Tour companies say American travel to Iran up in the air

Tour companies say American travel to Iran up in the air
Wed Feb 8, 2017 11:27:44

In recent months Iran has been heating up as a popular off-the-beaten path destination for globe-trotting Americans. Now several tour companies have had to cancel trips there because of visa complications related to President Donald Trump’s travel ban

Alalam - America


After Trump ordered a ban on travelers from Iran and six other Muslim countries, Iran retaliated by saying it would no longer issue visas for Americans, though the country’s foreign minister suggested there might be exceptions.

Trump’s travel ban is being challenged in U.S. courts, but uncertainty persists over travel in both directions.

Wilderness Travel canceled April and May trips to Iran “with great regret,” said spokeswoman Barbara Banks. “The increase of interest in travel to Iran had been a wonderful development; cultural exchange and understanding is the foundation for a peaceful world.” The company had recently added three Iran itineraries, including one by train, after a successful 2016 trip.

Just two weeks ago, smarTours’ co-CEO Greg Geronemus announced that several Iran trips sold out within 48 hours. “We believe Iran is the new Cuba,” he said at the time. But last week, smarTours canceled a July trip to Iran because of visa uncertainties. SmarTours asked travelers to rebook on Iran departures later this year. “It will take a few months for this back and forth to resolve itself, but we are encouraged by the legal challenges and the political opposition within the United States to the travel ban,” Geronemus said.

Iran says it gets 5 million tourists annually, mostly from neighboring countries like Iraq. Americans represent far less than 1 percent of Iran’s tourists.

But it’s striking that Americans want to visit Iran at all given the fraught history of U.S.-Iran relations, which include CIA support for a coup in Iran in 1953, the taking of 52 American hostages in Iran in 1979 and President George W. Bush calling Iran part of an “axis of evil.”

The U.S. Tour Operators Association listed Iran among 2017’s top 10 emerging destinations along with Myanmar and Cuba. Iran itineraries often include luxury train travel, the Caspian Sea, bazaars, castles, museums, mosques and other religious sites ranging from Zoroastrian to Sufi.