Requisites of Iran's Tourism Diplomacy

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Dr. Mohammad Ali Najafi
Vice President and Head of Iran Cultural Heritage, Handicrafts and Tourism Organization

Although the “tourism industry” has drawn a lot of global attention during the past three decades as a way of promoting development efforts in many countries, in Iran, however, two major problems have prevented correct understanding of this industry:

1. The managers, planners and other officials involved in Iran's tourism industry still lack profound understanding of the true nature of this industry. They have, therefore, only sufficed to publicity around the economic advantages of this industry by focusing on such issues as “practical needs of tourists” as well as “financial profits and losses” emanating from it.

2. Even when making plans to promote and expand tourism industry in Iran, activation of natural, historical and cultural potentials of the country has been given an insignificant share in such plans. Instead, almost the entire attention has been focused on special models out of all the diverse models that exist for the development of tourism industry. A simple visit to Dubai, or Turkey, Malaysia and Thailand and seeing multitudes of foreign tourists who do not comply with the cultural norms of the host society is enough to foster misunderstandings about the broader concept of tourism industry. Such experiences will make the tourism industry seem to be at odds with the cultural values of Iran as a result of which, negative and hasty reactions will be naturally shown by the society to further development of this industry. These two groups of opponents and proponents of the development of tourism industry have a common denominator: both of them believe that tourism is profitable, but at the same time, it can be the source of various threats and deviant behaviors in the society. The main point of difference between these two groups is about their positions on the acceptance or rejection of this industry. The mention made of the above specific and limited experiences cannot help to provide a suitable standard against which the importance of tourism can be measured. Nor such experiences can be used as a firm basis to refute arguments about the necessity of developing tourism. As a result, if either of these views were taken as the basis for working on tourism, no effort would be ever made for the management of national values in tourism.

We must draw the attention of both groups to the fact that tourism industry, like any other human activity, is based on supply and demand. If tourists really find a place attractive, they are sure to respect all the social values of the host country. On the other hand, a host country aware of its own values will never be ready to sell them at a low price. Therefore, the more valuable is the commodity which is being supplied, the more avid will the customer be while the seller will be also more proud of what it has. It would not be difficult to make tourists understand that Iran is not a good destination for hedonistic activities and debauchery which is at odds with our social values. We can elaborate that Iran seeks those tourists who are ready to pay the price for visiting a worthy location by remaining committed to the values, rites and customs of the society.

Such logic would be only accepted when foreign tourists can be made believe that Iran enjoys really lofty values, which attaches great importance to them. As a result, a true foreign tourist would be ready to accept certain restrictions on his/her behavior in order to have a direct experience with those values. If they think that Iran is not an important place or that Iran has nothing important to offer and Iranians are not willing to have even those foreigners who accept the restrictions in their country, this would be the most important obstacle on the way of correct understanding of tourism benefits. Here, the main issue is to have or not to have cultural self-confidence; a very important factor whose absence has deprived Iran of the benefits of its tourism attractions.

It is us who can show to the world that how unique, special and unparalleled are the nature, history, social relations, traditions and insight of Iranians. Iran, per se, is a rich and intrinsically attractive dream. At the same time, the old age of Iran's cultural life has helped to impart ancient originality and huge diversity to that dream.

In a world where renewed emphasis is being put on diversity and originality of cultures following two centuries of efforts which aimed to encourage unification of the world, being Iranian can suddenly turn out to be an asset and advantage provided that, out of all different kinds of tourism, we take “cultural tourism as the main norm for drawing attention to this industry. Figures released by the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) show that while the global tourism industry has been growing at a general rate of 1.9 percent per year, that part of tourism, which seeks to come to grips with the culture and history of other countries, has experienced the most rapid growth during the past 30 years at an average annual rate which is ten times higher than the growth rate of other sectors of tourism industry. This group of tourists has explored a large part of countries with rich culture and civilization during the past decades and is now knocking on our doors. For them, the land of Iran is mysterious and out of reach, just like the moon which is hidden behind the clouds in a moonlit night. This issue has provided us with a brilliant opportunity. Cultural tourism can even provide grounds for the development of other forms of tourism, including ecotourism, medical tourism, adventure tourism, and sports tourism. In other words, such alternative forms of tourism can supplement cultural tourism. However, what benefits and positive outcomes will come out of developing this form of tourism for our country? The main advantages of cultural tourism for Iran can be enumerated as follows:

1. On a global scale, it will encourage more interaction in order to know more about others and be known by them. Therefore, it can serve as an effective factor to remind the Iranian society about the Iranian identity and its forgotten values. In this way, it will be able to energize cultural prosperity of the country and bring its many capacities into action. When it becomes clear to all the Iranians that there are multitudes of tourists in the world who are ready to take the trouble of traveling to visit the originality of their culture and land, they will certainly spare no effort to get close to their original culture. And what will be more beneficial to Iranians than being a true Iranian?

2. On a national scale, it promotes correct understanding of the position and status of diverse ethnic and cultural identities that are embedded in the Iranian culture. As a result, domestic tourists will recognize every region of the country in association with its original specifications. As a result, there would remain no unknown place in Iran and Iranians will not associate one another with a host of misunderstandings and suspicions. Therefore, the spite and animosity will turn into tolerance and friendship.

3. On a local scale, it would serve as a vehicle to give reminders which can help people to know themselves and find their true values again. Such a knowledge is more a result of remembering the past, rather than learning anything new. In this state, we set off on a trip during which we will obtain an understanding of what we have, what we are, and where we live by exploring commonalities and points of difference. As such, our destination turns into a virtual mirror in which we can explore our true image.

The ultimate goal of tourism should be to provide a ground in which a virtual mirror would exist and everybody can look at that mirror in order to know themselves better. In this way, national adversity, which has taken root during the past century through adoption of policies, which aim to unify and standardize diverse cultural identities that are scattered throughout our land, will give way to national reconciliation. In the meantime and on a global level, Iran will be introduced to the world with its true cultural, or in better words, with its true face. By doing this, every foreign tourist will turn into an emissary who will introduce Iran with its good name. They will then try to introduce the unique specifications and characteristics of the Iranian culture to their fellow countrymen and will offer to the world a corrected image of the Islamic Republic.

We must take a positive approach to the development of tourism industry; not that kind of development which gives sole priority to increasing revenues, but that kind which is more about promotion. It gives priority to promotion of tourism opportunities as well as activation of our pristine capacities and idle assets. By promoting cultural tourism industry, we will be able to administer new ways of tourism diplomacy, which come under the general heading of cultural diplomacy, and will be able to introduce Iran to the rest of the world with its favorable and rich characteristics. In this way, a new face of Iran which supports a spirit of lenience, friendship and peace will be depicted before the world. By reminding ourselves and others of this reality we will be able to unconsciously do away with various forms of hatred and prejudice which have marred the true face of Iran. Promotion of tourism in this way will not need huge and staggering investment, but will open the way to the prosperity of various political, economic and social aspects of tourism which, on their own, lack enough potentials to flourish.

Source: Cultural Heritage, Handcrafts and Tourism Organization
Translated By: Iran Review.Org

*Photo Credit:  Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia

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