The Iranian tourism sector has been overlooked by successive governments in Tehran but the deal Iran struck with world powers over its nuclear program last summer could provide an opportunity for economic growth.
Iran recorded 4.16 million visitors in the first nine months of the Iranian year, which started in March 2015, up 5% from a year earlier, according to the tourism ministry.
Currently, two thirds of tourists in Iran come from neighboring countries, such as Iraq, Azerbaijan, Armenia and Afghanistan or Pakistan, predominantly religious pilgrims visiting the holy Shiite cities south of the capital.
Western tourists currently number only 5% of arrivals, but the trend is upward, according to Association of Iranian Tour Operators president Ebrahim Pourfaraj.
"For tourists, the sense of security and peace is very important. The nuclear deal and the trips of President Hassan Rouhani to Italy and France have reinforced this phenomenon," he said.
Entry procedures have also been simplified, meaning visitors from only 11 countries are not eligible for a visa on arrival; the United States, Britain, Canada and France currently top the exclusion list.
Iran is targeting 20 million visitors a year by 2025, generating up to US$30 billion in revenue over that time frame, representing a fivefold increase in current revenues from foreign visitors.
Hotelier Middle East