Leaders of Iran

Saturday, April 16, 2005

His Execllency Hossein Mar’ashi in Malaysia - Targeting tourists to visit Iran

The Star Online: Lifestyle: "Targeting tourists to visit Iran

HOSSEIN Mar’ashi has what must be one of the most difficult jobs in the world.

One of eight vice-presidents of the Islamic Republic of Iran, he is also chairman of the newly established Iran Cultural, Heritage and Tourism Organisation.

This means he has the task of attracting tourists to a country often portrayed as a cradle of Islamic fundamentalism and terrorism.

Nevertheless, unfazed by such circumstances, he is confident that he will succeed.

“I don’t think there is any difficulty in promoting tourism in Iran,” he said to a group of Malaysian journalists who had accompanied several travel agents belonging to the Malaysian Chinese Tourism Association on a familiarisation tour of Iran recently.

Man with a hard job: Hossein Mar’ashi is trying to tempt tourists to visit Iran.
What is needed, he said, is more awareness and promotion.

He said the Iranian government is very serious about developing tourism and had allocated US$30mil (RM114mil) for the next five years for this purpose.

Advertising would be high on the list of priorities. Other things include increasing infrastructure for tourists and improving existing facilities.

He said as tourism had not been a priority in the past 25 years, many facilities had not been developed.

“We are trying to cater to three markets, namely the Muslim pilgrimage market, cultural tourism market and the eco-tourism market,” he said.

Currently, the largest number of tourists comes from Europe – mainly Germans and French – followed by those from Arab countries. Asian tourists, such as those from Japan and Malaysia, came in third while Iranians residing overseas form the fourth largest group of tourists.

He said Malaysians are among the people the Iranian government is targeting because of their “closeness in terms of culture and heritage”.

Farzad Nakhaie, manager of Tehran-based Rozhan Tour and Travel, the agency that handled the familiarisation tour, said he is particularly interested in getting Chinese Malaysians to travel to Iran.

“Many Muslim Malaysians are already coming to Iran. However, there are very few Chinese Malaysians,” he said. He has been handling in-bound tours from Malaysia for around four years.

However, both Mar’ashi and Nakhaie might find that there is still a lot of hard work ahead to capture this market, as feedback from those who went on the familiarisation tour showed.

Grace Soo, whose agent handles many Middle Eastern tours, said Iran was more of a niche-market destination. “I doubt we will be able to get masses of Chinese Malaysians heading this way,” she said.

Malacca-based Yau Yee Pay agreed, saying that Iran would probably appeal more to English-speaking tourists. “But I think there are enough attractions, and the food is interesting. These may give us reason to consider something, maybe in the future,” she said.

Rozhan Tour and Travel can be contacted at #6, Ground Floor, Negin Africa Tower, Africa Boulevard, Tehran, Iran; ++98-21-879 8485; fax ++98-21-877 0181; rozhantour.com. "


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