It is a not an easy task to startle Juergen Thomas Steinmetz, eTN’s publisher. But a recent trip to Iran had him bewildered and puzzled, for a second at least. He was asked the question, “Do you think I am a terrorist?” by an Iranian photographer we shall refer to as “Saeed,” who had been filming the group of international travel and tourism executives.
“For the full five days of the Iranian Tour Operator Association tour, ‘Saeed’ covered the group’s excellently-organized tour of the country by 132 delegates from 48 countries who were attending Iran’s first-ever International Tour Operators Convention (ITOC),” Steinmetz said.
“I told ‘Saeed’ how much we – all the delegates – appreciate the hard work and the overwhelming hospitality we have been receiving from the Iranian tourism industry on this trip,” Steinmetz continued, adding that he saw some tears come out of “Saeed’s” eyes upon hearing Steinmetz’s words. “We are friends ever since.”
Without the vision and leadership of Dr. M.S. Malkzadeh, tourism deputy at Iran’s Cultural Heritage Handicraft’s and Tourism Organization, and Ebrahim Pour Faraj, chairman of the Iranian Tour Operator Association, the historic trip and mission to Iran would not have been possible. “The trip was unprecedented and it very much succeeded in fostering a kind of people-to-people understanding among all the various nationals involved, including a high delegation of US travel and tourism executives,” added Steinmetz.
According to Steinmetz, because of eTurboNews’ profile in Iran and his capacity as the publication’s publisher, he was one of the three non-Iranian speakers at the opening ceremony of ITOC. In his speech, he said: “By us gathering here today, it proves that tourism is the bridge that connects cultural divides. Now that the gate has opened for better ties, I am optimistic about the future of tourism in this great country called Iran, which has so much to offer to the world not only in terms of tourist attractions but in friendships as well. Friends through tourism, tourism through friendships. Being a travel and tourism industry veteran, I see such great promise.”
Other non-Iranian speakers included representatives from UNWTO and UNESCO.
According to Steinmetz, he graciously shared his speech time with International Institute for Peace through Tourism founder Louis De’Amore, who went on to highlight the role of tourism in bridging cultural and geographical divides.
eTurboNews brought a group of 22 travel trade professionals and some very high-profile tourism executives to the event. Publisher Juergen Thomas Steinmetz thanked the Iranian organizers for work well done and shared his own vision: that tourism is a bridge for understanding and peace between nations of different cultures.
His vision was echoed by speeches given by Dr. Malekazdeh and Mr. Faraj and also more eloquently expressed by the keynote address by Iranian Vice President Esfandyar Rahim Mashaee, who also serves as the president of Iran Cultural and Tourism Organization.
“Delegates left Iran with bags of gifts and pleasant memories a week ago today,” added Steinemtz. “After the first day’s activities in Tehran, the international delegates then went on to experience a magnificent tour of Krish, Isfahan, and Shiraz, showing the sights and people in those cities.”
The work that eTurboNews has been doing in aggressively pushing for Iran to open its tourism industry has been many years in the making. Steinmentz met privately with Dr. Malekzadeh to talk about future endeavors. Among those discussed is the possibility of a change in visa procedure as soon as within the next three months. Iran, according to Steinmetz, is keen on going forward with electronic visas upon arrival for most nationalities. Dr. Malekzadeh believes that Iran could become a key destination for visitors from Europe, North America, and Asia.
Iran has also expressed great interest in cooperating with Middle East countries and their airlines with a very specific focus: to become an extension for trips to those destinations.
According to the head of the Iranian Hotel Industry, new hotel developments that “will have western standards” are being planned for key areas in Iran.