TBY talks to Ali Asghar Amiri, Founder of Espinas Hotel & Resorts, on its ambitious expansion plans, his expectations for the growth of tourism, and key areas of focus for the sector.

 Ali Asghar Amiri
Ali Asghar Amiri was born in Yazd in 1955. After obtaining a university degree in architecture, he worked in the construction industry. The first hotel he established was the five-star Espinas Astara Hotel in the north of Iran, on the shores of the Steel Lake. He then established the Persian Gulf Hotel, located downtown in the heart of Tehran, which was finished in 2008. His newest hotel, the Espinas Palace Hotel, was inaugurated by the Vice President of Iran.

How would you describe the identity of Espinas Hotels?

We have always believed we should see our customers not just as tourists but as businesspeople as well. We established the Espinas Persian Gulf Hotel located downtown in the heart of the city near museums and other attractions. This hotel is mainly for the tourists who come from all over the world and all over the country. We established the Espinas Palace for business people. This hotel is far from the city center, but has many conference rooms, halls, and business centers. In addition, it has excellent access to the international fairs and the summit center; therefore, it is targeted directly at the needs of business people. Our next plan is to establish another hotel in Tehran for the diplomatic corps and for summits at the presidential level. Right now, it is under construction, so we are using Espinas Palace for this purpose as well. In our one year of operations, we have hosted many presidents and prime ministers from all over the world. Espinas Palace features a conference hall with a capacity for 2,500 people; no hotel in Iran has such a facility. We can provide both businessmen and the diplomatic corps with any kind of facilities for meetings and seminars, and in addition we can provide them with a cultural experience. Our guests can stay here and attend business sessions and concerts, without the inconvenience of traveling from one point to another point or being stuck in traffic.

Iran wants to increase the number of inbound tourists to 20 million by 2025. Do you think this goal is achievable?

Iran has great potential in this regard. The rich cultural heritage of Iran appeals to people throughout the world and can attract many tourists. We have many monuments and ancient sites and an impressive history. We also have advanced hospitals with professional and well-educated staff, so many people from neighboring countries come here for medical tourism. Iran also has the potential to attract more people for religious tourism purposes. These three factors, combined with the Iranian hospitality and gastronomy, make Iran a top tourism destination. On top of this, tourists can enjoy different landscapes and weather conditions, from skiing areas in the mountains to hot deserts. We can attract more tourists, but the government should formulate a strategy. The number of tourists and businessmen has increased after sanctions were lifted; however, it seems that the JCPOA signatories are just lifting the sanctions gradually. As such, the number of tourists and businessman has increased gradually. I am waiting to see a further increase once the sanctions are fully lifted. There is great interest to be active in the tourism sector, and the government is trying to support it. The tourism industry is labor intensive and has the capacity to create many jobs, unlike industries where labor is replaced by machines.

What is your assessment of the need of investments in Iran's hospitality infrastructure?

We welcome international investors, though not only in the hotel establishments because local businesses can come up with that. We need international investors for airlines and for entertainment and recreational activities, such as cruises. In this way, guests will extend their stay in Iran. The average occupancy of hotels in Tehran is around 40%; however, Espinas Palace has a rate of 70% because of its multifunctional character and the amount of facilities we provide to our guests. There is no need for more accommodation in Tehran, but we do need other infrastructure. After lifting the sanctions, Iran was able to purchase new airplanes, so the number of seats grew. At the same time, we need our airports to have more terminals and better facilities to receive guests, both for local and international flights. Renovating and developing the airports should be the first priority.