January 3, 2014
KNOWING YOUR ALLIES:
Iran wants American tourists, and a boomlet has begun (Christopher Reynolds, December 30, 2013, LA Times)
Posted by Orrin Judd at January 3, 2014 2:45 PM[T]he U.S. government has never blocked travel to Iran the way it has restrained travel to Cuba. Thus, when Iran's new leadership started showing signs of increased openness to the West after Rouhani's election in June, U.S.-based tour operators quickly saw a jump in curiosity about visiting Iran.Janet Moore, owner of the Long Beach-based tour operator Distant Horizons, said she arranged Iranian trips for 50-60 U.S. travelers in 2013. In 2014, she expects that number to be at least 250 people, including three trips in connection with the World Affairs Council of Philadelphia and one with the San Francisco-based Commonwealth Club of California.Barring disasters, Moore said, in 2015 there will be "even more, because we've already got departures for UCLA, Berkeley and Stanford" with other university groups bookings likely.At San Francisco-based Geo Ex (formerly known as Geographic Expeditions) - which has been taking travelers into Iran since the early 1990s and brought 50-60 Americans there in 2013 -- CEO Jean-Paul Tennant said he's hoping to double traffic to Iran in 2014.Though it comes across in the popular press as "an unfriendly place for Americans," Tennant said, GeoEx travelers have returned "raving about the warmth and openness of the Iranian people. Of all the places we at GeoEx send our clients, Iran stands out as the one with the biggest gap between pre-trip perceptions and on-the-ground reality."At Seattle-based Caravan-Serai Tours, owner Rita Zawaideh says she'll probably expand from two group trips to Iran in 2013 to three next year, and she expects to arrange an additional 10 or more individual trips - more than she's had in the last several years.In September, Zawaideh and Moore said, they met with Iranian tourism officials in a New York gathering that included several other U.S.-based tour operators. Just to hold such a meeting "was very unusual," said Moore. "It gave me a lot of encouragement.""We in Iran should take the first step in persuading westerners that they should have no fear in coming to Iran," the Guardian newspaper quoted Mohammad-Ali Najafi , head of Iran's cultural heritage and tourism organization, saying in October.