Tourism development and marketing in difficult destinations, a case study of Iran

Rights statement
Awarding institution
  • University of Strathclyde
Date of award
  • 2012
Thesis identifier
  • T13290
Qualification Level
Qualification Name
Department, School or Faculty
  • The thesis explores the issue of development and marketing tourism in a difficult destination. Although the notion of a difficult destination has no formal definition, it does imply a situation where for a combination of reasons both internal and external to a country, it is difficult to market it to potential tourists. Countries as diverse as Northern Ireland, Cuba, Lebanon, Ivory Coast and Zimbabwe are past and present examples. In this study the country used as the case study is the Islamic Republic of Iran. Since the Islamic Revolution in 1978, the country has experienced often turbulent political and economic change including volatile international relations with other countries, all factors which tend to jeopardise the development of international tourism. From a trawl of the relevant literature and also derived from the extensive work experience of the author in the Iranian tourism sector and also in marketing it abroad, three research questions were identified. First, to what extent do the internal barriers to tourism in Iran including culture in its many forms; religious issues; national policies relating to tourism; political issues; business issues; infrastructure; and human resources, make Iran a difficult destination to develop and market? Second, to what extent do external barriers including the present image of Iran in the main tourist-generating markets; travel restrictions to and within the country; the media and its role in shaping and reshaping destination image, make Iran a difficult destination to develop? Third, what strategies can be developed to lessen these barriers on the one hand, and promote tourism development on the other? Due to the paucity of available and reliable tourism data and the absence of previous studies, it was considered necessary to facilitate the research on a qualitative approach. Using the case study method and based on 25 interviews with key figures in four areas: government (8); tourism associations (5); academics (4); and tour operators (8), interviews were arranged using a semi-structured questionnaire. Interviews were conducted in Persian and translated back to English. Data was analysed using a thematic approach using the ten categories identified above. The case study approached produced a very rich source of information related to the research questions. The major findings centred on the suggestion that government did not practically appreciate or value the tourism sector. It was argued that government intervention since the Islamic Revolution was at best spasmodic, lacked coordination, and displayed no consistent approach to supporting the sector. The absence of any formal communication channel between government and the private sector to share and discuss issues of concern was evidence of this. Many of the interviewees believed that this situation was a consequence of senior clerics being concerned that foreign tourists would disregard and disrespect the culture and behavioural norms of the Islamic Republic. Interviewees strongly rejected this view as a misperception and stated that Iran's culture and traditions were the main reasons for tourists to come to the country, and that there was no evidence of tourists' misbehaving or lacking respect for social and religious norms. Of more concern as potential barriers to tourism development was the poor infrastructure, deficiencies in human resource training and planning, difficulties in accessing the country due to visa regulations and related facilitation issues such as failure to approve the use of credit cards. It was recognised that in recent years Iran had not received favourable international media attention. However, it was suggested that any misconceptions and errors of fact could be overcome through a media strategy devised jointly be government and the private sector and implemented on a consistent basis. Recommendations of the study include that government should prioritize tourism as an option for diversification of the country's oil-based economy; develop a formal communication channel with the private sector and some privatisation of current government services should be introduced on a staged basis; create a better image of Iran as a tourist destination; an approach be made to better inform and educate senior authorities about the potential of tourism as part of the country's development strategy; that tourism policies and plans be reviewed, changed as appropriate and necessary, and implementation strategies be agreed; and generally, that tourism initiatives are better coordinated. This is the first detailed study of the tourism sector in Iran based on industry expertise and opinion. It has been prepared in a period of economic and political turbulence and is presented very much as a foundation study. Further research is urgently required and among priority areas are: preparation of a human resources development plan; a review and analysis of existing tourism policies and plans; create a relevant and pro-active marketing strategy; specific legislative and financial support for tourism SMEs and small businesses. This research would help to betterinform decision-making for tourism and facilitate the use of Iran's tourism assets.
Resource Type
Date Created
  • 2012
Former identifier
  • 948399