Francophile, mythical, refined; these are but a few words used in the French media over the last week to describe Iran, as the Mideast nation prepares to welcome a “tsunami of travelers”.
In a move clearly aimed at promoting Iranian tourism to Francophones, Agence France-Presse and French travel website Melty Discovery published separate pieces on Iranian tourism last week in French that chronicled Iran’s rise from an off-limits destination to a potential French mediahotspot.
AFP credits Iran’s improving global profile and growing rapprochement with the international community to the election of President Hassan Rouhani in 2013 that led to the signing of the historic nuclear accord in July.
Absent from travel brochures for years, Iran has found its way back on travel agencies’ pamphlets following a surge in demand among western tourists.
“Iran is a dream land and one of the half-dozen mythical destinations on the planet,” said Jean Paul Chantraine, CEO of Paris-based Asia Travel Agency.
Jean-Pierre Respaut of Clio, a self-proclaimed leader in organizing Iranian tours for the past 20 years, agrees with Chantraine and says the number of French tourists visiting Iran is increasing.
“There’s an explosive demand to travel [to Iran], which means there is going to be stiff competition,” he said.
Respaut said his agency would take a maximum of 20 groups to Iran every year until 2013, but last year they organized tours for 50 groups, or about 1,000 tourists.
Founder of Terres Lointaines (French for Distant Lands) says his agency aims to take more than 100 tourists to Iran by the yearend.
Calling Iran a “diverse, unique, highly cultural and Francophile” destination, William Reynaert added that the Mideast country has abundant archeological sites, deserts and open-air museums.
“We’re contemplating taking about 800 people to the country in 2016,” says CEO of Voyageurs du Monde Jean-Francois Rial. “I think we’re going to rely heavily on Iran.”
Officials at the Syndicat des Entreprises du Tour Operating, France’s union of tour operators, are astounded by Iran’s popularity among French travelers.
Jürgen Bachmann, secretary-general of SETO, said 919 French tourists visited Iran between November 2014 and August 2015.
“That’s more than double last year’s figure of 409 and incomparable with the 13 tourists a year before,” he said.
This is not the first time the French media have hyped Iranian tourism in recent months. Shortly after the signing of the nuclear deal, the French daily Le Figaro called the agreement “a boon for travel agencies”.
Citing French tour operators, the article reported a fivefold increase in demand to visit Iran among French travelers.
In response to the international demand to travel to Iran, French group AccorHotels is set to open two international hotels, namely Ibis and Novotel, on October 15 at Tehran’s Imam Khomeini International Airport.
Lackluster infrastructure, especially in terms of lodging, has been singled out by most experts as Iranian tourism’s Achilles’ heel, but economists believe that if Iran manages to draw a considerable number of tourists annually, investors will be encouraged to finance projects.