames sanctions, specifically those that have made it difficult, if not impossible, for tourists to use international credit and ATM cards. But tourism experts here think the problems run much deeper.

They say authorities’ general suspicion of foreigners and a lack of tolerance are the major obstacles preventing Iran from taking a larger slice of international tourism revenue, despite Iran’s environmental and historical attractions.

‘‘We have all the potentials that we need to attract foreign tourists, but due to limitations, mostly cultural, like Islamic hijab, they do not come here. To attract them, we need to create a better political and social atmosphere,’’ said Ramezan Gholinejad, an organizer of the annual Kish Summer Festival.

One field in which Iran hopes to gain ground is adventure travel, but the revelation that seven Slovak paragliders, who entered Iran legally with tourist visas, were arrested more than a month ago highlights just how far Iran might be from becoming a serious international destination.


The Slovaks and their local host, a well-known member of Iran’s paragliding community, were arrested after flying over a military installation. The site where they were arrested was a front-runner to host a major paragliding competition.