Khorasan Razavi travel agencies will be rewarded $140 for every health tourist they bring to the province, local media reported on Thursday.
The move is supposed to incentivize tour operators, especially those mostly active in the area of religious tourism, to also get involved in medical tourism.
Travel agencies will also receive $30 for every pilgrim they bring to the province, according to Saeed Valizadeh, chairman of the board of Khorasan Razavi Association of Tourist Agencies, the provincial news website Mashhad Payam reported.
Khorasan Razavi is one of Iran’s most developed provinces in terms of medical tourism infrastructure.
The provincial capital Mashhad, which already attracts a third of Iran’s inbound tourists — due to the shrine of the eight imam of Shias, Imam Reza (PBUH) — boasts some of the most advanced and well-equipped hospitals in the country, such as the Razavi Hospital.
“The Iran Cultural Heritage, Handicraft and Tourism Organization has recognized the province’s potential for health tourism,” he said.
According to official statistics, the majority of the province’s inbound medical tourists come from the Persian Gulf littoral countries, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Turkmenistan, as well as other Central Asian states.
Since last summer Iranian travel agencies must receive permits from the Health Tourism Strategic Council to get involved in the lucrative sector, allowing them to promote Iranian healthcare abroad.
Currently, 5% of the province’s travel agencies are legally authorized to bring in medical tourists.
While encouraging domestic tour operators to get more actively involved in health tourism is a step in the right direction, Iran’s main challenge is attracting medical tourists. Regional countries such as the UAE, where the Dubai Healthcare City has become a medical tourist hub, and Turkey are Iran’s main competitors.
Recently, the state-run Turkish Airlines started offering medical tourists a 50% discount on plane tickets in an attempt to revive the country’s lagging tourism sector and offset losses incurred by the political fallout between Ankara and Moscow and the ongoing bloody violence between security forces and Kurdish separatists.
Iran’s annual revenue from health tourism is between $400 million and $500 million, while the target is to reach $2.5 billion.
The ICHHTO has reportedly prepared a plan of action, expected to go into effect as part of the next economic development Plan (2016-21), which outlines measures to help develop the key health tourism sector.
Source: The Financial Tribune