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Iran is not what you think: how media image of a country differs from reality

Through the internet or in person, you can find countless travelers who had mixed feelings about Iran before arriving. Attitudes, stereotypes and perceptions that completely change at the beginning of the excursions to the Islamic Republic.

You may hear something like, “A whole different perspective!”; “Iran is (at all) not what I imagined it would be!”; “I’m impressed with how the media shows a different picture”; “Contrary to popular belief, Iran is extremely safe with the friendliest people I have ever met.” “When we think of Iran, we tend to think only of negative things”; or “I thought before that it was dangerous to look at some of the western news”.

So far, limited tourism research has drawn attention to the impact of the media on attitudes of citizens who form positive, negative, and neutral stereotypes about a country. However, conducting a scientific survey using standard questioners and methods can be of great help in this regard.

You may hear something like, “A whole different perspective!”; “Iran is (at all) not what I imagined it would be!”; “I’m impressed with how the media shows a different picture”; “Contrary to popular belief, Iran is extremely safe with the friendliest people I have ever met.” “When we think of Iran, we tend to think only of negative things”; or “I thought before that it was dangerous to look at some of the western news”.

Many travel experts believe that because of such a “media war”, Iran is still “unknown” to many potential travelers around the world. Others see better prospects for the country’s tourism sector if it can successfully implement anti-propaganda and sanction strategies under US leadership.

In this context, the Tehran Times raised the issue with the Minister for Cultural Heritage, Tourism and Crafts, Ali-Asghar Mounesan, who paid a visit to the daily on October 3rd. The following are excerpts from a conversation with the Minister:

Q: Many western tourists that I have spoken to or who have read their travelogues on various blogs and websites said before entering the country they had a very different view of Iran and its people. Some of them had received strong advice from relatives or friends who said they should not go to Iran. The question now is how does your department use this ability to showcase the real face of the country and attract more potential travelers.

“This is absolutely correct because one of the functions of tourism is to convey cultural messages and introduce a country and a nation. Our country is facing this problem as the arrogant powers carry out a large amount of negative propaganda campaigns,” Mounesan replied.

“These clouded mental images are generally cultivated and influenced by some Western media with the roots of anti-Islamism and anti-Iran.”

“Some tourists had developed a number of negative attitudes, perceptions and stereotypes before arriving in the country, and many of them leave the country with completely positive attitudes. Hence this is a very good capacity for our country which the tourism industry plays well. Any tourist who has had a good experience of traveling to the country can encourage several others to visit the country. And this is a natural event that exists all over the world. “

“In order to cope with the phenomenon of Iranophobia in particular, the real face of the country must be comprehensively portrayed and it must be recognized that we need a sufficient advertising budget, which we unfortunately do not have due to the sanctions and the budget deficit. We didn’t stop, however, and one of the things we did is identify famous social media characters or influencers … we did [already] brought many of them to Iran on various tours. “

Mounesan added that his ministry sees influencers and popular figures as a source who could help transform the tarnished international image.

“We invited people who have a lot of followers in cyberspace because it is very difficult for us to communicate with all the tourists who have visited Iran. Some of these tours were organized by us, others by the private sector and sometimes through partnerships. “

He cited an example and said after Iran invited a number of Chinese influencers, bloggers and media workers after waiving visas for the Chinese passport holders.

“For example, after Iran abolished visa requirements for the Chinese, we did so immediately and invited teams of Chinese news and famous people to Iran. We continued this process until the corona pandemic stopped us.”

“In order to improve the image, one of our activities is to invite media, cultural and people from a target country who are considered personalities for a reason and have a large audience in cyberspace. Their travels lay the foundation for them to get to know the people, their customs and culture and to share their travel feedback with their audience. “

In order to cope with such a propaganda campaign, the minister said: “We have recently prepared various diplomacy packages, including video clips, and distributed them to cultural attachés in Tehran’s embassies in different countries.”

“In this package, Iran tries to present its true colors on an international level and correct clouded images (often portrayed by certain Western media). It also aims to eliminate Iranophobia in order to increase the motivation to travel to Iran and increase the number of arriving tourists reached through cross-sectoral cooperation according to the provisions of a national strategic plan for tourism development. “

Iranian tourism has developed a plan of action to get the country back on its feet after the novel coronavirus threat is over. The old country includes hundreds of historical sites such as bazaars, museums, mosques, bridges, bathhouses, madrasas, mausoleums, churches, towers and mansions, 22 of which are on the UNESCO World Heritage List. As part of the Tourism Vision Plan 2025, the country aims to increase the number of tourist arrivals from 4.8 million in 2014 to 20 million in 2025.

AFM / MG

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