Iranian and Spanish officials expressed willingness to expand tourism ties and hinted they may sign an agreement in the near future.
During a meeting on Monday, Spain’s Minister of Industry, Energy and Tourism Jose Manuel Soria and Masoud Soltanifar, Iran’s vice president for tourism, discussed potential areas of cooperation, Borna News Agency reported.
“Iran and Spain have a long history of cooperation in various areas, and I hope once the sanctions are lifted, the two states will resume working together,” Soltanifar said.
The vice president said Iran can take advantage of Spain’s experience in tourism and stressed that Iran’s emerging travel market provides Spaniards with lucrative investment opportunities.
“The government aims to develop every sector with growth potential, not just the energy industry,” he said, adding that the high-level Spanish delegation’s visit to Iran shows the European country is ready to invest in Iran.
Iran’s top tourism official said Spaniards can help modernize the country’s infrastructure.
“They can build hotels and help develop our transportation networks,” he said.
Soltanifar pointed to Iran’s participation in Spain’s most reputable travel and tourism exhibition Fitur over the past two years and emphasized that Iran will have a much stronger presence in the exhibition’s 2016 edition.
“We hope Spanish tourism professionals will attend Iran’s travel fairs as well,” he added.
Since Iran’s tourism attractions are unknown to most Spaniards, Soltanifar said Iran’s Cultural Heritage, Handicrafts and Tourism Organization is ready to organize familiarization tours for Spanish journalists and tourism professionals.
The ICHHTO chief said the two states are preparing a draft agreement to be signed by Spanish and Iranian tourism officials that will pave the way for extensive bilateral collaboration.
Iran and Spain signed a memorandum of understanding aimed at boosting tourism 13 years ago, but the agreement was never enacted. Nevertheless, President Hassan Rouhani has declared his desire for international cooperation, raising hopes that any potential agreement will be followed through.
Soria voiced readiness to establish “strong tourism ties” with Tehran, and said, “President Rouhani emphasized Iran’s commitment to developing tourism when he visited Spain last year. Cooperation between our two countries can only be beneficial.”
He said Spain has ample experience in tourism and is now sharing its knowledge with other countries.
Soria said his country is ready to invest in 300 hotel construction projects, and added: “Spanish companies are eying Iran and its travel market.”
Iranian officials say the country needs to build at least 400 hotels to be able to accommodate its annual target of 20 million tourists by 2020, and Soria’s statement shows Spanish investors can be of immense help to Iran.
Spanish hotel chains have already expressed their intention to enter the Iranian travel market. In May, Spain’s Melia Hotels International announced interest in the Iranian market, Gulf News reported.
Maria Zarraluqui, managing director for global development at Melia, said the huge demand for more hotels in Iran has not been met.
“We know that Iran faces challenges because it’s closed to international markets, but we see the potential. We see that there is huge internal demand that is not very well treated at the moment. So Iran is a market we would like to explore,” she said.
According to Zarraluqui, Melia Hotels is interested in introducing its midscale brand, Innside, and its upper upscale brand, Melia, in the country.
Last month, Financial Tribune reported that Destinia, a prominent Spain-based online travel agency, had entered the Iranian market, making it the first European travel agency to claim a stake in the emerging Iranian online travel market, according to the agency’s marketing director, Beatriz Oficialdegui.
Spanish private sector firms are aware of Iran’s tourism potential and have already made exploratory trips to the country and held talks. It is now up to Iranian officials to facilitate foreign investment.