Tour operators hope the election of Hassan Rouhani as president will encourage Britons to visit – and the Foreign Office to lift its travel ban.
Adventure travel companies in Britain hope the election of the more moderately-inclined Hassan Rouhani as president of Iran will lead to a resurgence of travel to the country – and a lifting of the current Foreign Office advice not to go there.
Companies such as Wild Frontiers, which continues to offer tours to Iran, despite the Foreign Office’s stance, and World Expeditions, which has previous done so, have taken heart in the fact that Mr Rouhani seems to want to build bridges with the West. They say his election last weekend could trigger renewed interest in the country – and inspire confidence to visit it.
“It is clear that the overwhelming majority of people in Iran want reform,” said Jonny Bealby, the Managing Director of Wild Frontiers. “It is very early days and we do not yet know what this guy is going to be like or whether what he wants will be cleared with the country’s supreme leader [Ayatollah Ali Khamenei]. But we can only hope that this will lead to a more tourist-friendly environment.”
Iran is home to one of the oldest civilisations in the world and its tourist attractions include Persepolis, the capital of the ancient Persian Empire, which dates back to the 6th century BC; Isfahan, home to some of the finest Islamic architecture in the Muslim world; and Shiraz, a city of poets, roses and nightingales.
The country’s capital, Tehran, was briefly one of the more exotic destinations to which what was then BOAC flew to in the Sixties. For a whole generation of adventurous British backpackers, Iran was one of the key countries en route to India along the “Hippy Trail”.
British visitors to Iran fell dramatically following the Islamic Revolution of 1979 and since then many have been deterred by long periods of political tension, most recently during the presidency of Mr Rouhani’s predecessor, the more hardline Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
The Foreign Office currently advises against all travel there. “British nationals have been arbitrarily detained in Iran in 2010 and 2011, and there is a continued risk of this occurring again,” it says. “During a demonstration on November 29, 2011 the British Embassy in Tehran was attacked and set on fire. The Embassy is now closed.”
But Mr Bealby said the situation on the ground was now a lot calmer and that it was unfair to include the whole country under the same blanket ban. He said his company was urging the Foreign Office to consider a partial lifting of it.
Gordon Steer, manager of the UK branch of World Expeditions, an Australia-based company that suspended its tours to Iran when the Foreign Office advised against travel there, expressed similar hopes for change.
“We can only hope that this election will bring about an improvement in the situation,” he said. “If the Foreign Office does change its advice we shall certainly be resuming our tours. All those who have been with us to Iran have been struck by how welcoming and friendly the people there are – and what a dramatically beautiful and culturally interesting country it is.”
For current foreign Office advice on Iran, see https://www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice/iran