As yet another newspaper runs a glorious ode to Iran as one of this years hottest tourist destinations, I wonder, does this represent a shift in Western attitudes towards Iran?
Earlier this year the Guardian published an article touting Iran as one of its ‘holiday hotspots‘ for 2014. The Financial Times followed suit claiming, ‘Thirty-five years after it dropped off the tourist map, Iran may be set to return to the top of ‘must-visit” lists for 2014‘. And this week, the Daily Telegraph wrote an article claiming that ‘Iran is 2014’s surprise tourism hit‘. Every time I read an article like this my heart soars as it is so rare to read anything about Iran that isn’t a regurgitation of some version of the beardy-weirdy-nuke-loving-terrorists story. If you know what I mean.
Now a closer look at these articles shows that they all cite the travel company Wild Frontiers as their main source so admittedly, this could just be a very good PR campaign by a travel agency. But I think there is more to this story than that. After years of only being written about through the prism of being seen as an axis-of-evil pariah state, Iran is now beginning to be seen it for what it really is – a culturally diverse, artistically rich, beautiful country.
The importance of such a shift in thinking can’t be underestimated in the wider geopolitical context and the campaign by some quarters of the American and British governments for increased military aggression against Iran. The hatchet job response to the above stories from Fox News is revealing. Their headline ‘Iran makes pitch for tourists as Americans languish in its prisons‘ says it all. Clearly not everyone wants more Westerners to visit Iran. The article goes on to quote an Iranian living in America saying, “Every time a tourist spends money in Iran, they directly or indirectly support the Revolutionary Guard and this radical government”.
Such a concept is, of course, completely ridiculous. I mean everytime I buy a burrito in San Francisco, I’m not directly or indirectly supporting American foreign or national policy. I’m just having a tasty snack. And meeting people. And connecting with them. And learning about their culture. In a world where so much of the information we get about other countries is fed through a distorted government and media lens, actually travelling to a supposedly contentious place and seeing for yourself what is happening there is the best way to truly understand its people.
So yes, go visit Iran! It has so much to offer tourists. Nature lovers and hikers will adore its geographically diverse landscapes which encompass rice paddies, tea plantations and forests in the sub-tropical north, mountains and deserts in the middle, and tropical warm waters in the south. You can lose yourself in bustling cosmopolitan mega-cities such as Tehran, explore exquisite Islamic art and architecture in Isfahan and Shiraz, visit ancient archaeological sites such as Persepolis, and of course, eat amazing food, everywhere. In fact, lately I’ve been thinking that one day I’d love to organise some foodie holidays around Iran, doing some culture and cooking. Who’s in?