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July 16, 2013 11:30 am

Despite Islamic Law, Arrests, Iran Seeks to Become Major Tourist Destination

avatar by Zach Pontz

Kish Island. Photo: Wikipedia.

Iran hopes to become a major tourist destination, and the sector is relying on President-elect Hassan Rouhani’s promises to help cultivate the industry, The Washington Post reports.

Since being elected, Rouhani has set a goal of more than doubling the number of foreigners who visit Iran each year. Such an increase, from the current level of 4 million tourists to up to 10 million, would “create jobs for 4 million people, solving the problem of 3.5 million unemployed people in this country,” Rouhani declared.

On Kish, an island in the Persian Gulf just off Iran’s mainland that is a favorite domestic destination of Iranians, developers and festival organizers embrace Rouhani’s spirit but are approaching any impending changes pragmatically.

“We have all the potentials that we need to attract foreign tourists, but due to limitations, mostly cultural, like Islamic hijab, they do not come here. To attract them, we need to create a better political and social atmosphere,” Ramezan Gholinejad, an organizer of the annual Kish Summer Festival, told the Post.

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Iranian authorities also aren’t particularly accommodating.

More than a month ago Slovak paragliders who entered Iran legally with tourist visas were arrested after flying over a military installation days before Iran’s presidential election.

“They came to Iran as tourists but behaved inappropriately and had unconventional devices in their possession. They broke the laws of the Islamic Republic of Iran and were arrested by the relevant authorities,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Araqchi told the Iranian Students’ News Agency on June 30.

Instances such as this have caused concern that other potential visitors may rethink their travel plans to the country.

Still, despite the obstacles, some maintain hope that Iranian tourism—and a more robust economy—will prove more enticing than strict Islamic law for Iran.

“Rouhani’s team are technocrats and look at tourism as a major industry with a lot of potential. I am very hopeful they can make progress in Iran’s tourism,” said Gholinejad, the festival organizer. “If this industry grows, everyone will benefit from it, especially in terms of job creation.”

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