Iran emerging as tourism hotspot

By Sarah Marshall

'Magnificent mosques, diverse history and unrivalled hospitality' are drawcards for the country.

Important historical sites, like the Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque in Isfahan, are drawing tourists to Iran. Photo / 123RF
Important historical sites, like the Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque in Isfahan, are drawing tourists to Iran. Photo / 123RF

It was once considered out of bounds, but new direct flights from London and Paris to Tehran, combined with the country's fascinating history and affordability, are positioning Iran as one of the hottest destinations to visit in 2017.

British Airways launch direct flights from London to Tehran earlier this month after Air France relaunched its service in April. Other airlines are expected to follow with direct flights, which could help to lower prices.

MFAT continues to advise New Zealanders to be security conscious at all times when travelling to Iran, advising against travel completely to border areas with Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq.

There are no direct flights to Tehran from New Zealand, with passengers required to change typically in Dubai. Abu Dhabi or Doha.

A number of watersports are on offer on the island resort of Kish. Photo / Getty Images
A number of watersports are on offer on the island resort of Kish. Photo / Getty Images

The UK, meanwhile, has relaxed its travel advisories, lifted sanctions and reopened its Iranian embassy in London.

As a result, the number of Britons travelling to Iran is rising.

Local travel platform Evaneos agent Fatemeh says Iran is a safe place, despite its turbulent region.

"While it is no secret that a number of its neighbouring countries are experiencing varying degrees of instability, Iran itself has remained a very safe place, and there is no reason why tourists should feel that a trip here poses them any sort of threat," she says.

Instead, she says the main challenge facing the country is meeting demand for hotel rooms - although increasingly tours are incorporating homestays. Another British operator Regent Holidays, for example, which have been running trips to Tehran for several years, includes nights in local houses as part of the 14-day Highlights of Northern Iran tour, starting from PS3385 ($6153) per person with flights.

Skiing is a popular activity with wealthy Iranians, who flock to mountains like Alborz in Tehran. Photo / Getty Images
Skiing is a popular activity with wealthy Iranians, who flock to mountains like Alborz in Tehran. Photo / Getty Images

Andrew Shelton, managing director at Cheapflights.co.uk, says: "Our data shows Iran is already on the radar as the UK's second most affordable long-haul country to fly to after the UAE."

British tour operator G Adventures, which offers a 14-day Discover Persia tour from PS1,599 ($2907) per person, has reported that sales are up 200 per cent year-on-year. Rachel Wasser, G Adventure's global product manager, cites "magnificent mosques, diverse history and unrivalled hospitality" as drawcards for the country.

Admittedly, access is still restricted, making escorted group tours the easiest option for travel. British citizens do require a tour guide, although this doesn't necessarily have to be one approved by the state (as is the case for Americans).

- AAP, nzherald.co.nz

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