Famed for its radical theocratic government, bans on alcohol, and rules forcing women to cover up, Iran may not sound like a real competitor to Spain as a summer holiday destination. But more and more British tourists are venturing there, with 2014 seeing a surge in British tourists to the Middle Eastern country by up to 400 percent, according to the MailOnline.
Since the Islamic Revolution in 1979, Western tourists have been reticent about taking their holidays to Iran for fear of violence. Under the last president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, all but the most adventurous travellers were put off. But travel agents claim the election of the more ‘moderate’ Hassan Rouhani as his successor appears to have made visiting the country a more attractive option.
Jonny Bealby, managing director of Wild Frontiers, has been organising trips to Iran for a decade. He says he hopes to send up to 150 customers this year compared to just a few dozen in 2013. He said: “With the new man in charge and the easing of relations, a lot more people feel safe to go there.
“Things have changed completely this year,’ he said. ‘In 2012, it was hard to sell Iran at all and in 2013 we had just two group tours running. This year we are running nine.
“We are also providing tailor-made trips for dozens more people. In total, we are approaching 150 bookings so far in 2014.
“Travel to Iran has never been a problem in the years we’ve been running tours. As long as people going there are sensible, we have partners in Iran who know what they are doing and our customers are well looked-after.”
But the trips are not cheap, with a guided tours costing around £2,795 per person for a fortnight or £1,995 for 10 days. The costs are high because there are no direct flights to the country, meaning that traveller have to go via Istanbul or Dubai.
Despite the enthusiasm of some visitors, Britain’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office remain cautious. A spokesman said: “We would advise people to keep up to date with our relevant travel advice on Iran. We advise against all but essential travel to the country as a whole and against all travel to regions close to the Iraq and Afghanistan borders.
“There are risks for British nationals in Iran and especially those going off the beaten track – but it’s a matter of choice for individuals.”
Despite its appalling track record Iran is ostensibly beginning to return to the mainstream of the international community. Its support for the war against the ISIS terrorists fighting in Syria and Iran have caused Western leaders to engage more with the country’s leadership.
Iran is widely considered to be an incredibly beautiful country, but the ban on alcohol means that many Iranians take their holidays in Armenia, a neighbouring Christian country famed for its brandy.