Iran is appearing on the travel itineraries of an ever-increasing number of British holidaymakers, following a thaw in diplomatic relations between the Islamic Republic and the West.
As Air France this week resumed flights from Paris to Tehran for the first time since 2008 – and with British Airways (BA) scheduled to do the same in July – a number of tour operators have said that the Middle Eastern country is proving a surprise hit.
“Iran has become our busiest destination for 2016 and we expect the demand to keep growing,” said David McGuinness, director of tour operator Travel the Unknown. “We expect about a 50-75 per cent increase in passengers this year after a 65 per cent increase last year.”
Another operator, Corinthian Travel, said the formerly off-limits destination was now outselling the likes of Oman and Sri Lanka.
Founder Hugh Fraser said that sales had “gone through the roof” and that demand had “taken [us] by surprise”.
Trips by Britons to Iran all but ended in 2011 when the British embassy was attacked, prompting the Foreign Office to advise against travel to the country.
But political reconciliation has reignited interest and the Foreign Office relaxed its travel advice last summer due to what they described as “decreasing hostility”. The revised advice still warns against travel to border areas with Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, however.
The re-opening of the British Embassy has brought further comfort to travellers, re-affirming that the country is a safe place to travel. The Iranian Embassy in London has also reopened.
British Airways will resume services from London's Heathrow Airport to Tehran on July 14, offering six flights a week. Currently, the only airline to fly direct from London to Iran is Iran Air.
Iran's appeals include striking architecture, atmospheric markets, rugged scenery and a growing number of art galleries and museums.
Jonny Bealby, founder and managing director of Wild Frontiers, said: “Our figures have gone from 32 passengers in 2013 to over 400 already booked to travel this year - we’re seeing a huge rise in demand.
“When Rouhani came to power everything started to change. Similarly when he (Rouhani) went to the UN and shook hands with Obama this brought about a huge increase in travel figures.
“It was always on a political level that this tension existed, there’s always been a big friendship on the ground, but it was purely the political perception that damaged travel.”
The breed of travellers would also appear to be shifting away from Middle Eastern enthusiasts.
“The types of clients starting to go there are becoming more ‘mainstream’, all sorts of people are interested and they’re not scared to go," said Bealby. "Iran fulfils a cultural need of phenomenal sites of antiquity that are no longer available to be seen in Syria and Libya.”
Original Article Posted In The Telegraph: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/news/rapid-increase-in-travel-to-iran/
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