THIRTY-eight years ago, Iran was perhaps the most dangerous place in the world to visit. Even just three years ago, it was difficult and risky to travel to. Now, it is an emerging tourist destination luring travellers from across the globe.
Tourism to the Middle Eastern country has increased almost tenfold in the past two decades, with Iran welcoming more than 5.2 million foreign visitors to its shores in 2015, according to figures from The World Bank. And Australians certainly aren’t immune to its allure.
Figures from Intrepid show there has been a massive increase in Aussies booking trips to Iran. This year so far, 50 per cent of Iran bookings through Intrepid have come from Australian travellers, compared with 35 per cent in 2016.
Interest in the historic Persian Gulf nation is so hot that the global adventure travel company has had to add the country to the list of some of its tours, most recently its Real Food Adventures tour.
“Overall the reputation of Iran has been shifting,” Intrepid’s product manager for the Middle East, Jenny Gray told news.com.au.
“The word is getting out and people really want to discover it while it is still authentic and relatively untouched.
“It is a fascinating country. It is neither East nor West. It’s a destination that surprises you and exceeds your expectations — you’ve got incredible Persian ruins, you’ve got the ancient capital of Persepolis, the most incredibly decorated mosques. On top of that, hands down, every single person I’ve spoken to that has been to Iran will tell you that it is the people that have exceeded their expectations. It is the most hospitable country. Everything you think you might have known, or the preconceptions you have generated, will get blown out of the water immediately.”
But while the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFAT) advises Australians to exercise a “high degree of caution” if they travel there, Iran has opened up to global tourism, allowing foreigners to experience the side of the country that isn’t doom and gloom.
“People go to Iran and they realise it is not the country they expected,” Dr James Barry, Associate Research Fellow at the Alfred Deakin Institute for Citizenship and Globalisation told news.com.au.
“A lot of people go to Iran and think it is like Saudi Arabia — that there are these incredible restrictions on women and everything else. But they go there and they realise it is a very open society and the people are really friendly. Even though it is an authoritarian society, you don’t feel that pressure on you.”
by Julia Corderoy