The Iranian tourism industry is booming
Once limited to many due to international sanctions, Iran is making a big comeback as a tourist destination.
More than 6 million people visited Iran during the year ending March 2017, up 50% from the previous year and three times the number in 2009, according to official data.
The increase in visitors follows the nuclear agreement of 2015 between Tehran and the world powers which led to the lifting of numerous sanctions at the beginning of the following year.
European airlines such as British Airways and Lufthansa (DLAKY) have resumed direct flights to the country and the Iranian authorities have relaxed visa requirements. And as more people arrive, the demand for accommodation is skyrocketing.
This creates opportunities for local entrepreneurs and foreign companies.
Unlike some Western companies, which are reluctant to invest in Iran because they fear that President Trump may still torpedo the nuclear affair, international hotel chains are advancing rapidly to meet the need for more coins.
Accor de France (ACCYY) was the first channel to open in Iran in 2015. It currently operates two hotels.
Spain's Melia (SMIZF) will open its first hotel next year. Rotana of the United Arab Emirates also has a hotel in preparation at the beginning of next year and plans three more in 2020.
EasyHotel, a budget channel based on U.K, reportedly signed an agreement in July to provide 500 rooms. He did not respond to a request for comment.
And the market clearly has room for maneuver for many more players. Iran wants to attract more than 20 million visitors by 2025, according to the state tourism agency.
Many new visitors are young backpackers from Europe and Asia, drawn by Iranian history and culture. The most popular destinations include the ancient cities of Esfahan and Shiraz. It is also home to Persepolis, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Many of these travelers are looking for cheap accommodation, said Jalal Rashedi, who runs five hostels across the country. It offers bed and breakfasts for only $ 15 a night, including internet access.
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"In recent years, we have seen an increase in the number of young tourists, and they are individual travelers," he told CNN. "They are young, curious and adventurous people who want to discover the truth about Iran, and they stay mainly in inns."
A World Economic Forum report earlier this year called Iran the cheapest travel destination in the world.
But travelers still face obstacles.
The Americans, the British and Canadians must apply for a visa in advance, while citizens in many other western countries can get one when they arrive.
And because some sanctions remain in place, the country has few links to international banking networks and Western credit cards will not work out there.
This means it can be difficult to make advance payments to secure the reservations. To get around this, Rashedi launched a website to allow travelers to make reservations at its hostels, and those operated by others without payment.