TBY talks to HE Dr. Zahra Ahmadipour, President of the Iranian Cultural Heritage, Handicrafts & Tourism Organization (ICHHTO) & Vice President of the Islamic Republic of Iran, on the growth and development of the Iranian tourism industry.

HE Dr. Zahra Ahmadipour
HE Dr. Zahra Ahmadipour was born in 1964 and received her bachelor’s degree in geography from Tarbiat Moallem University and her master’s degree in geography and urban planning from Tarbiat Modares University. Subsequently, she obtained her PhD degree there in political geography and international relations. Since 2013, she has been a Full Professor in Geopolitics at Tarbiat Modares University. Before becoming President of ICHHTO, she served in different roles, including Director General for Country Divisions at the Bureau of Ministry of Interior, Director of Supervision of the Institute for Humanities and Cultural Studies, and Advisor to the Political Deputy in the Ministry of Interior.

ICHHTO has articulated the target of 20 million inbound tourists by 2025. How well on track is Iran in this regard, and what needs to be done to realize this goal?

ICHHTO follows the government's 2014 strategic roadmap. Every agency in the country must follow this plan in order to reach the country's goals. Increasing the number of inbound tourists to 20 million is just a quantitative goal that we will use as a tool to help develop the country's economy, and, if we follow the right approach, we can reach this goal in the next eight years. Tourism is always affected by political issues, and the number of inbound tourists depends on Iran's global political status. The inbound tourism rate is not always dependent on internal policies. Implementing the JCPOA has allowed us to demonstrate our stability to tourists and increase their confidence in the country. We have a long task ahead to reach this goal of 20 million inbound tourists and will require an annual increase of around 8% to achieve it. We focus on various ways to reach this target. For example, we are marketing Iran as a tourism destination and highlighting the interesting opportunities the country offers to visitors. Our approach is to highlight to the world the attractions of all our provinces and demonstrate that Iran is a safe destination for tourists and is full of opportunities. We want tourists to know that it is easy to come to Iran and that they and their families will be safe when they come here. We seek to diversify the tourism offering in the country to cater to a wide variety of tourist demands and tastes. For example, we have the village tourism industry as well as the health and cultural tourism segments. We are creating opportunities for the long term and are diversifying the range of tourism packages and destinations we offer. ICHHTO participates in various tourism conferences and forums in Iran. By using all the tools at our disposal we are working to find the right approach to reach the 8% yearly increase in inbound tourists we require and achieve our goal of 20 million by 2025.

In which segments do you see potential to attract more tourists over the coming years?

There is great potential in all segments of the tourism industry here. We are working through the opportunities in each segment under our plan. These include great opportunities in both village and medical tourism and a wide range of natural and cultural attractions, such as marine, desert, and UNESCO sites. We have a different plan in place to promote each segment. For each province in Iran, we can focus on one of these segments and plan our tourism promotions around that.

What is your assessment of the need for new hotels in Iran?

We only experience this problem in the high season, when there is a shortage of accommodations in certain provinces, such as Fars and Isfahan. Other provinces do not have this issue as we are already developing new accommodation in some areas. We will resolve the accommodation issues with the help of the private sector and foreign investors who will build new hotels. We now have around 530 eco hotels in Iran, which appeal to tourists. In provinces like Kohgiluyeh and Boyer-Ahmad, Bushehr, Hamadan, and Chaharmahal and Bakhtiari we do not have any infrastructural problems because we have excellent four- and five-star hotels there. If we want to attract international tourists, we have to adopt the international standards they expect.

What is ICHHTO's strategy to attract the foreign investment that may be necessary to give impetus to Iran's tourism industry?

We are currently designing an investment plan for foreign investors that includes incentives such as loans that investors can obtain from Iranian banks to carry out tourism developments here. Prior to the JCPOA, there were some financial limitations on foreign investors here; however, Iran is now able to conduct transactions with international markets and trade with other countries again. As a result, there are now a number of investors that are willing to come and build or repair hotels around the country. Their main concern at this moment is the market instability in Iran and also the limitations and lack of services in the country. On the other hand, with the help of other ministries, we provide foreign investors the various facilities they need. We introduce them to banks to facilitate loans and other financial arrangements they might require to conduct business here. We also show them the processes required to obtain licenses in the country. The government and the private sector will assist those companies that are prepared to come here and repair or build new hotels in the country. We welcome brand hotels to come and establish chains here.