Long Walks on the Beach: Maritime Tourism in Iran

Long Walks on the Beach: Maritime Tourism in Iran

The tourism industry generates over USD $6.5 trillion globally and today accounts for a significant part of direct and indirect revenues of many countries. For even substantial countries like Italy, Turkey, or Malaysia, tourism is among the main sources of economic value, as measured by contributions to gross domestic product (GDP).

This article will take a look at maritime tourism in Iran to understand the economic potential of Iran’s beaches and seaside. As a country with great natural beauty, an inviting seaside climate, and extensive coastlines, Iran is well positioned for maritime tourism on both its northern and southern coasts.

In a global context, research shows that investment in the tourism industry has consistently been a safe bet. In 2012 the number of tourists around the world exceeded 1 billion. According to the statistics of World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), for every tourist, 2 to 6 direct jobs and 9 to 15 indirect ones (including both skills and service-oriented professions) are created.

This industry, with all its extensions such as hotels, restaurants, shopping centers, travel agencies, along with all entities related to leisure activities and transport can make a great contribution to a country’s economy.

Within the region, Iran’s Persian Gulf neighbors Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, have made significant commitments to the development of their tourism industries, turning revenues from oil and gas into the budgets for national airlines, massive hospitality developments, and attractions like the Dubai 2020 World Expo and the Qatar 2022 World Cup.

In comparison with these massive projects, and despite huge potential, Iran's income from the tourism sector was only about USD $1 billion last year (the figure is inflated to USD $5-6 billion according to Iranian sources). But, encouragingly, projections suggest that the figure could rise to USD $20 billion by 2025. Maritime tourism will play a key role.

According to industry research, the definition of maritime tourism is as follows:

Maritime or marine tourism is one sector of the tourism industry that is based on tourists and visitors taking part in active and passive leisure pursuits or journeys on or in coastal waters, their shorelines and their immediate hinterlands. Marine leisure is a collective name for a full range of activities or pursuits that are undertaken by local people, tourists, and day visitors in these marine related localities.

In Europe alone, the maritime tourism sector employs over 3.2 million people and generates a total of € 183 billion in gross value added (GAD). As such, tourism represents over one third of the overall maritime economy. As much as 51% of bed capacity in hotels across Europe is concentrated in regions along the seashore.

As part of European Union's Blue Growth strategy, the coastal and maritime tourism sector has been identified as an area with special potential to foster a smart, sustainable, and inclusive Europe.

Countries with developed marine tourism constantly try to come up with new ideas and strategies to further expand this sector of the industry. For instance the EU Commission adopted a Communication on "A European Strategy for more Growth and Jobs in Coastal and Maritime Tourism" in February 2014, presenting a new strategy to enhance coastal and maritime tourism in Europe in order to unlock the potential of this promising sector. The communication was the result of a public consultation launched on European Maritime Day in 2013.

A similar strategy of public outreach and multi-stakeholder planning ought to be undertaken in Iran.

Iran enjoys hundreds of kilometers of superb coasts, with the world's largest lake, the Caspian Sea, in the north, and the beautiful coasts of the Persian Gulf in the south. These regions could benefit greatly from the income of maritime tourism provided the development of infrastructure and facilities required for expansion of the sector. Unlike many countries, Iran has two distinct coastlines, with different seasonal qualities and recreational opportunities.

But a lot of development work is needed. Safety is one of the most critical areas to properly develop before marine based tourism can succeed in Iran. The nearly 5000 km of coastlines in Iran call for the establishment of coast guard and search and rescue teams at Iran’s ports—with the requisite training and vehicles to enforce and monitor tourist safety.

The statistics on the casualties along Iran's shores should undoubtedly alarm officials and compel them to further and more precisely address the safety and security issue in maritime travels. Tourists, who are not familiar with the dangers of particular areas, remain 4 times more likely to drown than locals along parts on Iran's coast. Until safer conditions are in place, many Iranian and international travelers will continue to choose other countries seeking a seaside vacation where fewer risks (and better amenities) may await them.

Only when the safety concerns have been addressed will the efforts of Iran’s Ministry of Tourism succeed in coordinating investment opportunities to develop hospitality and leisure facilities along the Iranian coast. Areas like Kish have long been envisioned as a tourist paradise, but have yet to reach their full potential.

By developing its maritime tourism sector, Iran could not only tap into significant economic growth, but also present a better image of the country to visiting tourists from around the world.   



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