Leaders of Iran

Saturday, April 16, 2005

Hossein Mar’ashi Hero of Iran teaching Respect for the Iranian culture

The Star Online: Lifestyle: "Respecting the Iranian culture

ONE of the most common complaints heard from non-Muslim tourists travelling in Iran is discomfort over the requirement for females above the age of eight to cover their heads.

While women are no longer required to conceal every single strand of hair – and many Iranian women, especially in Tehran, show more hair than they cover – every female still has to adhere strictly to the code.

Women must also not wear tight-fitting clothes and certainly not reveal anything more than their hands, face and maybe a little neck. Shoulders, upper arms, legs and, of course, the other parts of the body, are certainly no-nos.

However, tourists need not go overboard with the chador (similar to the tudung labuh) or the purdah (fully covered veil) unless they want to impress. These are now mainly worn by those from conservative backgrounds only.

The common perception is that women in Iran are all hidden away, living separate lives. The truth is more like this: this group of women are gleefully cheering on Laleh Seddigh, a woman race car driver who beat out the men to take the trophy at a race in Tehran stadium in January.--AFP photo
A few of the tour agents who were invited to Iran on a familiarisation tour recently called for tourists to be exempted from the rule, although this is unlikely to happen.

When asked what he thought of this suggestion, the Iranian vice-president and chairman of the Iran Cultural, Heritage of Tourism Organisation, Hossein Mar’ashi, said wearing a head covering was one way in which tourists could show respect for Iranian culture.

“When I visited Amritsar in India and entered the Golden Temple (the Sikh’s most revered temple), I was required to cover my head. It was done out of respect for local customs and laws,” he said.

He said it was acceptable for women to wear a hat instead of a scarf. “Any form of covering is all right, as long as the hair is covered,” he said.

Mar’ashi said the custom of covering the heads of females was not strictly Islamic, but more Persian. He said this was born out of the yearning to “protect women” and “ensure that due respect is accorded to them”.

This practice now has become an integral part of Iranian culture.

“For the visitor, I would say wearing the headscarf should be deemed to be part of your Iran experience,” he said."

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. "