Iran relatively safe for tourists

by Alister POOLE on August 11, 2009

Travel warnings from the U.S. Department of State didn’t stop Faith Hentschel, 65, from venturing to Iran this May to visit the rustic sites in ancient Persepolis and the colourful bazaars in Tehran.

“I had no idea what to expect,” said Hentschel, who spent two weeks in Iran after booking the trip through a private tour operator and applying for a visa. “I was stunned with the friendliness of all the Iranian people. That alone makes me want to go back.”

Iran is still a relatively rare tourist destination, creating a niche market for only a handful of tour operators who organize group trips for travellers once or twice a year. And with news of the arrest of three American backpackers, along with the June election riots and government crackdown, Iran may be an even harder sell, some travel companies said.

Officials at the U.S. Department of State say travel warnings have been implemented on Iran since the hostage crisis in 1979, when militants captured 52 American diplomats and staff. The Americans were held for 444 days. Since then, the two countries have had no diplomatic relations.

Despite worries about safety, demand for visiting Iran has grown in recent years. Last May, travel writer Rick Steves shot a 10-day video of his visit to Iran in a one-hour special that launched on PBS. The project cleared up misconceptions about Iran and sparked Americans’ interest in travelling there.

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