“We have selected 40 countries on the basis of our top priority for attracting tourists, out of which we have sent visa waiver requests to 28 countries and are following the issue through diplomatic channels,” he said in Isfahan.
Moreover, the Foreign Ministry has been tasked with establishing electronic tourist visa facility known as e-visa which will lead “to a transformational change enabling everyone to apply for tourist visa from their home”, Soltanifar added.
The government has further approved extending stays for visa on arrival from 15 days to 30 days.
“We are after cancelling visa requirements with the countries which provide satisfactory provisions for passage to our citizens,” Soltanifar said.
Iran has launched an ambitious plan to boost tourism income. Soltanifar said the target is to generate $25-30 billion by attracting 20 million tourists a year.
His organization has prepared a tourism investment package including 1,020 development projects which will be introduced to prospective investors “soon”.
Falak ol-Aflak Castle in Khorram Abad in Iran's Lorestan Province
Last year, tourism earnings stood at $5.7 billion from 5.5 million arrivals. The figure however is dwarfed by Iranians spending on foreign tours.
According to ICHTO deputy head Morteza Rahmani Movahed, cited by local media recently, Iranian travelers spent $18 billion during the last Persian year which ended on March 21, 2015. Pilgrims on major Hajj were not included in the tally.
Iraq was the primary destination of the Iranians who visit mostly for pilgrimage, followed by Turkey and Azerbaijan, according to Soltanifar.
Iran is among the world’s top potential tourist destinations with a treasure trove of ancient sites, including 17 places listed by the UNESCO. Tourism, however, is a neglected industry in a country which has mainly relied on oil exports for decades.
That attitude is changing in sync with the world view which is grooming tourism as the third biggest revenue generator after oil and car-making.