How can Iranian tourism improve its degraded image?

TEHRAN – A hidden gem and a backpacker’s dream, Iran holds vast potential as a vacation destination with stunning landscapes, numerous World Heritage sites and, above all, its hospitable people.

Dissenting voices exist, but the problem is that the true face of Iran is galaxies away from the image Western media have tried to portray after the 1979 Islamic revolution until today.

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness…” wrote the American writer Mark Twain in the 1860s. The quote goes well with comments from those who return from a trip in Iran!

On this subject, we encounter two completely different worlds, one is to rate the country based on social media and news articles while the second is to learn more through visits to historical sites and experience of the daily life of modern Iranians.

You can find, on the web or in person, countless travelers who had developed mixed feelings about Iran before their arrival…attitudes, stereotypes and perceptions that totally changed when excursions to the Islamic Republic have started.

“What? Are you traveling to Iran? Why? It’s dangerous!”…these are the first things travelers may hear from loved ones when they are about to start their trip to Iran. Well, it’s actually quite the opposite. Iran has been rated as safe as Germany, Sweden, Australia and most European countries by the independent experts of “International SOS” in their 2019 travel risk map, which shows the level of risk in the world. They place Iran among the countries at “insignificant risk” in terms of security.

New attitudes may include: “A whole different perspective! » ; “Iran is not (at all) what I thought it would be! » ; “I am impressed to see how the media shows a different image”; “Contrary to popular belief, Iran is extremely safe, with the friendliest people I have ever met”; “When we think of Iran, we tend to think only of negative things”; or “I previously thought it was dangerous given some western news”.

The reasons are many. Concerns over Iran’s nuclear program may be the biggest contributing factor to its semi-tarnished image, although the country has always stressed that its nuclear program is for purely peaceful purposes under the watchful eye of the International Peacekeeping Agency. atomic energy.

Moreover, some enemies of the nation have always tried their best to adjust the propaganda machines to further harm this image under the guise of humanitarian goals.

All of the above can be discussed for hours and hours by social, political experts and philosophers, but what really matters here is that almost all passengers traveling to the Islamic Republic are absolutely fascinated by its charms, saying something like, “Wow, this is the most misunderstood country on Earth!

The country is often described as “one of the safest to travel” by most visitors who have experienced it, especially female travelers alone and families, and the Lonely Planet calls its people the “friendliest people in the world. “.

“My advice is this: don’t believe what you hear on the news. Explore the place, talk to the locals and draw your own conclusions. Come to Iran with an open mind and I guarantee you will make many friends in Iran,” Polish traveler Anna Karsten wrote in her 2020 travel diary.

“For me, being uncomfortable once or twice doesn’t mean the place is unsafe. I never felt physically threatened, unsafe or in danger, even when I wandered the streets of Iran. I felt safer in Iran than walking around New York. Even tap water was safe in Iran!

Ellis Veen, a cultural anthropologist from the Netherlands who has traveled for more than 20 years to more than 50 countries along the ancient Silk Road, says: “After my visit to Iran, one of the most frequent questions I’ve had is whether it was safe for me. travel to Iran as a woman. My short answer would be yes and I would recommend Iran to anyone considering it.

“Iran is one of the safest countries in the Middle East (Western Asia) and Iranians are some of the friendliest people I have met in my travel history.”

This comes as no surprise to those familiar with Iranian culture and the great hospitality its people are famous for. Iranians are traditionally generous hosts who give the best of what they have to their guests. In traditional Iranian culture, guests are treasured like precious jewels. It is here in Iran that a typical invitation for a cup of tea can be extended to an overnight stay, or a humble request for direction can forge a warm friendship.

On the official side, Minister of Cultural Heritage, Tourism and Handicrafts, Ezzatollah Zarghami, said tour guides have great potential to thwart anti-Iranian sentiment, also known as Iranophobia.

“Iranian tour guides by expressing the country can fight against so-called Iranophobia, which some countries are trying to spread,” Zarghami said last month in an address to International Tour Guide Day.

Long shunned by Western travellers, the Islamic Republic has steadily stepped up its efforts to use tourism over the past two years to help promote its battered international image under endless opposition, mostly from the United States.

Prior to the COVID pandemic, Iranian tourism had grown steadily, reaching over eight million visitors in Iran’s calendar year 1398 (started March 21, 2019). This push, however, has helped prejudices grow thick and thin.

Some experts believe that even before the pandemic, Iranian tourism was already grappling with some challenges, in addition to Western “media propaganda” aimed at scaring potential travelers away from the Islamic Republic. They say Iran is still somehow “unknown” to many would-be travelers due to such a “media war”.

AFM

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