September 27, 2015


Travel Agents Turn to Iran -- and Find Plenty of Jewish Interest (Nathan Guttman, September 27, 2015, Forward)

Ask the State Department whether it is any safer now for Americans to travel to Iran, and the answer you'll get will be unequivocally negative. The nuclear deal reached with Tehran, as a State Department travel warning makes clear, "does not alter the United States' assessment of the risks of travel to Iran for U.S. citizens."

But then ask Steve Kutay, a tour organizer to Iran based in Ashville, North Carolina.

"I tell them it's one of the safest countries I've ever visited," said Kutay, 75, a Jewish transplant from Brooklyn now settled deep in the South.

It's not like Kutay hasn't gotten this question before. "This is the first question people ask me," he noted.

But for Kutay, and for others in the business, the events of the past few months represent an opportunity to turn Iran, currently a niche destination that few Americans visit, into a prime vacation site for lovers of history, archaeology and nature.

The recently signed nuclear deal, they hope, will help lift the veil of fear and mystery surrounding Iran, and allay some of the suspicions many Americans harbor toward the country and its treatment of U.S. nationals. If Americans' mindset toward Iran does indeed shift, this select group of travel agents and tour providers stand ready to capitalize on the opening. Indeed, some are already launching new tours. Their promotional pitches promise to help tourists discover the "wonders of Persia." There are even plans for a Jewish heritage tour in the works. [...]

But business isn't the sole motivation for some of those involved in getting Americans to visit Iran; there's also a sense of mission. Some want to use their position as middlemen to help dispel preconceived notions Americans may have about the Islamic Republic.

"I feel in a way that it's a mitzvah to bring people there," Kutay said. "I've been to about 80 countries, and I haven't seen any country that Americans have more misconceptions about than Iran." [...]

"They love Americans," Kutay said of his encounters with Iranians. "When Iranians hear that you're an American, they go berserk; they want to take pictures with you, talk to you, invite you to a picnic. They're wonderful people." The more Americans that go to Iran, he believes, the easier it will become to change the way Americans perceive the country.

Posted by at September 27, 2015 7:37 AM

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