Iranian tourism is still in its early stages but it is rapidly developing. I would even dare to say it is one of the world’s fastest growing tourism markets and I am happy to live and work in Iran to witness that growth on a daily basis. In 18 months that I have been living here I have seen a lot of positive steps being made in tourism industry. Growth in both practical projects and, more importantly, in way of thinking. Considering Iranian tourism that is just getting started obviously there is a lot of potential for development and improvement; actually so much that we could even say that only sky is the limit. One of the best things and one of the biggest potentials of Iranian developing tourism is that it doesn’t need to “reinvent the wheel”, it just need to copy good ideas from abroad and adjust them accordingly while at the same time not repeating mistakes that have been made abroad. Sustainable development is one of the things that has been talked a lot about in Iran lately. Even though many still don’t understand what exactly it is, some have done significant steps in implementing ideas of sustainable tourism into practical projects that serve as great examples for others.
One of the best examples of sustainable tourism in Iran are ideas and projects performed by a young startup – Iran nomad tours. The concept of enthusiasts behind Iran nomad tours is on such high level that it would be hard to find equivalent examples even in much more developed tourist countries.
The idea started with the fact that traditional nomadism and migrating way of life in Iran is steadily decreasing. Many nomads that still migrate actually wish to abandon their traditional lifestyle and move to the cities to find jobs. Considering that nomadism is part of Iranian cultural identity and that its value as cultural heritage is immeasurable, in Iran nomad tours they have decided to connect nomads with tourists in order to preserve their traditional lifestyle. Bakhtiari nomads migrate individually as small families and each family that migrates presents an opportunity for tourists to connect with them. Tourism of experience rather than just tourism of consumption is the growing trend in the global tourism industry so having that in mind there is no fear of lack of interest from the side of foreign tourists to join nomads in their migration. What needed to be done is just to design a concept that would be good for each party in the process – nomads and visitors. Each nomadic family that hosts foreign visitors for the duration of a few days of the migration is being paid part of the Iran nomad tours profits. That percentage reaches up to 40% of profits which is a big amount considering nomads’ financial situation and humble lifestyle. Just as important as the financial benefit is the raise of nomads’ confidence in what they do and how they live. When a group of travelers from developed western countries spends time with nomads, connects with them, photographs and writes articles about them and openly admires their lifestyle it surely sends a message that there is nothing wrong in what they do and how they live; on the contrary, it raises their confidence, self-esteem and encourages them to continue migrating.
As much as it all sounds flawless, there is a big trap that Iran nomad tours have avoided which fully shows sustainability of the project. Nomads after being paid for hosting foreign guests would obviously immediately want to have another group to earn more money. Afterward, they would probably want another one and then another one so in the end they would simply become tourist workers and stop being what they are – migrating nomads. There are examples in Iran where nomads have abandoned their migrating lifestyle in order to be in one place to welcome and perform for foreign guests. Iran nomad tours have created a network and a big list of migrating Bakhtiari families in order to always connect foreign guests with another family. By not repeating too often and by giving chance to many different families, Iran nomad tours are avoiding the risk of nomadic families becoming just tourist workers and becoming too spoiled and too comfortable with the money they earn. With this step the project planning is complete and sustainability proved – foreign guests are happy with the authentic experience of seasonal migration while nomads had financial benefits by being hosts and got recognition for their valuable traditional lifestyle.