Iran vows safety of tourists
Manama, August 18, 2008
Iranian officials have drawn up a contingency plan to evacuate foreign visitors - including Bahrainis - if there is an outbreak of war with the US or Israel, according to a Bahraini travel operator.
However, a looming crisis over the nuclear standoff has done little to deter Bahrainis making their regular pilgrimage to religious sites in Iran.
While the global media speculates about a potential nuclear war, some travel operators say they have seen a 50 per cent surge in the number of Bahraini pilgrims making the trip to the Persian state.
One trip organiser revealed he attended a lecture in Iran during which caravan operators received reassurances that it was safe to visit.
’Precautionary plans have not changed from my side,’ Abu Yasser pilgrimage contractor Ali Nasser Ali told the Gulf Daily News, our sister publication.
’But when I went to Iran to book hotels and prepare for my next group, an Iranian security official held an open lecture in Mashhad and invited caravan contractors and family heads.
’He assured us of our safety in the event of any attack, saying that Iran would take care of its guests and was prepared to evacuate people.
’He said they would move tourists to a safe place should there be any attacks, but wouldn’t reveal where that was.’
Ali added the crowd was told that the US could not afford another war and there was only a one per cent chance of conflict.
’We also arrange a lecture for all travellers a few days before we leave just to keep them on track about our schedule and assure them of their safety,’ he added.
However, he said the only crisis his company had handled so far was coping with the huge number of people trying to get to Iran.
’A flight crisis arose because of the increase in numbers,’ said Ali. ’I had to turn some people down because tickets were no longer available.’
Bahraini families normally spend around three weeks in Iran, where they are taken on sightseeing trips and visit religious sites.
Each caravan normally consists of 50 to 70 people, but this can change depending on whether airlines provide enough plane tickets to organisers.
Operators said the things deterring some travellers were higher hotel prices and rising costs of living in Iran.
However, Al Rakb Al Husaini caravan contractor Ebrahim Ahmed Al Khadhem admitted he avoided places he considered to be high-risk areas in the event of any outbreak of hostilities - such as military installations.
’Nothing has ever happened to our pilgrims,’ he stressed.
’We did not take such things into consideration before, but we now consider the location of the hotel - it has to be in the safest area we can possibly find.’
However, he stressed that he did not anticipate any problems and expected to be busy throughout summer, as well as during Ramadan and the Islamic month of Muharram due to start in December.
Meanwhile, Al Shamtoot pilgrimage contractor Abdulnabi Shamtoo said it was common for young children to accompany their parents on trips to Iran.
’There are 70 individuals in my next group and newborn babies are coming with us,’ he said.
The Iranian Embassy did not comment on plans to evacuate foreign visitors to the country in the event of any conflict.
People from around the world flock there for religious or spiritual reasons, as well as tourism.
Shi’ite Muslims revere the relatives of Prophet Mohammed, including his children and grandchildren, and a shrine for one of them - Imam Redha - is located in Mashhad, Iran.
Another important religious site located in Qum is the shrine of Imam Redha’s sister, Sayida Fatima Al Ma’asooma.
However, pilgrims often spend most of their time in Iran by visiting well-known tourist destinations.
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