Tourism

Tourism Attraction

Historical attractions

History and civilization are integral characteristics identifying every country. There will be tremendous progress and prosperity in the tourism industry of countries where history and civilization are appreciated and utilized properly. The Iranian multi-millennia history and civilization looks appealing to any tourist from around the world. There are 21 Iranian historical and ancient artworks so far registered on UNESCO. From the perspective of civilization, ​​Jiroft (an ancient city in Kerman) is considered the world’s first magnificent civilization dating back to over 7,000 years ago. Apart from this area, which already fascinates many archaeologists, the ancient Persia is globally known for Persepolis (AKA Takht-e-Jamshid). It is the most famous ancient Iranian monument constructed during the reign of Darius the Great, Xerxes and Artaxerxes I. During the post-Islamic era, Naqsh-e Jahan Square is one of the key Safavid buildings visited in Isfahan today. Back in the seventeenth century, it was recognized as one of the largest plazas in the world, linking four spectacular monuments: Sheikh Lotf Allah Mosque, Shah Mosque, Isfahan Grand Bazaar and Ali Qapu Palace.

Natrural attractions

Undoubtedly, the unique, untouched nature is one of the underappreciated tourism capacities in Iran. Owing to its specific geographical conditions, four-season weather and favorable climatic conditions, Iran is known as one of the world’s naturally richest and most beautiful countries. In that respect, Iran can become a major tourist spot in terms of natural attractions. As a marvelous desert with the highest and longest yardangs in the world, Dasht-e Lut is the first natural landmark listed on UNESCO World Heritage Sites. In Iran, there are beautiful mountains and peaks such as Damavand, Tochal and Sabalan, wonderful beaches of the Caspian Sea and the Persian Gulf, numerous rivers and lakes, spectacular springs and waterfalls (such as Badab-e Surt and Shir-Abad), and massive forests of Gilan and Mazandaran.

Cultural attractions

The Iranian culture is full of sophisticated delicacies in the production of pleasure, art, and joy, serving to spirit up the viewers and realize a happy life. Such delicacies can be found in globally influential Persian poetry and literature (masterpieces by Rumi, Ferdowsi, Hafez, and Saadi) all the way to humor and music in Iranian culture. Visual arts and visual pleasures also shine in the Iranian culture. Apart from Iranian carpets, which are globally known for craftsmanship), vitreous enamel, khatam, woodcarving, mosaic and dozens of other artworks depict how Iranian people are enthusiastic about beauty and elegance. Iranian cuisines demonstrate another aspect of sophistication in Iranian culture. Despite the similarity of Iranian stews to a few Indian dishes, or Iranian Kebab to Greek and Arabic barbecue, Iranian food still offers unique ingredients. The elements of Iranian culture surpass the borders of the Islamic Republic whose deep footprints can sometimes be traced to neighboring countries, including Afghanistan, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan, Armenia, Georgia, and Iraqi or Turkish Kurds. These nations have all inherited a chunk of the Iranian culture. These cover the Persian language, calendar and national festivals such as Nowruz to Shia religion and Iranian traditional music and architecture.

Religious attractions

Owing to its ancient civilization and presence of followers from different religions, Iran has been hosting a wide variety of religious places. Of a total of nearly 9,000 religious places in different parts of the country, apart from the nationally registered Imamzadeh shrines and monuments, there are more than 3,000 additional sacred places identified as mosques, religious schools, churches, synagogues and fire temples). Religion has played a prominent role in the development of Mashhad, Qom, Rey, Shiraz, Qazvin, Natanz, Shahrood, Shoosh, Bastam, Lahijan, Amol, Ardabil, and Gonbad-Kavoos, which are religious cities with great capacities for pilgrimage. In all religious spheres, Iran can attract international tourism and the current cultural spaces can facilitate the expansion of religious-cultural tourism. Owing to numerous shrines, including Imam Reza Shrine in Mashhad and Fatima Masumeh Shrine in Qom, Iran has been a pilgrimage destination for many travelers from Muslim countries. In addition, there are unparalleled temples and churches in Iran to be found nowhere else. For instance, the oldest church in the world is located in Iran.

Medical attractions

Given the low cost of treatment in Iran compared to global average, there is an extraordinary capacity to attract medical tourists from Muslim countries and regions. The lifting of sanctions has set the ground for Iran to become a pioneering destination for medical tourism in the Middle East. Iran is one of the five most advanced countries in the field of biotechnology, producing 9 out of the 15 widely used biotechnological molecules. In many parts of Iran, including Sarein in Ardabil, Mahallat, Geno Biosphere Reserve in Bandar Abbas and Ferdows in Khorasan), there are mineral springs treating many patients. Furthermore, infertility treatment, stem cell therapy, dialysis, heart surgery, cosmetic surgery and eye surgery are conducted in Iran. Healthcare in Iran is more reliable, scientific and low-cost. Currently, one in four hospitals in the country are involved in health tourism, ranking first to fifth in the eye, heart, beauty, infertility and nervous treatment, respectively. In addition, cosmetic surgery (especially nasal) targets its own specific tourists, generating a tremendous amount of revenues in the Iranian medical tourism.

Modern, man-made attractions

Iran is more commonly viewed desirable as a historical destination for Western tourists. Unfortunately, over the past few decades, Western media have been spreading destructive propaganda by portraying Iran as a backward country with prehistoric technology. This is evident in how most Western tourists are taken by surprise in their first visits to Iran. Today, there are numerous modern and advanced attractions, entertainment facilities and shopping malls for tourists in the capital of Iran as well as in other metropolises including Isfahan, Shiraz, Mashhad, Tabriz, and Kish Island. Considering the low cost of traveling compared to the neighboring countries, Iran enjoys a key competitive advantage for attraction of foreign tourists.

Historical Attractions

History and civilization are integral characteristics identifying every country. There will be tremendous progress and prosperity in the tourism industry of countries where history and civilization are appreciated and utilized properly. The Iranian multi-millennia history and civilization looks appealing to any tourist from around the world. There are 21 Iranian historical and ancient artworks so far registered on UNESCO. From the perspective of civilization, ​​Jiroft (an ancient city in Kerman) is considered the world’s first magnificent civilization dating back to over 7,000 years ago. Apart from this area, which already fascinates many archaeologists, the ancient Persia is globally known for Persepolis (AKA Takht-e-Jamshid). It is the most famous ancient Iranian monument constructed during the reign of Darius the Great, Xerxes and Artaxerxes I. During the post-Islamic era, Naqsh-e Jahan Square is one of the key Safavid buildings visited in Isfahan today. Back in the seventeenth century, it was recognized as one of the largest plazas in the world, linking four spectacular monuments: Sheikh Lotf Allah Mosque, Shah Mosque, Isfahan Grand Bazaar and Ali Qapu Palace.

Natural Attractions

Undoubtedly, the unique, untouched nature is one of the underappreciated tourism capacities in Iran. Owing to its specific geographical conditions, four-season weather and favorable climatic conditions, Iran is known as one of the world’s naturally richest and most beautiful countries. In that respect, Iran can become a major tourist spot in terms of natural attractions. As a marvelous desert with the highest and longest yardangs in the world, Dasht-e Lut is the first natural landmark listed on UNESCO World Heritage Sites. In Iran, there are beautiful mountains and peaks such as Damavand, Tochal and Sabalan, wonderful beaches of the Caspian Sea and the Persian Gulf, numerous rivers and lakes, spectacular springs and waterfalls (such as Badab-e Surt and Shir-Abad), and massive forests of Gilan and Mazandaran.

Cultural Attractions

The Iranian culture is full of sophisticated delicacies in the production of pleasure, art, and joy, serving to spirit up the viewers and realize a happy life. Such delicacies can be found in globally influential Persian poetry and literature (masterpieces by Rumi, Ferdowsi, Hafez, and Saadi) all the way to humor and music in Iranian culture. Visual arts and visual pleasures also shine in the Iranian culture. Apart from Iranian carpets, which are globally known for craftsmanship), vitreous enamel, khatam, woodcarving, mosaic and dozens of other artworks depict how Iranian people are enthusiastic about beauty and elegance. Iranian cuisines demonstrate another aspect of sophistication in Iranian culture. Despite the similarity of Iranian stews to a few Indian dishes, or Iranian Kebab to Greek and Arabic barbecue, Iranian food still offers unique ingredients. The elements of Iranian culture surpass the borders of the Islamic Republic whose deep footprints can sometimes be traced to neighboring countries, including Afghanistan, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan, Armenia, Georgia, and Iraqi or Turkish Kurds. These nations have all inherited a chunk of the Iranian culture. These cover the Persian language, calendar and national festivals such as Nowruz to Shia religion and Iranian traditional music and architecture.

Spirtual Attractions

Owing to its ancient civilization and presence of followers from different religions, Iran has been hosting a wide variety of religious places. Of a total of nearly 9,000 religious places in different parts of the country, apart from the nationally registered Imamzadeh shrines and monuments, there are more than 3,000 additional sacred places identified as mosques, religious schools, churches, synagogues and fire temples). Religion has played a prominent role in the development of Mashhad, Qom, Rey, Shiraz, Qazvin, Natanz, Shahrood, Shoosh, Bastam, Lahijan, Amol, Ardabil, and Gonbad-Kavoos, which are religious cities with great capacities for pilgrimage. In all religious spheres, Iran can attract international tourism and the current cultural spaces can facilitate the expansion of religious-cultural tourism. Owing to numerous shrines, including Imam Reza Shrine in Mashhad and Fatima Masumeh Shrine in Qom, Iran has been a pilgrimage destination for many travelers from Muslim countries. In addition, there are unparalleled temples and churches in Iran to be found nowhere else. For instance, the oldest church in the world is located in Iran.

Medical Attractions

Given the low cost of treatment in Iran compared to global average, there is an extraordinary capacity to attract medical tourists from Muslim countries and regions. The lifting of sanctions has set the ground for Iran to become a pioneering destination for medical tourism in the Middle East. Iran is one of the five most advanced countries in the field of biotechnology, producing 9 out of the 15 widely used biotechnological molecules. In many parts of Iran, including Sarein in Ardabil, Mahallat, Geno Biosphere Reserve in Bandar Abbas and Ferdows in Khorasan), there are mineral springs treating many patients. Furthermore, infertility treatment, stem cell therapy, dialysis, heart surgery, cosmetic surgery and eye surgery are conducted in Iran. Healthcare in Iran is more reliable, scientific and low-cost. Currently, one in four hospitals in the country are involved in health tourism, ranking first to fifth in the eye, heart, beauty, infertility and nervous treatment, respectively. In addition, cosmetic surgery (especially nasal) targets its own specific tourists, generating a tremendous amount of revenues in the Iranian medical tourism.

Modern, man-made Attractions

Iran is more commonly viewed desirable as a historical destination for Western tourists. Unfortunately, over the past few decades, Western media have been spreading destructive propaganda by portraying Iran as a backward country with prehistoric technology. This is evident in how most Western tourists are taken by surprise in their first visits to Iran. Today, there are numerous modern and advanced attractions, entertainment facilities and shopping malls for tourists in the capital of Iran as well as in other metropolises including Isfahan, Shiraz, Mashhad, Tabriz, and Kish Island. Considering the low cost of traveling compared to the neighboring countries, Iran enjoys a key competitive advantage for attraction of foreign tourists.

World View

Tourism Statistics

According to statistics from the Cultural Heritage, Handicrafts and Tourism Organization, the share of tourism industry in the Iranian GDP is nearly $119 million (2.4%), which is expected to rise to 4% in 2023. Currently, there are 475,000 Iranians working in the tourism-related industries, making up 1.2% of the total workforce in Iran. According to government plans, it should increase to 3.2% by 2023. According to statistics released by the World Tourism Organization, Iran's tourism industry grew by 12% during 2016, whereas the global tourism growth was only 4%. That is perhaps why the private sector investment in tourism during 2016 had an expansion rate of 20 to 30 percent. Nonetheless, according to a statement by the head of the Cultural Heritage, Handicrafts and Tourism Organization, only 4.6% of the world's foreign tourists visited Iran over the last two years. During 2013, approximately 4,800,000 people arrived in Iran during 2014 and 5,100,000 during 2015. There was a growth by 300,000 visitors later in 2016. Nevertheless, the Perspective Document, half through the Sixth Development Plan, was expected to attract nearly 8 million foreign tourists into Iran.

According to the World Economic Forum (WEF) on the indicators of tourism competitiveness in Iran compared to its regional contenders, Iran experienced desirable growth in many indicators over recent years. In fact, the Iranian tourism industry ranked 114th in 2011, 98th in 2013, 97th in 2015 and 93rd in 2017, reflecting a steady 21-rung growth over six years. Iran's score in tourism competitiveness index increased from 3.3 in 2015 to 3.4 in 2017. Similarly, Iran climbed from the ninth place in 2015 to the eighth place in 2017 among Middle East countries. The attractiveness of investment in the Iranian tourism industry is evident in the growing trend of tourists arriving in Iran, the favorable statistical indicators such as competitive prices, and the rising trends in other competitiveness indicators.

Investment capacities


According to the Director General of the Office of Planning and Support for Development of Iranian Tourism, people from the Gulf countries and Iraq are less interested in visiting Iran, but European and American tourists to Iran grew by 56% from 2016 to mid-2017. Following the JCPOA, a total of 95,826 people from Western countries (mostly European) traveled to Iran from August 2015 to the next 6 months. Prior to the JCPOA, however, only 35,852 Europeans traveled to Iran between January 2013 and July 2015. Since 2013, the investment rate in the Iranian tourism industry has kept its uptrend, growing more than 6% during 2013-2016. While highlighting the constant growth over the coming years, the WHO has predicted that the upward trajectory in attracting foreign tourists to Iran will persist until 2027.

Investment Potential

Official statistics are suggestive of a global tourism turnover amounting to $800 billion per year, of which less than 0.1% is contributed by Iran. This meager share indicates that the Iranian tourism industry has failed to appropriately introduce Iran as a tourist destination and cultural country. Owing to its ancient history and numerous intact remnants from the glorious Era of Persis Civilization, Iran has the potential to excel many countries. Mismanagement in tourism plans and political instability in the Middle East are among multiple factors weakening the Iranian tourism industry in spite of its huge capacities. Aside from the current inefficiencies, Iran has not been successful in promoting its tourism industry in overseas media.

The Iranian tourism infrastructure struggles with certain shortcomings, which can be resolved through in-depth, systematic investments. One of the goals pursued by SEMEGA is to eliminate such obstacles and raise funds to improve the tourist attraction infrastructure. There are several important drawbacks in the Iranian tourism infrastructure, including:

One of the goals pursued by SEMEGA is to eliminate such obstacles and raise funds to improve the tourist attraction infrastructure.

According to many domestic and foreign experts, there is a huge capacity for growth in the Iranian tourism industry, generating revenues that keep up with oil exports. Nikola Kostic, Director of Research at Euro Monitor for the Middle East, argues: "Given the current position of Iran in the international community, it enjoys huge capacities and a bright future in the tourism industry, potentially making significant achievements in the upcoming years. With regard to its developmental capability, Iran can improve its infrastructure and face up to the transformations ahead soon to become an attractive destination for tourists intending to visit North Africa and the Middle East.” On the other hand, the WTO and UNESCO consider Iran a top 10 tourist spot owing to its numerous tourist attractions. According to National Geographic, the future of tourism in Iran seemed bleak several years ago. Since an accord was signed to curb Iran’s nuclear activities in return for sanctions relief, however, this desert flower looks set to blossom. The magazine also introduced Iran as the first destination among 16 suggestions for visiting in 2016. Iran also ranked fifth among top 10 destinations suggested by Travel + Leisure.

the WTO and UNESCO consider Iran a top 10 tourist spot owing to its numerous tourist attractions.

Experts believe that Iran has numerous attractions for tourism investment, the most important of which are: