Iran aims to woo 2 million Chinese tourists with visa-free entry ‘within weeks’

Sophia Yan
UNESCO declared the citadel of Persepolis a World Heritage Site in 1979 - Getty Images Contributor

Iran will waive visas for Chinese visitors as early as the end of July in a bid to boost the economy, faltering under the weight of US sanctions.

Tourism officials have said they hope to attract as many as two million Chinese a year to Iran, a massive increase from the 52,000 Chinese visiting last year. 

Tapping into the Chinese tourism market could pay off in the long run. China has the world’s most outbound tourists. Last year the Chinese made nearly 150 million trips abroad, spending a whopping £233 billion overseas. And those numbers are expected to grow as more Chinese apply for passports. Now only nine per cent of the country’s 1.4 billion people hold passports.

Iran’s economy has been sliding toward recession after the US reimposed sanctions last November, heavily targeting vital oil exports and international financial transactions.

The country’s GDP is expected to shrink by 6 per cent this year, a further slide from last year’s 3.9 per cent contraction; inflation could reach 40 percent, according to the International Monetary Fund.

In response, Tehran has been looking for other ways to boost the government’s non-oil revenues. Tourism is seen as an “unsanctionable” sector,” tourism board chief Ali Asghar Mounesan told IRNA, a state media agency, in June.

In an earlier move to support tourism, Iran announced last August that it would no longer stamp visitors’ passports, allowing some to bypass a US entry ban on travellers who have visited the country.

China, one of the remaining partners in the nuclear deal that the US withdrew from last year, has openly defied the sanctions and continued to buy Iranian oil.

Tehran has threatened to abandon commitments under the nuclear deal, such as uranium stock limits, unless other countries still part of the deal – including the UK – help it to circumvent sanctions.