Hotels can make or break your trip, and Iranian hotels are no exception.
To gain a better understanding of weaknesses plaguing hotels in Iran, I decided to conduct a little study. I spoke with hoteliers, tour guides and travel agents and went through a plethora of guest reviews on TripAdvisor, all of which helped me pinpoint key factors that could very well spoil your visit.
1- Slow Internet, Poor Connectivity
Possibly the biggest disappointment you may face in hotels, or more generally in Iran, is connectivity. A major contributor to travelers’ dissatisfaction is related to poor access to the internet. Whether you stay in a luxury hotel or a modest bed and breakfast, you will most likely struggle to check your emails.
You may face three challenges. First is internet speed, which is the main problem for most Iranian netizens. Internet is generally slow in Iran, with the highest guaranteed speed provided by local internet service providers reaching a meager 16 Mbps.
So, even if hotels offer you the fastest connection around, it will compare poorly with what you might be used to.
The second problem is filtering. Similar to China, Iran has strict rules for internet access. Popular social networking websites (and their smartphones apps) such as Facebook and Twitter are blocked and you will need a VPN software to circumvent the filtering.
Given that hotels are not legally permitted to provide you with such a software, please don’t take your frustration out on the staff!
The third problem is Wi-Fi signal. There are only a handful of hotels that boast strong wireless coverage across their premises, most of which are small. In other words, you are more likely to face poor Wi-Fi coverage in larger hotels.
You will probably be better off shelling out for a pay-as-you-go SIM card offered by one of three mobile operators in Iran: the quasi state-owned Hamrah-e-Avval; Irancell, which is partially owned by MTN; and Rightel.
Prepaid SIMs are both affordable and offer surprisingly good access to the internet, providing users with 3G and 4G services.
However, they all have their pros and drawbacks. Hamrahe-e-Avval has the broadest coverage of the three but charges a premium compared to the other two. Irancell offers better speeds but its 4G coverage is limited, even in larger cities. Rightel offers great speeds at good prices, but it is only available in big cities.
2- Repetitive Breakfast Buffet
The quality of the breakfast buffet in hotels is essential to a good trip, not only because breakfast is the most important meal of the day, but also because 91% of travelers have breakfast at their hotel.
Despite its importance, the breakfast buffet is the second biggest cause of disappointment among travelers in Iran.
There are only some quality hotels, such as Parsian Azadi and Espinas Palace hotels in Tehran, Isfahan’s Abbasi Hotel, and Sadaf Soorinet on Kish Island that offer buffets that rival those of globally-renowned hotel chains.
Variety is the first problem. The breakfast menu is almost the same every day and you don’t have many choices. If lucky, you may find interesting items like Halim (a food made of wheat, barley, and meat – usually turkey) at the weekends (Fridays). If you stay for more than two days in a hotel, there is a good chance you’ll end up eating the same breakfast.
The other issue, which is still related to variety, is that nearly half of the items on the menu are Iranian. As delicious as Iranian foods are, to the foreign tourist they may all look the same. Most hotels fail to provide simple breakfast items known worldwide, which may be off-putting for tourists not feeling adventurous enough to try out new things in the morning.
Strangely enough, the quality of coffee is another major source of dissatisfaction in the country’s top hotels. While you may easily find different types of coffee, croissant and even oatmeal, you’re unlikely to be impressed with the quality.
Last but not least is the breakfast fruit juice. It is rare to find natural juices in the breakfast buffet – even in most top rated hotels. If you’re a juice aficionado, keep that in mind.
3- Limited Language Skills
Another issue is the ability of the hotel staff to speak English. While managers and receptionists at four- and five-star establishments can speak adequate English, you can’t expect the same from other staff. Housekeeping staff and bellboys rarely speak English, if at all, which can make communication cumbersome.
4- No Credit Cards
Due to banking sanctions, it is not yet possible to transfer funds to and from Iran. By extension, that means your credit cards don’t work here. This is a big problem for tourists.
However, prepaid credit cards are available thanks to an initiative by top Iranian banks, namely Bank Melli, Tourism Bank, and Bank Sepah. The cards, which have a maximum balance of $5,000, can be obtained at international airports and are rechargeable. Just make sure you bring enough cash with you!
5- Housekeeping Not Up to Par
Rooms are usually clean and tidy when you check in. However, there are two issues that you need to prepare yourself for. First, the rooms aren’t tidied up unless you explicitly request it. Second, you shouldn’t expect housekeeping to clean up the room in the same way that you first received it.
Moreover, and as strange as it may sound, most maids pay no attention to the ‘do not disturb’ sign. So be ready for surprises!
6- Restricted Mini Bar
The first thing you’ll notice about hotel mini bars in Iran is the lack of alcoholic drinks. That’s because alcoholic beverages are banned in Iran.
The next thing that’ll grab attention is the poor variety of items in the mini bar. Iranian nuts and snacks as well as local herbal distillates are the most commonly found items in mini bars. There may also be a selection of chocolates, which may not be top quality but that doesn’t stop hoteliers from charging exorbitant amounts for them.
7- Passable Food Quality
Generally, meals prepared at hotels’ restaurants don’t compare with dishes served at restaurants across the city. This is true in Iran and elsewhere.
Whether you’re looking to try out local dishes or would rather have a pizza, you’d be more likely to find quality food out of the hotel.
While luxury hotels provide decent meals, the vast majority of lodging facilities in Iran offer what barely qualifies as passable food for the refined palate.
But then again, if you’re visiting Iran, you’ll probably be spending most of your time sightseeing anyway, so the quality of food at your hotel is unlikely to be a problem.
8- Dawdling Room Service
If you want to order room service, you’d better have a lot of free time because it takes them a while to knock on your door. Long waiting times and limited items on the menu can be frustrating.
Furthermore, you can’t rely on room service in late hours.
9- Unhelpful Hotel Concierges
Concierge service in Iranian hotels is rare and can only be found in select luxury establishments.
A concierge assists guests by making reservations at restaurants and spas and providing key information about sites of attraction, among others.
Because this type of service is still new in Iran, most concierges are unable to perform their duties adequately and some may even struggle to provide guests with basic information.
10- No Variety in Satellite Channels
There is a glaring lack of variety when it comes to available satellite channels in hotel rooms. Most hotels offer a few English channels, while four- and five-star facilities may also provide access to German and even Korean stations.
Hotels are hardly to blame for this shocking lack of variety, as they are not allowed to air most Western channels.
11- Stiff Mattresses
A rather ridiculous trend in Iranian hotels is the use of therapeutic mattresses, which most guests find too stiff and uncomfortable to sleep on.
Whether this is a fad or hoteliers are genuinely concerned about your lower back problem, it can thoroughly ruin your sleep if you don’t like therapeutic mattresses.
What’s more, you’re unlikely to be given an alternative unless you’re staying at a five-star hotel, and that is if you’re lucky enough to have picked one that offers a choice!
Please comment below and share your insights with us.