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    Long Avoided by Tourists, Iran Is Suddenly a Hot Destination - The New York Times

    Iran - Long Avoided by Tourists, Iran Is Suddenly a Hot Destination - The New York Times


    Long Avoided by Tourists, Iran Is Suddenly a Hot Destination - The New York Times
    Publish Date: NOV. 8, 2016

    TEHRAN — For all of Iran’s attractions — breathtaking scenery and numerous World Heritage sites, among other things — there are plenty of downsides to vacationing in the Islamic republic. Alcohol is forbidden. There is very little night life, at least in public.

    None of that has changed, but suddenly Iran is a booming destination for Europeans seeking an adventurous vacation, particularly people from Spain, France and Scandinavia. Even tourism from the United States is picking up, industry insiders say.

    “I only knew Iran through the image the government presents in the media,” said Magali Magnim, a 33-year-old video technician from Lyon, France. She and two friends were in Isfahan, one of Iran’s most historic cities, as part of a three-week tour. “But everything is so different from what I expected.”

    What surprised her was that it felt safe. “Here on the streets, I feel more safe here than in France,” Ms. Magnim said. “I feel everybody I meet can be trusted.”

    The Grand Bazaar in Tehran in July. CreditAtta Kenare/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

    For many tourists, a trip to Iran was always more than just a holiday. It was a journey into the unknown, with a frisson of danger added. For decades, news coverage of the country was overwhelmingly negative, led by such topics as the Islamic Revolution in 1979 and the ensuing hostage crisis; the death sentence issued against the British writer Salman Rushdie; and accusations that its leaders were trying to build a nuclear weapon. For outsiders, Iran has been a dark and scary place.

    What was often lost was the other side of Iran: its ancient history, its young and open-minded population, its food and culture. After the 2015 nuclear agreement between Iran and six world powers, which led to the lifting of most sanctions and a reconnection to the world, the sharpest edges seem to have been taken off. Long suspicious of foreigners, Iranian officials — led by the avuncular-looking President Hassan Rouhani — are now welcoming them.

    The number of Western tourists who are visiting is hard to gauge accurately. Officials say more than 5.2 million tourists visited last year, and more are expected this year. But that counts the millions of Shiite pilgrims who come to the country annually.

    In comparison, Turkey, the region’s tourism powerhouse, used to receive around 20 million tourists a year before an increase in terrorist attacks, a dispute with Moscow over a downed fighter plane and a failed coup attempt cut into the total.

    Many visitors are brought to Iran by foreign tour operators and other companies — including The New York Times, which offers cultural tours — and the numbers are expected to rise. “Especially French and Spanish tourists are coming in large numbers,” he said.

    A food court in a shopping mall in Isfahan, Iran, in 2014. CreditJohn Moore/Getty Images

    Opening the country to tourists is part of Mr. Rouhani’s carefully planned outreach to the West, aimed at cementing ties after the nuclear deal. Iran’s culture of hospitality should play a part in that policy, he said during a tourism conference in September, the Iranian news media reported.

    Iranian visa policies were already quite simple, with Europeans able to obtain one on arrival. After the nuclear deal was reached, the government extended the tourist visa to three months from two weeks. Americans and Britons are treated differently, permitted to travel the country only in guided tours where they can be watched.

    The policy of opening up to foreign tourists is propelling more visits, said Mr. Ramtin, the tour operator. “When they come home, they tell others Iran is safe and secure, and more will come. All in all, our image is slowly being upgraded.”

    Every breakthrough in tourism is widely celebrated. Last month, when the Dutch carrier KLM became the latest European airline to fly to Iran, Iranian firefighters sprayed arcs of water over one of its aircraft in greeting. Iranian photojournalists covered it as if they were shooting a red-carpet event. “KLM returns to Iran,” front pages said the next day.

    Hotel development, in the deep freeze in the decades of isolation, has kicked in, with three new properties in Tehran since 2015 and more planned. 

    Basically everything in the industry needs improving, said Pegah Ghanaat, a tour guide who works with Spanish visitors. “The entire tourism infrastructure needs an overhaul,” she said. “It’s as simple as that.”

    Visitors aboard a tourist train in Tehran, the Iranian capital, in January.CreditAtta Kenare/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

    Ms. Magnim, the French tourist, and her friends have found a way around the problem of hotel room shortages by using social media as their guide. Through a website called Couchsurfing, they spend their nights in the houses of Iranians who want to meet foreigners.

    “When you stay in people’s homes, you get to know the real culture,” Ms. Magnim said. “It turns out many Iranians have the same dreams and ideas we have.”

    The number of Iranians offering beds and couches to crash on has mushroomed in recent years, to more than 36,000 from virtually nothing, the Couchsurfing website reports. No money is exchanged, just experiences.


    Editors’ Note: November 8, 2016 

    An earlier version of this article failed to acknowledge that The New York Times is one of the foreign companies offering cultural tours of Iran.

    About Us

    The word Persia gives the image of a magical and mysterious land of far away and long ago, of ancient monuments and beautiful works of art – carpets, tiles, fine ceramics and miniatures. It also reminds us of legendary and tragic love stories and epic poems about great wars. And Persia is indeed a world ancient and contemporary, a bridge between heaven and earth. We want to show you around. Discover things to do on your next trip to Iran and plan a trip of your lifetime. Yes, it is that easy! This website gives you the tools to plan your trip to Iran: detailed information on destinations; inspiring ideas on what to see and do in each city; where to stay; where to eat; travel guides and let’s say everything you need so you can dream up a trip to Iran.


    This workshop is designed according to the UNESCO World Heritage Education Programme in order to give young people a chance to voice their concerns and to become involved in the protection of our common cultural and natural heritage. It seeks to encourage and enable tomorrow’s decision-makers to participate in heritage conservation and to respond to the continuing threats facing our World Heritage. The idea of involving young people in World Heritage preservation and promotion came as a response to Article 27 of the Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage (World Heritage Convention). Furthermore, Patrimonito means 'small heritage' in Spanish and the character represents a young heritage guardian. Patrimonito has been widely adopted as the international mascot of the World Heritage Education Programme.
    Date: 29th December
    Number of trainees: 7
    Duration: 3 hours

    The workshop of "Patrimonito" was held on 29th of December. Participants arrived around 10:30 and they were welcomed by hot chocolate and Persian cup cakes. After a little introduction by trainers and trainees, the process started by making two groups and letting them choose a name for their group, each group was accompanied by a mentor then each group was given some images of world heritage sites in Iran and some descriptions, each group was asked to match images and descriptions, the mentor was guiding them throughout the activity. All trainees were participating actively and trying to remember their experiences about their travels to these places. When they were done with the activity, the mentors started giving the answers and a brief explanation about each site; mentors were using trainees’ ideas and experiences to complete their tasks.

    Shortly after that, the second part started which was a presentation done by two of mentors. The aim of this presentation was to define the value of these world heritage sites and duties of each person as a "Patrimonito", and what happens if there is no "Patrimonito" and nobody cares about our tangible or intangible heritage. In this part trainees started questioning and understanding the whole concept of being a "Patrimonito", they also added their own suggestions on how to protect our heritage and by the end of this part, they were completely aware about their role as a "Patrimonito".
    Now it was a best time to have a short break, during the break trainees were introduced to some of intangible heritages as they were served by traditional food and snacks and even they way of serving was according to traditions and everyone had this opportunity to discuss about intangible heritage while enjoying some traditional food and snacks.
    When the break was done, everyone was asked to choose a heritage either tangible or intangible and they had to introduce their chosen heritage to a tourist by making a postcard using what they have learnt. They were given all of necessary tools such as color papers, color pencils, glue, scissors, images of heritage and a mentor was with them in order to help them completing the task.

    When they were done, they handed out their postcards and with the mentors they sat together and spent a few minutes asking and answering about what they have learnt. Then they were told to say their vows for protecting their heritage and caring about it, the mentor said the vow and the trainees repeated after her and they officially became a "Patrimonito".

    The last but the best part was when they were given the certificates, and they were told that since they are aware of the value of the heritage and they know how to protect it, they are chosen as "Patrimonito" and they should continue their mission by introducing the value of heritage to others. They were granted certificates and labels and the workshop of "Patrimonito" was finished by taking some memorial photos.