Iranian tourism officials will discuss the possibility of relaxing visa regulations with China, Japan, and South Korea in the next few months, according to the head of Iran’s Cultural Heritage, Handicrafts and Tourism Organization.
Zahra Ahmadipour said delegates from the three countries will travel to Iran in the coming months to hold talks on the subject, adding that further discussions will be held with China on the sidelines of the 22nd UN World Tourism Organization General Assembly (Sept. 11-16) in the Chinese city of Chengdu, according to local media.
“Japan is a priority source market for countries looking to develop their travel industry, so they’re devising comprehensive plans,” she said. “However, our share of the Japanese outbound tourism market is insignificant … That needs to change.”
China is also a top target for Iran, ranking in the top five in Iran’s list of target markets. Chinese tourists are high-spenders and in 2016 splurged around $261 billion on foreign travel, setting a new record.
The East Asian nation is also the world’s largest outbound travel market with around 135 million Chinese tourists traveling abroad last year.
South Korea’s outbound travel market has also been growing rapidly since 2011, increasing by over 52% to 19.3 million in 2015. In 2015, South Koreans spent more than $21.2 billion on their foreign trips.
Iran has been pursuing visa-free travel and relaxed visa regulations with target countries for years. In 2015, Tehran mutually abolished the visa regime with Georgia and Armenia, and announced that it was offering visa on arrival at airports to citizens of more than 180 countries.
Talks are reportedly being held with Azerbaijan and India to agree on visa-free travel, while the visa regime with Russia is expected to be abolished by the end of 2017.
Decisions on visa regulations will ultimately require the approval of the Foreign Ministry, which has a strict policy of reciprocity when it comes to issuing visa waivers.
Some industry players say unilaterally abolishing the visa regime in certain cases may be more beneficial, but the ICHHTO does not agree.
“The ministry’s stance here is correct. Unilaterally abolishing visa procedures will not help improve the global standing of Iran’s passport,” Ali Baqer Nemati Zargaran, director of the Promotion and Marketing Office, said months ago.
A passport’s strength is calculated based on the freedom of travel it provides, i.e. the number of countries the passport holder can travel to without applying for a visa. Iran currently ranks 92, according to Passport Index.