Tour operators have seen a significant rise in bookings for holidays to Iran, as improved relations with the West and an expectation that Foreign Office travel advice will be relaxed boost tourist interest.
Wild Frontiers, an adventure operator, has nine group tours scheduled for 2014, five of which are sold out to their maximum capacity of 12, and contrasts with two group tours in 2013, neither of which ran full. The company has seen tailor-made bookings rise from four last year to 26 so far in 2014, with many more in the pipeline.
, which creates itineraries for Iran, has seen an 80 per cent increase in enquiries since the beginning of the year and said that the vast majority of interested customers have gone on to book. The company sent 24 customers to the country in 2013, and so far has had bookings for 50 people this year.
Jim O’Brien, the company’s head of development, said: “Thirty-five years ago, Iran dropped off the tourist map, becoming the preserve of a few hardcore independent travellers and those in organised groups. Since the election of Hassan Rouhani as president last August, however, and a thawing in political relations with the west, it seems that Iran is returning to travellers’ bucket lists with a bang.”
Numerous tour operators have compared Iran’s future to that of Burma, which has been a top-selling destination since the election of Aung San Suu Kyi in 2012 and the subsequent change in stance on tourism in the country.
Although his company has been running trips to Iran for 10 years, Jonny Bealby, founder and managing director of Wild Frontiers, told Telegraph Travel that in the last six months or so there has been a significant increase in demand for the destination, which he puts down to “the election of a more moderate leader, and last year’s nuclear agreement”. Martin Randall Travel, a specialist cultural tour operator, is planning two tours to Iran for 2015 in June and October, concentrating on the major buildings and archaeological sites in Tehran and Shiraz, the former capital of Persia. The tour will allow three days in Isfahan, to visit all the major monuments. But Mr O’Brien ofadded that “while it’s not ideal for travellers to have to obtain their visas outside of the UK, judging by our bookings, this is proving to be only a minor hurdle to single-minded travellers wanting to experience Iran for the first time.” The country holds some of the world’s most spectacular ancient ruins and religious sites, including the Unesco World Heritage site of Persepolis, which dates from 515 BC, and the expansive Imam Square in Isfahan.