Tourism has become the world’s largest export industry, generating huge employment opportunity in the remote and backward areas. It is estimated that tourism for 13% of the total world exports and 8.2 % of the global employment. By looking at the world tourism industry position in 2006, it is revealed that up to 760 million people were traveled in this year. World incomes from this industry were calculated about 700 billion US $ that is around 10 % of total world gross incomes. Tourism 2020 Vision is the world tourism organization’s long-term forecast and assessment of the development of tourism in the first 20 years of the new millennium. Tourism 2020 Vision forecasts that international arrivals are expected to reach nearly 1.6 billion by the year 2020. The total tourist arrivals by region shows that by 2020 the top three receiving regions will be Europe (717 million tourists), East Asia and the Pacific (397 million) and the Americas (282 million), followed by Africa, the Middle East and South Asia. According to WTO report, Iran is among the world’s top 10 in term of tourism attractions but figures release by the top international tourism body indicate that ,Iran despite its rich culture and historical venues has a partly share of 0.01 percent in global tourism revenues .However, only 0.05 percent of global tourists visit Iran every year. According to the WTO report in 2006, Iran ranked 70th between all countries of world and 13th among Muslim countries with respect to the number of tourists arrivals, which reached on 700000 and 77th place with respect to tourism revenues reaching 477 million US $. However, in this paper it is tried to review potentials and limitations of tourism industry in Iran. Experts believe that there are much potential for developing this sector in country but there is need to many changes in many fields.

A brief look at Iran

Iran with 1648000 square kilometer area and 70 million people is one of the largest countries in the Middle East. This country is bordered to the north by the countries of Armenia, Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan and the Caspian Sea; to the east by Afghanistan and Pakistan; to the south by the Gulf of Oman and the Persian Gulf; and to the west by Iraq and Turkey (Figure 1). The country is dominated by three mountain ranges: the fertile, volcanic Sabalan and Talesh ranges in the north-west; the very long, Jurassic-era Zagros range, down the western border; and the dominant Alborz range, home of Iran’s highest mountain, the permanently snowcapped Damavand (5670m/18,600ft), to the north of Tehran. The two great Iranian deserts, the Dasht-é Kavir (more than 200,000 sq km/78,000 sq mi) and the Dasht-é Lut (more than 166,000 sq km/64,740 sq mi), occupy most of the north-east and east of the central plain.

Tourism and Eco-tourism potentials in Iran Iran is a unique country in terms of its tourist attractions and abundant resources. The most important characteristics of the country are its diverse natural and ecotourism attractions, religious, ethical and cultural diversity, its national and Islamic architectural style, diverse climatic conditions and above all its people’s hospitality. Iran is not only a nation with reach historical and cultural sites but, it has unique environment and nature in which four season of the year could be observed. There are 17 kinds of climates in the world that 12 kinds of them can be seen in Iran. The numbers of registered historic buildings are 11000 and many historical works and buildings of Iran have been registered in the list of world cultural heritage. According to many foreign, Iran’s archeology, cultural heritage, traditions and diversity of nature are the main factors which attract foreigners to Iran. Some Physical attractions Due to their physical and climatic location which is located in volcanic and high pressure belts of world, Iran has a series of topographic, geomorphic, geologic and climatic characteristics. Some of the important features of physical attractions in Iran are listed bellow: High mountain chains such as Elburz and Zagros with their splendid peaks such as Damavand with 5671 m, Dena with 4409 m, Sabalan with 4811 m, Sahand with 3347 m, Shirkuh with 3313 m and Taftan with 4042 meter above sea level are only some of the most examples. Forests and protected natural zones in north (figure 2)and west parts of Iran also very beautiful mangrove jangles in Persian Gulf. Very wonderful Karstic features for examples Alisadr and Goori Gale caves in provinces of Hamedan and Kermanshah. Very beautiful lakes such as lakes of Urmia, Hamoon, Maharloo, Zarivar, Bakhtagan and others. Splendid islands that some of them very famous such as Kish and Gheshm. Marshes and their scarce species of animal and plant for example Anzali marsh in Gilan province. Rivers, such as Karoon , Zaiande Roud , Aras and others. Sand dunes, salty playas and many other features in desert region of Iran. Mineral waters and hot water springs such as tourist zones around Sabalan, Damavand and Taftan mountains. Sarein city is one of them.

Some historic attractions

Iran has a long history so there are many Islamic and pre-Islamic buildings and works in Iran. A few examples are: -Ruins of Perspolis(figure 3) , Naghshe Rostam, Pasargad, Arg-e- Karim Khan and Bazar-e- Vakil (Shiraz),Arg-e- Bam (Bam),Ali Ghapoo, Chehelsotoon and Imam square (Isfahan), Houses of Boroojerdiha , Tabatabaeiha and very nice air traps(Kashan), Ruins of Hegmatane and Ganjname(Hamedan), Arge Alishah and Azure mosque (Tabriz), Tagh-eBostan and Bisotoon(Kermanshah), Falakol Aflak castel (Khorramabad), Shahr-esookhte(near Zabol), Masjed-e- Jame and Tkieye Amir Chakhmagh (Yazd).

Some cultural attractions

Due to location of Iran among ancient civilizations, there are many tribes who live in throughout Iran. Tribes of Fars, Turk, Arab, Kurd, Lor, Balooch, Turkmen and others have lived in Iran from ancient times. Cultural characteristics of Iranian tribes beside their similarities have many attractions for a lot of world tourists. Some of these are: – About 5 per cent of total Iran’s people live in the form of migration which called Ashaier or Ilat. These immigrant people mainly lives in Ardebil, east Azerbaijan, Kermanshah, Lorestan, Fars and some other provinces and have many special various marriage and mourning ceremonies which can attracts many tourists.

– About 40 per cent of Iranians living in rural regions. From this view point the rural communities of Iran have a high potential for developing the rural tourism that is one of the important kind of tourism. Virgin rural areas, handcrafts of rural peoples various ceremonies of rural communities are only some of these attractions. – Handcrafts of Iranian tribe’s show rich culture and civilization of Iran. Handcrafts such as carpet, inlaid works, relief works, pottery and many other works are a few examples of cases. – One of the important cultural attractions of Iran is the tombs of outstanding persons such as Hafez (figure 4)and Sadi in Shiraz, Ferdosi in Tous Baba Taher and Aboo Ali Sina in Hamedan, Khaghani and Shahriar in Tabriz, Attar and Omar Khayyam in Neishaboor , and others are only some of the cases.

Iran tourist Attraction - Atash Kadeh

Iran tourist Attraction – Atash Kadeh

Some religious and pilgrimage attractions

There are around 70000 shrine and tombs in Iran which belongs to grandsons of Shiite Imams. Some of these shrines are famous for all Shiite Muslims around the world but others only famous for local peoples. Outside of Iran there are near 250 million Shiite Muslims that 25 million of theirs travel each year. So there is a high potential for expansion of pilgrimage tourism in Iran. Existence of Imam Reza shrine in Mashhad(figure 5), shrine of Masoome in Qom, shrine of Imam Khomeini in Tehran and others indicates the high capacities of Iran for developing the pilgrimage tourism. As the economy picks up and more Iranians are able to go on vacation, domestic tourism is turning into an important economic sector. Over the last decade the number of domestic tourists has increase on average between 5% and 10% each year. Studies show that in 2006 about 25 million pilgrims traveled to Mashhad. According to says of Khorasan province governers,the incomes of Mashhad from pilgrims in this year were 3000 billion Rials( about 300 million US $)(19). It is predicted that during next 20 years each year about 46 million tourists will travel to Mashhad for pilgrimage Imam Reza shrine and other pilgrimage places of this city (11). Beside the above mentioned shrines, shrine of Shah-e- Cherag in Shiraz, shrine of. Abdolazim in Ray, shrine of Jalaladdin Ashraf in Astanei-e- Ashrafie, shrine of Seyyed Mohammad Agha in Jolfa are important than others. Also there are many historic mosquesin throughout Iran that respectable for many of world Muslims. Mosque of Sheikh lotfollah in Isfahan, mosques of Jame in Yazd and Naein, mosque of Vakil in Shiraz, mosque of Azure in Tabriz are some examples of these mosques. As we say about the religious and pilgrimage tourism in Iran, it doesn’t rely only to Islamic heritage and pilgrimage buildings. There are many holy and pilgrimage places for followers of other religions such as Zoroastrianism, Christianize and Judaism. Worship and holy places for Christians such as Vanak Church in Isfahan, Tataoos Church in Makoo and St Stefano’s Church in Jolfa attracts each year many Christians. The most important holy and pilgrimage places for Zoroastrians in Iran consist of Check Checko fire temple in Yazd and temple of Takhte Soleyman In Takab. Important pilgrimage places for Judaism in Iran consist of Shrine of Ester Mordakhai in Hamedan,Shrine of Prophet Daniel in Shoosh(figure 6) and shrine of Prophet Haiaghoogh in Tooyserkan.