Friday 30 September 2016

New flights to Iran help ancient destination come in from the cold

BA to fly daily this winter

Sarah Marshall

Published 16/09/2016 | 01:00

Ganjali Khan Mosque, Kerman Province, Iran.
Ganjali Khan Mosque, Kerman Province, Iran.
Lake of Taleghan Dam, Iran
Qom City, Hazrat-e Masumeh (Holy Shrine)

With major airlines launching new flights to Iran, Sarah Marshall looks at how a once off-limits destination is opening up.

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It was once considered out of bounds, but British Airways' decision to launch direct flights positions Iran as one of the hottest destinations to visit in 2017.

"Our data shows Iran is already on the radar as the UK's second most affordable long-haul country to fly to after the UAE," says Andrew Shelton, managing director at Cheapflights.co.uk.

"Now British Airways is back in Iran, other airlines may follow - Air France relaunched their service in April this year - and flight prices may fall further."

BA's Tehran flights will operate daily from London Heathow this winter.

The reopening of the Iranian embassy in London, lifting of sanctions, and the relaxing of travel advisories earlier this year have already resulted in rising bookings.

Qom City, Hazrat-e Masumeh (Holy Shrine)
Qom City, Hazrat-e Masumeh (Holy Shrine)

G Adventures (gadventures.com), which offers a 14-day Discover Persia tour from £1,599/€1,889pp (land only), has reported that sales are up 200pc year-on-year.

Rachel Wasser, the company's global product manager, cites "magnificent mosques, diverse history and unrivalled hospitality" as drawcards for the country.

Admittedly, access to Iran is still restricted, making escorted group tours the easiest option for travel. British citizens do require a tour guide, although this doesn't necessarily have to be one approved by the state (as is the case for Americans). Brits also have the freedom to use Iran's public transport.

Meanwhile, Irish visitors are advised to exercise "a high degree of caution" in Iran by the Department of Foreign Affairs & Trade. Tourist visas are granted through the Iranian consulate in Dublin (72 Mount Merrion Ave., 01 288-0252; €40).

Usit (usit.ie) and Sunway (sunway.ie) are among the Irish tour operators offering travel packages to Iran, with 14-day prices from €1,754pp (Usit).

Although Iran continues to be the focus of ongoing controversy, an agent with the direct-to-local Evaneos travel platform (evaneos-travel.com) Fatemeh, says:

Lake of Taleghan Dam, Iran
Lake of Taleghan Dam, Iran
Ganjali Khan Mosque, Kerman Province, Iran.

"While it is no secret that a number of its neighbouring countries are experiencing varying degrees of instability, Iran itself has remained a very safe place, and there is no reason why tourists should feel that a trip here poses them any sort of threat."

Instead, she says the main challenge facing the country is meeting demand for hotel rooms - although increasingly tours are incorporating homestays.

Regent Holidays (regent-holidays.co.uk) for example, which has been running trips to Tehran for several years, include nights in local houses as part of the 14-day Highlights of Northern Iran tour, starting from £3,385/€3,999pp with flights.

In the next 12 months, tourism is set to grow in Iran, and the chances are more tours and flight routes will soon follow.

- PA, with additional reporting by Pól Ó Conghaile.

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