Tour operators in waiting mode on Iran

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The Azadi Tower in Teheran.
The Azadi Tower in Teheran. Photo Credit: Lindsay Fincher, MIR Corp.

President Trump's executive order barring entry to the U.S. from Iran (along with six other countries) has spurred the Iranian government to threaten reciprocal action, just as U.S. travel companies were seeing a surge in interest in Iran.

Iran's Foreign Ministry issued a statement over the weekend asserting that the Iranian government "will take reciprocal measures in order to safeguard the rights of its citizens until the time of the removal of the insulting restrictions of the government of the United States against Iranian nationals."

Until more is known about reciprocal measures, tour operators -- many of which have only recently added Iran itineraries to their rosters -- said that for now they are proceeding with planned departures.

"Last week, we announced our new tour of Iran with departures starting in July. While we do not know where U.S.-Iran relations will be in six months, we do know that our travelers have spoken clearly about their desire to discover Iran," said Greg Geronemus, co-CEO of SmarTours.

Geronemus said that within 48 hours of announcing the Iran tour, the company had sold out multiple departure dates, and that it will continue to offer its 11-day "Iran: Ancient Persian Wonders" tour from July through November. "If Iran's borders remain closed to Americans, we will cancel the tours and provide travelers a full refund or apply the deposit to another tour of choice," added Geronemus.

Iran topped luxury tour operator Abercrombie & Kent's "Where to Go in 2017" list. The company said Monday that it had not received any cancellations for its recently added Iran tours. A&K said that it was working to obtain full and accurate information from both the U.S. and Iranian governments to determine the way forward.

Iran foreign minister Javad Zarif tweeted over the weekend that "unlike the U.S., our decision is not retroactive. All with valid Iranian visa will be gladly welcomed."

Intrepid Travel has been running Iran tours since 2012. The program has grown from a single itinerary to two itineraries with a total of 40 departures this year. Iran has been the company's fastest-growing destination in the Middle East, with 35% growth among North American travelers last year.

Thus far, Intrepid has not received any Iran cancellations and has advised customers that U.S. travel to Iran is "business as usual for now."

"Anyone with a valid Iranian visa, including U.S. citizens, should not have any concerns entering Iran," Intrepid advised, adding that there has been some speculation that there could be changes to Iran's policy in the coming days, which could mean that Iran stops issuing authorization codes for U.S. passengers. According to Intrepid, travelers need an authorization code from the Iranian government to travel to the country.

Added Intrepid, "Iran has been known to do this periodically for U.S. travelers without notice or official advice."

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