The official Iranian monetary unit is the rial, which is abbreviated to Rl or Rls; in general, for daily exchanges, they are regulated on the basis of the toman, and a toman is the sum of ten rials.
Oil revenues make up 85% of Iranian profits in foreign currency, and 70% of national GDP is to varying degrees linked to the oil sector.
Iran is the second producer OPEC, with a production of around 3,7 million barrels per day, of which 2,4 million barrels are exported. Iran's established oil reserves amount to approximately 90 billion barrels, while natural gas reserves have been calculated at 20 thousand million cubic meters. However, it must be said that Iran's potential in the oil sector is not yet adequately exploited, because the main foreign countries, especially the US, for political reasons refuse to consider the "Iranian way" for the distribution of crude oil.
Both the geographical location of these plants and their productivity show that they can usefully respond to the needs of the Caspian States and the ex-Soviet republics: in practice, Iran can deliver its oil to the Persian Gulf ports to account of the Caspian countries, receiving equal quantities in its northern refineries (the mechanism is defined, in the technical jargon, "swap").
The port of Neka, on the Caspian, is already equipped to the necessity, and able to unload 350 thousand barrels of crude a day, but with a few extensions could accept over 800 thousand, and the same can be said of other Iranian ports on the same coast.
Neka is already connected to Teheran, and through Teheran to Tabriz, with a long pipeline 325 km (partly already used for a "swap" contract with Kazakhstan), by a railway line and by a road route that could also serve the identical purpose, and after appropriate expansions that can be realized in a short time, 350 thousand barrels of crude oil could be moved per day.
The Isfahan and Arak refineries, thanks to the connection with Teheran, are already working the oil coming from the south of Iran through special pipelines, which could be used, in a second phase, to deliver to those plants 460 thousand barrels a day of crude oil coming from the Caspian and flowing into the capital's plants.
Later it would be enough to build other 325 km of pipelines to reach the transport capacity of more than 800 thousand barrels a day, which, as we have seen, is equivalent to the production capacity of the four refineries mentioned.
The pipelines of the southern regions of Iran could eventually, in a last phase, be used to bring Russian oil directly to the Persian Gulf, that is, in the Iranian ports that overlook it and whose loading and unloading capacity are already perfectly adequate to this need.
Other collateral problems, for example the chemical compliance of the various types of crude oil do not lose the processing potential of the four refineries mentioned above have already been largely solved; among other things in the port of Neka there are plants enabled to mix the oil varieties, and plants for further filtering interventions could be built without particular difficulties.
The Iranian option for the export of Caspian crude could therefore develop into four distinct phases, each already studied and considered feasible; in the first three, the necessary connections should be made, to the appropriate flow reversals in the pipelines and to the strengthening of the operating pressures, with absolutely negligible investments; for the transition to the fourth phase, ie the abandonment of the "swap" mechanism in favor of the direct delivery of non-Iranian crude to the Persian Gulf terminals, the investments would be more substantial, because the connections between the plants should be significantly increased of Teheran, Isfahan and Arak.
But it should be emphasized that, below a certain "roof" to be fixed for the total amount of crude to be transported ("roof" already quantified by Iranian experts in 1,60 / 1,62 million barrels per day), the costs for the construction of new infrastructures, the costs of delivering crude oil by sea from the Caspian coastal states to Iran, and the costs of its pipeline transportation in Iran, moreover also offset by the pumping savings of barrels not sent to the north, would be overall very small, and time savings would be significantly cost-effective for all the states concerned (thus ultimately also for their customers)
The Iranian option is clearly the most convenient compared to any other hypothetical way to get the Caspian oil to the seas, and on this fact all the experts agree in practice. It can be added that the prospect would be extremely advantageous even if crude oil was requested not from Western countries but from East or South-Eastern Asia.
The creation of a real petrochemical industry in Iran dates back to about thirty years ago.
Previously, various sector bodies had been set up within various Ministries; the first organized agency was the Chemical Enterprise, affiliated to the Ministry of Economy. The main result of its activity was the birth of the chemical fertilizer factory of Marvdasht (near Shiraz, Fars region) between the 1959 and the 1963.
In the 1963 a law established that all the initiatives concerning the petrochemical industry were concentrated in the NIOC (National Iranian Oil Company), which two years later gave birth to the NIPC (National Iranian Petrochemical Company), which still provides the domestic market and exports chemicals derived from petroleum, gas, coal and other types of organic and mineral raw materials.
In 1965, investments in the sector still amounted to only 300 million rials, and the number of employees employed did not exceed 8 thousand units. After the Revolution, the NIPC became part of the Entities affiliated to the Ministry of Oil and entirely owned by the State.
The sector underwent heavy damage during the war of defense from the Iraqi invasion (1980-1988): numerous complexes, in the areas of Kark, Shiraz, Pasargad and elsewhere were often bombarded, often on the carpet.
The most serious consequences were reported by the four complex sites in the Khuzestan region, of which, after the end of the conflict, 19 units had to be completely rebuilt in three different phases: this work was assigned one of the highest priorities since the launch ( 1989) of the First Five-Year Development Plan, and the investments allocated for this purpose amounted to 16% of the total.
During the Persian year 1375 (March 1996 - March 1997) the petrochemical sector, on which they had practically no influence on the US sanctions, began to record the first significant signs of expansion: in fact, the super production of 10 million tons, with an increase of 2% compared to what had been budgeted at the beginning of the same year.
In the meantime, the NIPC undertook a process of rationalization of the internal organization, reducing staff from 18mila to 16.500 units, but at the same time obtaining a decuplication of productivity per capita. In the sector plans it was decided to start a series of privatizations. The Company also decided to gradually abandon traditional methods of research thanks to contracts signed with fifty prestigious centers of study and experimentation.
During the First Five Year Development Plan, Iran contracted a foreign debt equal to 1,7 billion dollars for the realization of projects in the petrochemical sector: to date, this debt has been almost completely repaid.
Today NIPC employs 16 thousand employees in eight production companies and numerous other companies active in the engineering and trade sectors.
Foreign investments in this field should be attracted by various considerations: the sector recorded an increase of 15% on the domestic market; the costs of raw materials are absolutely competitive; the Foreign Investment Law provides that both these are exempt from income taxes for eight years, and that the revenues generated by exports are exempt from taxation without time limits, and that naturally also for this sector all facilities provided for foreign investors willing to work in Iran.
It is hoped that Iran's share of world petrochemical production will reach - from the current 0,5% - 2% by the end of the Third PQS: for this purpose, as we have said, investments will be needed for more than 10 billion dollars, almost half of which to be allocated to off-shore equipment and engineering services.
In practice, within 2005 the total production (of which 75% will be sold abroad) should increase by 2,5% compared to the current volume, which stands at a value equal to 1,5 billion dollars: this result would be allowed by a series of 30 projects to be operational gradually over the next six years. Looking ahead, the production capacity of Iranian petrochemical complexes and industries amounts to 13,2 million tonnes per year. The rough forecasts even speak of the possibility that the total value of production will exceed 2005 billions of dollars in the 7,5.
The value of Iranian petrochemical exports will then exceed 2005 billion dollars in 2 (minimal objective, but many experts report that it could reach 5 billion): an important goal, if you think that 1989 million dollars had been raised in 29, and again in the 1998 the strong currency forfeited by the export industry had stopped at 476 million dollars (1997 had been 560 in the 9, the following year the exports were increased by XNUMX% in volume, but had decreased in value due to the recession on international markets).
Currently, 24% of exports is destined for Europe (the share should touch the 40% within 2005); 24% to East Asia, 19% to India, 12% to China, 5% to the Middle East, 9-10% to Southeast Asia, the rest to North Africa and South America.
In the petrochemical sector, Iran is the second country in the Middle East by volume of production (13-14% of the total), after Saudi Arabia.
Industrial expansion of non-oil exports
However, the country's dependence on oil revenues is still excessive, since the 1989, ie the launch of the First Five-Year Development Plan, seeks to reduce incentives for both industrial and agricultural production and the export of products other than oil and gas. : an orientation that suffered delays during the Second PQS - also due to the exacerbation, starting from the 1995, of inflationary trends, fought with the introduction of severe measures to contain liquidity - but that the Third PQS (still underway) ) defined as a priority task.
To this end, measures to gradually relax the rigid financial constraints, especially for private exporters, have begun to be launched.
The results of the new policy were immediately evident. Between April 1999 and the end of February 2000 Iranian non-oil export amounted to 2,83 billion dollars, an increase of 5,1% over the same period of the previous year; in fact, the volume of these exports exceeded 11,35 million tons, with an increase of 9,2%. In total, different types of goods were exported over 2.032, but only 20 of these covered the 94% of the entire export.
Carpets, pistachio and artifacts together constituted 33% of all non-oil exports, but industrial exports totaled 58 million dollars, with an increase of 52,2% compared to the corresponding period of the previous year . Finally, the export of agricultural products has exceeded 700 million dollars, with an increase of 8,9%.
Every possibility of an authentic evolution of the economic structure of the country is therefore linked primarily to the expansion of the industrial sector: a goal that depends to a large extent on the entry of foreign investments.
Aware of this need, the Khatami Government has adopted a series of measures aimed at favoring the initiative of foreign investors in Iran, by enacting both the Regulation implementing the Law on the Promotion and Protection of Foreign Investments in force by 1955, and some specific laws , relating to particular production sectors, such as mining.
In general, foreign investment projects aimed at increasing non-oil exports, to complete production chains, to increase added value, market competitiveness and the quality of goods and services, to create new jobs, are greatly facilitated. work and to lower the prices of goods on Iranian territory.
The incentives consist essentially, in addition to ensuring the necessary guarantees for any risk that may run the capital of the foreign investor, in various measures exempting from taxation, exemption of production units from the rules applied to the return of the foreign currency generated in Iran export, the liberalization of the repatriation of the capital of the foreign investor and the profits obtained; in particular, the creation of joint-ventures is encouraged, where the share transferable to the foreign investor can amount up to 80% (in projects aimed at exploring and exploiting mineral resources, the ceiling is limited to 49%, but the 1998 Mining Code provides for additional compensation measures).
The barter contracts (through which the foreign investor can intervene in any Iranian production sector) and buy-back are equally facilitated.
The attractiveness of foreign initiatives also contributes to the large availability of energy resources at minimum prices and an equally large variety of easily usable raw materials, the abundance of skilled labor in the most diverse sectors - the revenues generated to Iran by the export of services engineers and technicians currently exceed one billion dollars a year - and reduced labor costs for unskilled labor, as well as a series of additional facilities for investors willing to operate in the Free Market Areas (Qeshm, Kish and Chabahar ) and in a dozen Special Economic Zones.
The regional market
Located in a geostrategic position, a sort of "bridge" between the Persian Gulf and Central Asia, between the Indian Ocean and Russia, Iran has in recent years been able to make the most of this feature: pursuing an explicit "loosening" program of the tensions "in the international sphere and above all in the area, the Khatami Government has developed links with neighboring States both from the point of view of political relations and the strengthening of economic-commercial relations, so much so that today the country can be considered the heart of a vast market (from 300 to 500 millions of people) extremely rich in raw materials as well as production and exchange potentials.
The network of connections, which had begun to build since the launch of the First PQS, is aimed at expanding both the oil and gas sector, and all other economic sectors.
The fulcrum function for the entire market of the area (Persian Gulf - Caucasus - Central Asia) is now being carried out by Iran, and is about to enter a phase of further intensification, also as regards non-oil goods and services not related to oil and gas.
In the last ten years, cargo terminals have been built in almost all the Iranian regions; the nodal border structures have been registered in the International Meat Tir Agreement or in similar Treaties, which allows to reduce to a minimum the customs formalities; in planning the road network development plan priority is given to connections with ports and border stations, thus creating the indispensable axes, or "transit corridors".
Today the Iranian internal railway network, whose management company is part of well 19 International Organizations enjoying the relative facilitation clauses for users, is connected to the Mediterranean, via the Turkish railway; with the Republic of Azarbaydjan (border of Jolfa, which connects Iran to the Caucasus, Trans-Caucasia, the former Soviet republics and Russia itself); with the Central Asian railways, via the Turkmenistan railway; with India and Pakistan.
The network of air connections is also under development; and as far as ports are concerned (the Iranian coasts stretch for 630 km to the north, on the Caspian Sea, and for 1.880 km to the south, on the Persian Gulf and the Oman Sea), fifteen years of reconstruction have made it possible to recover activities all the structures damaged by the war, to proceed with their enlargement and to strengthen their connections with the road and rail transit corridors.
Furthermore, in the creation of the Free Market Areas and Special Economic Zones, a series of localities located on the coasts or in the islands have been favored and already provided with ports, where special regulations guarantee heavy discounts and discounts on fares, taxes and port charges. , in addition to the exemptions we have already mentioned.
The possibility of combining rail transport with sea and road transport is therefore flexible and offers a wide range of options with regard to both the safety of goods and the reduction of costs.
As a result, the investor willing to operate in Iran can also exploit the facilities offered by the Iranian "node" to reach an extremely large market which has so far remained largely "virgin", where there are very interesting opportunities with regard to both entry of Italian and European technologies, both potential consumption, and finally energy supplies and raw materials.
The diversity of climates, soil qualities and the consequent possible diversification of production make Iran's potential in the agricultural sector extremely high; the geographical position of the country, then, is very favorable to the export of Iranian agricultural products.
Given the prospects for the evolution of the global food situation over the next three decades, Iran could play an increasingly important role in the region and contribute significantly to the food security of Central Asia.
In the 1960s, Iran imported minimum quantities of cereals and was virtually self-sufficient in the production of meat, poultry, barley and wheat.
Nevertheless, in the mid-seventies, the country had become a sort of "agricultural protectorate" of the USA. In fact, the choice made by the monarchy, to use the oil revenues for the purchase of weapons and to abandon itself to agriculture in favor of a process of industrialization unbalanced and imposed from above, had resulted in dramatic changes in the Iranian system of food production.
In 1975, a quarter of all cereals consumed in Iran were imported from the United States; new methods of agribusiness were introduced that required the importation, always from the USA, of machinery and chemical products; and most of the poultry farms and dairies worked exclusively with corn and soy imported from the USA.
So while in the 1965 Iran had imported US cereals for only 15 million dollars, ten years later the value of this import exceeded 325 million dollars.
Meanwhile, the shah had signed with Washington a series of bilateral agreements, including the famous "PL 480 Agreements", according to which Iran undertook to use a portion of the wheat and soybean oil purchased in the US in order to to further expand the import opportunities for US agricultural products; and promised that the funds lent by the US to Iran would never be used for any project that could favor the production of Iranian goods for export.
In summary, Washington was able to secure, through these treaties, a real right of intervention in Iranian agricultural affairs: Iran would also have to buy all the necessary equipment from the American industries.
Instead, after the Revolution, and especially after the end of the war of defense by the Iraq invasion (1988) Teheran considered agriculture as the hub of economic and social development; since the launch of the First Five-Year Development Plan (1989), and of course also the Second, some priority objectives have been set that take into account the particular orographic and hydrographic characteristics of the territory, as well as the demographic boom in the country before start of campaigns to contain it.
The main one among these objectives is certainly the increase of the capacity of the plants for the extraction of water, and the search for optimal levels for the exploitation of the existing water resources: hence the effort for the construction of numerous dams, the upgrading of the plants industrials for the production and transport of water and irrigation, the formation of expert teams to reduce the need to employ technicians from other countries and thus allow considerable savings in valuable currency.
In fact, between 1989 and 1997, there has been a first significant expansion of the water system: the volume of water supplies to the agricultural sector has increased, new dams have been built, the construction of pipeline networks has been encouraged and channels for irrigation, collection and supply of water from dam basins to the countryside, with the dual purpose of replacing traditional irrigation methods with other more modern ones, and of fertilizing arable lands never before served by any irrigation system.
So many positive effects on national agriculture have been found immediately.
For example, wheat production has increased from 6.009.000 tons of 1989 (52% of domestic demand) to 11.996.000 tons in 1996, with a growth of 69,7% (about 90% of domestic demand); then the 12.684.000 tons were reached in the 97, with a further growth of 21%, and in the 1998 6 millions of tons were exported well, with one of the best performances in the world - it must be said that in Iran today they produce little more than 3 tons of wheat per hectare, against the 5 of Saudi Arabia, whose territory is less fertile than the Iranian one, or the 8 of other countries, which indicates a still insufficient exploitation of the potentials.
Rice production has gone from 1.854.000 tons obtained in 1989 to 2.596.000 1996 (plus 45,6%), up to 2.772.000 1997.
The production of forage plants, including barley, grains, alfalfa and clover, increased in the same years from 8.626.000 tons to 11.231.000 (plus 30%) up to 11.661.000 1997.
The production of sugar beet, equal to 3.535.000 tons in 1989, was 5.880.000 in 1996 (plus 27,3%), and about 6.006.000 the following year. Cereal has grown from 264.000 tons of 1989 to 720.000 1996 (with the increase of 173%), and then recorded a further increase in 10% reaching 1997 tons in 798.000. Potato production has increased by 59% between 1989 and 1996, passing from 2.033.000 tons to 3.173.000. In the same years the production of cotton has gone from 394mila to 600 thousand tons.
As a result, agricultural imports from the US fell from 19,3 billion dollars of 1991 to 12,7 billion of 1994; and positive repercussions were also on exports of agricultural products.
In practice, the objectives set by the First PQS (exports for 3,1 billion dollars) have been exceeded to reach the 3,5 billion dollars in the five years of the Plan, and to touch the 1.246 million dollars in 1997 only. It should be emphasized that agricultural exports before the Revolution had reached the peak of 360 millions of dollars.
Subsequently, tons of "improved" seeds, chemical fertilizers and various pesticides continued to be distributed to farmers; in the meantime, 720 thousand hectares have been processed using organic farming methods, and other ecological control systems have been applied to 3 million hectares of land.
Refresher courses for farmers have also been completed; and the production of silkworms has reached the 200 thousand "boxes" (the total produced silk has exceeded the 800 tons). Thousands of new hectares of land have been planted with olive trees, and the reforestation work has led to the recovery of wooded areas. The stabilization of the sandy areas and the control of the desertification process has allowed the recovery of areas in the measure of 340 thousand hectares per year on average; the management of river basins has been rationalized to the average extent of 437 thousand hectares per year.
The growth rate of the agricultural sector during the First PQS was 5,9% (twice the rate of population growth).
In this way it has been able to respond to a large part (about 86%, in 1996) of internal food needs and to reduce the importation of agricultural products. Also in 1996, the agricultural sector covered 25% of GDP, absorbed the 25% of the employed population (the percentage, which in 1906 was equal to 90%, would rise almost to 30% in 1998), provided nine tenths of the demand of the national food industry sector, a third of the value of non-oil exports and, as mentioned above, more than four fifths of domestic food needs. But a real and lasting development of the sector would have required a greater degree of coordination with the expansion of other economic sectors - for example the storage, conservation, processing and distribution of agricultural products, to avoid waste.
Despite the strengthening of production capacity, the improvement of production methods and an objective increase in production itself, the Iranian agricultural system has not yet reached the fullness of efficiency and stability: problems still remain, such as the excessively small size of most of farms, the restrictive stance of agricultural macroeconomic policies, a yield that is too low compared to potential, the insufficient updating of many of the farmers, hesitations in investing in agricultural affairs, the transfer of capital from the agricultural sector to other productive sectors, 'inadequacy of public services in infrastructures, in research and promotion, market distortions whereby, for example, the state fixed for domestic wheat and rice prices are too low compared to the same import products, discouraging farmers.
However, it is legitimate to expect that before its expiry the Third PQS will succeed in reaching a considerable part of the objectives set in this regard.
Mines and metals
With an explored reserve amounted to 100 million tons of 50 different minerals, and an estimated reserve of 6 billion tons of metallic minerals and to 26 billion tons of non-metallic minerals, for a variety of 62 different types of products, l 'Iran is among the ten countries in the world that have more deposits; we can also add to the great availability of energy, indispensable for any activity in this field, in the presence of abundant skilled labor and low labor costs, as well as extremely facilitated access to all markets in the region.
Thanks to the long-standing mining industrialization process, and although the metals sector (intermediate industrial units) has only reached 24,3% of the targets set for the 1989-97 period, and the mining sector has not completed its possibility of expansion, calculated at 19%, the global product of mining exploitation currently amounts to 8 million tons (in 1978 the amount stopped at 800 thousand tons).
Maps are already available, drawn on a hundred thousandth scale, of 70% of the mineral-rich regions.
In the country there are 2.700 mines and quarries, of which over a quarter provides sand and sandstone; each year, more than 100 million tons of 56 are extracted from different materials.
Today the country is able to produce more than 6 million tons of crude steel annually, 130 thousand tons of cathodic copper, 150mila of aluminum bars, 30mila of zinc, 15mila of lead, 70mila of ferrous alloys, 190mila of asbestos and about 7 millions of tons of ornamental stones.
According to estimates, the largest Iranian mines are those of iron ore, with deposits for 4,7 billion tons, those of copper (0,8% purity) for 2,6 billion tons, and 2 billion tons of anthracite.
The 90% of the mines belongs to the private sector, the 5% is controlled by the State, the rest is managed by Foundations and Local Authorities. The value of the extracted minerals has exceeded 2 trillion rials, while the relative added value is calculated at 1,4 trillion rials. But Iran is able to further improve the quality of its mining exports and to increase its share in the world market thanks to the adoption of global technology and its internal technical and scientific capabilities. It is estimated that the mining sector as a whole will experience a growth of 20% during the Third PQS (March 2000 - March 2005); the long-term projects (15-20 years) will add a value of 45 billion dollars to the production, with an export possibility equal to one third of the production.
In the mining sector there are mainly three production branches: 1) building materials: limestone, hydrated plaster, breccia, graphite, travertine, kaolin and marble; 2) non-ferrous materials: anthracite, orpiment, barite, zeolite, bentonite, kaolin, industrial clay, diatomite, perlite, salt (salt water, salt cava), mica, vermiculite, silicon, dolomite, sulfate, phosphate, talc, feldspar , sand, fluorine, turquoise, gypsum, asbestos, limestone, boracite, magnesium sulphate, bitumen, red clay, yellow clay, pegmatite and porcelain; 3) ferrous materials: iron ore, copper, chromite, lead and zinc, metal, manganese, bauxite, antimony, cobalt, celestite, alum and nefelina.
The production potential of stones such as marble is very high in Iran, where 440 decorative stone quarries and 4.000 plants for its processing are currently in full use.
The export of worked decorative stones has recorded a more significant growth than that of the same stones not worked, an important factor because it implies greater added value. The European market is also very promising for Iranian stone.
As far as the metal sector is concerned, we can start, for example, from iron and steel.
The main steelworks in the country are the Steelworks of lsfahan, with an annual production of 2,4 million tons; the Khuzestan Steel Company, with 1,9 million tons; and the Mobarakeh Steel Company, with 2,7 million tons.
Among the main programs launched for the development of the sector, it is worth mentioning the project for the expansion of the Sangan mine capacity of further 1,8 million tons (reaching 2,6 million in 5 years); the project for the expansion of the capacity of the Chador Molu iron quarry (Yazd) up to 8,5 million tons in 5 years from the current 5,1 million; the project to increase the capacity of the Golgohar iron pit of 3 million tons in addition to the current 2,7 million; the project for the expansion of the capacity of Choqart's iron quarry for further 3 million tons. As for steel, we must add that an agreement has already been reached to increase the production of steel to 12 million tons per year. Currently the production of steel per capita in Iran is about 100 kg (the world average is between 140 and 150 kg.). The steel production target set for March 2005 is 14,7 million tons, to be achieved thanks to at least 26 new projects already approved by the Council for the Economy, for a total investment equal to 3,7 million dollars plus 1.000 billions of rial.
The Iranian copper deposits (copper which has a purity rate of 0,8%) are estimated at 2.6 billion tons, for a share of 6% on global reserves.
Aluminum is a strategic metal, second in importance only to steel (although generally alumina, the raw material of aluminum extracted from bauxite, is imported from abroad).
It is expected that production will reach the total 350 thousand tonnes by the end of the third PQS (2005), but longer-term programs indicate the possibility of reaching one million tons per year.
Some studies estimate Iran's zinc deposits at 94 million tonnes, but it is believed that it could exceed 230 million tonnes.
It is expected that zinc production will reach 100 thousand from the year 2006.
The nominal production capacity of lead exceeds 40.000 tonnes, although current production is only 30.000 tonnes. Raising the capacity of Zanjan's Compagnia del Piombo facilities up to the nominal capacity, and equipping the Mehdtabad mining facilities in Yazd, which produces lead and zinc, are among the major projects aimed at expanding the sector.
Iran's share of world gold production (2.097 tons) is currently less than 640 kg per year, extracted from the waters of Sarcheshme and Muteh's copper quarries.
The gold reserves of the Iranian region of Azarbaydjan and Muteh are estimated at around 100 tons.
UNESCO has ranked Iran among the top ten countries in the world able to compete on a world scale in terms of interest and ability to attract international tourist flows: just consider that in its territory 4.300 historical monuments were officially registered, and it is calculated that they still have to register as many.
In fact, Iran - where they met over the centuries and still meet East and West, North and South of the world - is such a vast country, that the variety of its climates and habitats make the tourist flow possible during all the seasons of the year.
In fact, in the summer, in the northern and western parts of the country the climate is temperate, and the Caspian beaches offer interesting opportunities for bathing; in winter, the climate is temperate in the southern areas and in the islands that face the shores of the Persian Gulf. Throughout the territory, then, remain uncontaminated natural areas, most of which protected by appropriate measures for environmental protection and conservation of landscapes, fauna and flora.
Secondly, there are countless places of extreme historical, archaeological and cultural interest, even outside the most famous and well known cities in the world such as Isfahan, Shiraz or Yazd; a large number of sections and passages and bridges of the ancient Silk Road have remained intact, which served the entire Asian continent from 200 BC to 1600 AD; and the care given by the competent authorities in the valorisation of museums, as well as the sacred places of the Islamic religion and the sepulchres of great personalities of the ancient world such as Hafez, Sa'di, Ferdowsi or Avicenna should be honestly recognized.
It should be added that in the culture and in the Iranian mentality hospitality is considered a value of exceptional importance, to be respected both on public occasions and in private; in itself, moreover, the great variety of ethnic groups that make up the Iranian population can be a source of interest for fans of the study of customs and traditions, as well as for anthropologists and sociologists; and from the point of view of protecting the personal safety of tourists (which in other countries are often faced with assaults or thefts) Iran offers rather high guarantees, and the streets of its cities can be walked on foot with sufficient peace of mind even during night hours.
The number of tourists who arrived in Iran has increased from 162 thousand of 1990 to 361mila of 1994, and the currency so forfeited has increased in the same years from 62,2 to 155 million dollars.
In 1955 the tourists were 450 thousand, with a total income of 250 million dollars; in 1996 the 600mila presences have been reached, up to 650mila in 1997 with an entrance almost equal to 350 millions of dollars. During the 1997 the tourism industry has made Iran about 348 millions of dollars; among the 744 thousand foreign tourists who chose Iran for their holidays during the same period the Germans were the most numerous. It is estimated that the average expense of a foreign tourist in Iran is equivalent to about 1.500 dollars.
Most tourists find it more convenient to reach Iran by air (flight time, four and a half hours if there are no stopovers).
The Iranian National Airline, Iran Air, provides the international service also from its Rome office (there is a weekly fixed flight, on Thursday, but in periods when the movement of passengers is more intense the frequency is increased). However, Alitalia and other European or Middle Eastern companies also operate regular scheduled flights to and from Tehran, which is practically connected to the whole world.
Those who prefer to reach Iran with their car can do so, preferring, by reason of their convenience, the routes that cross Istanbul.
The trip by car can be shortened by about a third by loading the car on the ferries to Turkey in the ports of Venice or Brindisi. To drive the car in Iran you need an international driving license or even a driver's license issued by the State of residence; if you bring your own car, you need: the registration cards of the vehicle, the sticker or the plate with the indication of the nationality of the car, the red triangle to be exposed in case of failure, spare bulbs for the mandatory lights and some spare parts among those more frequently used.
You can also opt for the arrival in Iran by sea, landing at one of the southern ports such as Bandar Abbas, Khorramshahr or Abadan.
From Milan it is also possible to take advantage of the railway connection between Europe and Iran with stops in Sofia, Istanbul, Ankara and the crossing of Lake Van on a ferry.
The tourist can use the tours organized by the best tourist agencies; but even those who prefer to travel on their own can find, once arrived in the Iranian capital, many local tourist agencies able to deal with problems such as booking rooms in hotels and providing guides, interpreters and cars for hire.
Most of these offices also offer organized excursions to the tourist destinations of greatest interest.
The rules regarding the duration of the entry visa may change, so it is advisable to inform yourself a few weeks in advance at the main tourist agencies, Iran Air offices or Iran Consulates in Rome and Milan.
If, upon entering Iran, the visitor wishes to extend the period of stay beyond the duration of the visa, he must request an extension of the permit from the Department for Foreign Citizens. If you travel with a tourist agency or with Iran Air-Tours you can use its services for this type of problem.
When entering Iran, the tourist can carry with him everything he wants (as long as they are not objects that offend Islamic doctrine, that is alcohol, drugs, or printing that offends modesty, the introduction of firearms is also forbidden) , gold bars or electronic items intended for sale).
However, valuable assets will be entered in the passport by border officials: these assets can not be sold in Iran and must be shown to border officials when leaving the country (on this occasion, it will be good to remember to ask the same officials to cancel their registration). In case of loss or theft of these assets, you must obtain an official document (at the police stations, for example) that certifies the incident.
Leaving the country, the tourist can bring with him any kind of souvenirs, provided they are not archaeological finds, manuscripts of historical value, coins or precious stones of great value or works of art (to avoid disputes, if you have purchased some items of a certain value should keep the receipt of the shopkeeper to show it to Customs if necessary).
No limits are set on the value of Iranian handicrafts and artifacts; non-Iranian goods can not exceed the total value of 150 thousand Iranian rials (and must not be for sale).
You can bring along one or two carpets (for a total width of 12 square meters), or possibly send them to the country you come from, after being informed of the rules that regulate this type of importation in the recipient state. The export of gold objects or jewelery items is allowed to the tourist only in the amount reasonably justifiable as "personal use"; in any case, you can not exceed the 150 grams of worked gold without gems and the 3 kg of worked silver without gems.
As for the currency, you can take Iranian currency with you, but when you arrive in the country the sums exceeding one thousand US dollars must be declared.
The sums introduced in the country and declared can be safely brought back with them when you leave; apart from the sums declared, any foreign traveler may return foreign currency up to one thousand US dollars, and each of his companions up to 500 US dollars. Anyone with excess amounts must have with them the Foreign Exchange Declaration or a Bank Transfer Certificate.
In hotels, hotel facilities, travel agencies and carpet shops, prices and rates are typically displayed in US dollars.
In Iran there are numerous banking institutions, whose branches are widespread, even in smaller centers.
However, only a certain number of bank branches, in addition to those located in international airports, carry out foreign currency exchange transactions, and report it outside the building with the written Exchange or Foreign Exchange in Latin characters; it is open every day, except Friday (which corresponds to Western Sundays) from 8,30 in the morning to 16; Thursday usually close at 12,30.
It is necessary to have the passport with you when making exchange transactions.
Larger hotels also accept travelers' checks. Many foreign banks operate in Tehran, but their branches do not offer services to private travelers, even if they are holders of an account at the bank's headquarters at home.
When you arrive in Tehran by plane, at the time of disembarkation you must deliver the health forms (distributed on board the plane) to the health officer, and show your passport, visa and boarding pass to border officials.
In the area of baggage control, the customs forms must be completed and, where appropriate, the declaration for the introduction of currency; of these modules it will be necessary to keep the carbon copy for the whole duration of the stay in the Country.
There is a bus route connecting the Mehrabad International Airport (Tehran) with the city center.
Alternatively, there is a large taxi service, with a very low cost. The distance from the center of the capital is covered in half an hour, or in forty minutes, depending on traffic conditions.
In every city, even of small size, and in every center of tourist interest, there is a Tourist Information Office, able to answer any question and provide maps, hotel lists, useful addresses.
The staff speaks English. The locations are often internal or adjacent to airport terminals and railway stations.
In Iran, the possibilities of finding accommodation in hotel-type facilities are not unlimited, and the quality of the facilities themselves can vary greatly, from the most basic accommodation to the four- or five-star hotel.
Obviously the best hotels, comparable to Westerners and also provided with telex service, fax, exchange counter and gift shop, are concentrated in the main cities, but even in the smaller centers you can find satisfactory, cheap but pleasant accommodation, and even in the classified hotels "To only one star" are generally available rooms with private bathroom.
If you leave the most famous cities to visit more picturesque but decentralized places, you can easily settle in the inns or in the mosafer khaneh (houses with furnished rooms) without giving up too many comforts.
In most cases the rooms are equipped with air conditioning, small refrigerators and television sets. The khaneh mosafers are usually classified into three categories: "superior", "first class" and "second class"; the western traveler who does not want to face excessive sacrifices should avoid the "second-class" rooms.
It is advisable to book accommodation before leaving for Iran, or alternatively to show up in the morning: in some periods of the year it is difficult to find a free room if you ask for it in the evening or during the night.
In some parts of northern Iran, many families are used to display a sign indicating the availability of one or more rooms for travelers on the road in front of their home; in this case the meals are not included, but it is not difficult to convince the hosts to add some places to the table - and to make guests taste the local specialties. Along the coast of the Caspian Sea it is very common to come across these possibilities of accommodation, because the coastal strip has long been cultivating its tourist vocation, favored by the environment and the climate.
Both room prices and hotel taxes are determined on a local basis; therefore they are homogeneous within each region but can also differ considerably from one region to another.
In most hotels, especially those of higher quality, the tourist pays in foreign currency.
Since the seventies there are also mehman saras in Iran, taverns owned go-vernative often located in the suburbs of the city. You can book (with appropriate advance) rooms and suites, even of excellent quality, through the Iranian Tourist Office. The only disadvantage of these facilities is the not very large variety of the menus offered by the internal restaurants.
Most of the mehman saras are classified as three stars.
When registering, in any hotel facility, you must always show your identity documents; Unmarried couples hardly get to share a double bedroom.
You can bring your pet with you to Iran, provided you can show a veterinary health certificate issued no earlier than six months after departure.
The importation of live animals or veterinary products is subject to special permits issued by the Iranian Veterinary Authority.
Any hotel can call a doctor who speaks English to make up for minor health emergencies.
In the case of serious injuries or illnesses, the tourist can ask to be taken to a hospital where the staff speak fluent English (they are not few, even in cities other than Teheran).
Health services in Iran are never free; the tourist can assemble himself with special insurances by inquiring at the Travel Agencies.
In cities and even in small towns, pharmacies are numerous, indicated by signs in English and easily accessible; you can also buy items for personal hygiene and cosmetics, as well as medicines of usual use in the West.
Drinking water supplied in homes and hotels is safe from a hygienic point of view, and often quite pleasant and fresh; all the bottled drinks are equally safe (drinks, coffee, tea, milk); lower guarantees offer food purchased from street vendors.
You can buy mineral water everywhere, which generally has thirst-quenching and digestive properties. Alcoholic beverages are prohibited; those smuggled in contraband can also be hazardous to health.
Almost all hotels offer laundry services.
Moreover, in all the cities and in almost all the inhabited centers there are numerous laundry and ironing shops; here the customer, delivering the suit to remove stains, must demand a receipt indicating the price and the date of delivery of the garment. Prices are generally very low.
You can generally count on the honesty of the staff of hotels and restaurants to return items inadvertently left by customers on the premises. At the terminals of airports, railway stations and bus lines there are the normal "lost property offices". If the forgotten object is of considerable value, it is advisable to warn the police; in case of loss of the passport, you must immediately contact your embassy or nearest Consulate.
The percentage of 15% for the "service" is usually added automatically to the hotel or restaurant bill.
However, small tips are appreciated by waiters, porters, porters, generally extremely kind to tourists, especially with the Italian tourist. Instead, it is not necessary to leave tips to public employees, such as guides in museums.
The tourist who wants to visit the country on his own can rent a car, even without a driver.
For costs, it is always advisable to first consult a travel agency in the city where it is located; to move from one city to another, considering the often considerable distances, it is probably more convenient to use the plane, the train or the public bus service.
There are countless Taxi Service agencies specialized in renting cars for urban journeys only; simply contact the reception of your hotel.
For those who hesitate to face alone the considerable difficulties of driving in the chaotic traffic of a city like Tehran, it is advisable to rent a car with a driver: the rules of the traffic laws concerning those involved in accidents are quite severe.
Visiting cities using city buses is extremely convenient from an economic point of view; tickets can be purchased at most stops.
It should however be noted that the cars are divided into two compartments, one front reserved for men, the other, rear, reserved for women. Even married couples must separate when they get on the bus. In Tehran you can also use the subway, whose route is not yet completely completed.
In any case, the best, most practical and fast way to move around without renting a car is the taxi.
The authorized taxi service is carried out on urban streets by orange-colored cars that expose the usual small luminous sign on the roof; blue taxis, on the other hand, follow fixed itineraries. Taxi agencies' cars load the passenger at home following a simple telephone call.
Wherever there are also countless "unauthorized" taxis, ie private cars carrying up to six people (in this case rather pressed and uncomfortable) whose only common point is the need to reach destinations that are along the route followed by the first they got on board.
To take advantage of this service just stop by the roadside and, when the "taxi" slows down and approaches, clearly state the name of the place you want to reach: the abusive "taxi driver" stops and loads the potential passenger only if the destination of these is part of the itinerary that is already following.
In each of the major cities, in many medium-sized cities and in each regional capital there are airports for internal traffic, with regular flights of reciprocal connection at fairly low cost compared to international standards.
Tickets can be purchased at the appropriate branches at each airport or through the offices of tourist agencies distributed throughout the country. The best, most comfortable and efficient way to move from one city to another in Iran, especially for medium to long distances, is therefore the plane: the internal air transport network is excellent, not to mention the great suggestiveness of the Iranian landscapes, from the mountains to the deserts to the greener areas, viewed from above.
The only difficulty is crowding (places on the busiest routes, for example those that connect the capital to Shiraz, Isfahan, Mashhad or Ahwaz, must, in some periods of the year, be booked well in advance).
Consequently, it is advisable to make reservations, in any agency, the same day you arrive in Iran, at least for the sections definitely planned. Iran Air can also suggest particular itineraries, with the relative facilities, both for groups and for individuals, at affordable prices; the quality of the service is generally quite high. Other companies (the latter private) use smaller planes, but can connect more than twenty domestic airports for a total of about 200 scheduled flights a week.
The railway network is also quite developed; it reaches not only the main cities, but also many intermediate locations, and allows, among other things, a series of convenient connections with some neighboring states.
Almost the whole network is of recent or very recent construction; consequently, convoys and passenger wagons are also quite modern, with three-class coaches, a berth service and a restaurant, fully adapted to Western standards. Often the tracks are located a certain distance from the arterial roads, and the journey by train allows you to cross places of great beauty whose existence would remain unknown to those who traveled only by car (from this point of view the Teheran stretch is very interesting. Mashhad, which crosses landscapes of remarkable beauty and reaches small stations, which still preserve the color of the traditions). Ticket prices are contained. The "express" trains, and the couchette service, both require a surcharge.
The buses are efficient, economical and comfortable: most of the cars are newly built and equipped with all the latest options (air conditioning, hot and cold water, television, etc.).
Terminals are almost always located near railway stations and airports; here it is easy to obtain detailed information and consult the timetable tables. It should be noted that the distances between cities are generally noticeable (for example, the journey from Tehran to Isfahan lasts for 8 hours, to Tabriz 12 hours, to Kerman 16 hours).
Other line coaches then make the local service (in the most decentralized districts, in this case, the convenience of the means is much lower, but using them you can reach all the places in the country, even the most remote and less known).
If you do not want to use the plane, the use of buses is sometimes unavoidable in the southern and western regions where the railway facilities are not yet fully completed.
In all cities and in almost all countries, post offices are well distributed.
The public postal company carries out most of the services generally available in the West.
The urban postal service has recently improved its standards: if in the 1979 the delivery time of a missive within the borders of the same city exceeded the 126 hours, today the average has dropped to about 5 hours.
The stamps can be bought in post offices, in the appropriate booths along the streets, and in some shops. The fax service, quite common in the country, reaches over 100 between cities and smaller towns.
Other services include domestic and international "express" delivery, home collections of parcels and parcels to be shipped, the acceptance of cable-based dictations by telephone, the delivery of checks or other securities, etc.
The telegraph service is guaranteed by almost all post offices, but is still rather slow compared to Western standards. The telex service is available to tourists in most of the best quality hotels.
Numerous private companies are active for the delivery of letters and parcels throughout the country, at costs considerably higher than the public service.
In Teheran there are the International Courier offices that accept packages with foreign destination.
The telephone service is now extended to the most remote areas of the country.
From the hotels it is very easy to call abroad; for local or national calls, public equipment placed along the streets may be used, provided sufficient money is available.