Iran’s Achilles’ Heel
An effective promotion of attractions, coupled with creative marketing strategies, is essential to improve the global image of the country and help boost inbound tourism figures, something Iran has failed to accomplish.
Following the signing of the nuclear deal between Iran and the six major world powers last July, which saw Tehran place temporary curbs on its nuclear activities in exchange for the lifting of related economic sanctions, there was a definite—albeit small—rise in the number of foreign tourists.
“Most of the people traveling to Iran for the first time are those who had wanted to come here but couldn’t because traveling here was a hassle,” Mohammad Hassan Kermani, director of the Association of Air Transport and Tourism Agencies of Iran, told online news outlet Asr Iran.
Observers attribute the small growth to the increasing number of direct flights to Iran as well as the relaxation of travel warnings that France, Australia and Britain had in place against Iran. They argue that the rise in inbound tourism is only a short-term effect.
In other words, many people travel to Iran because coming here is now easier than it was before, not because they have changed their views on Iran.
“Our most fundamental problem is marketing, or lack thereof. We have no strategies or plans, and the lack of funding only compounds the problem,” he said.
Kermani slammed suggestions that foreigners know enough about Iran, its culture and attractions to be tempted to visit the country, saying that such notions are “delusional” and as long as “money is not spent on advertising, the industry won’t grow”.
“Iran is still an unknown destination and we have got to change that,” he added.
Pointing to the marketing potential of popular global events such as Euro 2016, Kermani said Turkey and Azerbaijan wasted no time to advertise what they have to offer during one of the most watched football events in the world.
“Advertizing in Euro 2016 is a prime example of money well spent,” he added.
Azerbaijan has been aggressively marketing itself as the go-to destination in Eastern Europe-West Asian region for years. During the 2014-15 football season, Azerbaijan was the top sponsor of popular Spanish football team Atletico Madrid, which reached the Champions League final and won the Spanish top flight La Liga, and reaped its benefits.
According to the Guardian, the initial sponsorship deal, which ran for a season and a half from January 2013, cost the Azerbaijanis €12 million ($13.6 million). Not only did that include shirt sponsorship, but a wider strategic agreement that saw the Atletico squad and coaching team traveling to the country three years ago with a plan to train young Azerbaijani footballers in Madrid and Baku.
Atletico Madrid’s rising global reputation combined with the team’s unexpected success both at home and abroad meant that Azerbaijan’s slogan “Land of Fire”, which was emblazoned on the front of the team’s jerseys, was seen by millions of people, demanding the spectators’ attention and helping promote Azerbaijan on the international stage.
Kermani said promoting Iran does not end with marketing the country’s attractions abroad, but it has to continue in Iran as well.
“Foreign tourists pay close attention to everything we do here because we’re unknown to them. They’re naturally interested to learn more about us and will tell stories when they return home, so we need to be on our best behavior,” he said.
Iran’s overreliance on oil and its products over the years meant little attention was (and is) given to other sectors, such as tourism.
“Our dependence on petrodollars has cultivated a bad habit in us. We’ve become blinded to the value and importance of tourism,” Kermani said.