Once again, articles, guides, and photo essays related to the “rebound” of travel and tourism in Iran can be seen popping up alongside headlines about the Islamic republic’s human rights record, terror sponsorship, persisting tensions with the West, destructive involvement in Syria, and nuclear and military ambitions. The catalyst is the resumption, after a four-year ban, of direct flights from London to Tehran with the UK’s flagship carrier, British Airways – and the subsequent mutual appointment of ambassadors for the first time since 2011, signaling the full restoration of diplomatic ties between the two counties.
The airline’s decision to resume flights to Tehran sparked a media reaction, with British outlets in particular publishing profiles of Iran as a travel destination – a media trend on which we have commented in the past, writing that such coverage often romanticizes, builds on and exaggerates Iran’s image – in keeping with the “moderate” image its regime attempts to maintain – to gloss over the still-risky aspects of travel (and business) in Iran, from continued hostility towards the West, to modesty policing, to arbitrary arrests of dual citizens.
Thus, the warming ties between London and Tehran were met with praise from some media outlets, but criticism from others. Al Jazeera, for example, viewed the steps taken by the UK in recent days not only as a sign of closer relations between London and Tehran, but as “another sign” of Iran’s “warming ties” to “Western countries” at large – despite the Islamic republic’s continued hostility toward the West, and despite growing indications that its “goodwill gestures” are anything but.
The Guardian’s coverage was more reserved, noting – like British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson – that even as diplomatic ties between the two countries get an “upgrade,” “deep concern” remains over various matters relating to Iran, including the continued detention of British-Iranian mother and charity worker Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe. Another UK outlet, Metro, put it more succinctly in its headline – “You can now fly to Iran again – if you fancy your chances.” Other outlets highlighted the country’s human rights abuses – chief among them being Amnesty UK, which warned travellers that they could now fly direct from London Heathrow via Tehran to Evin Prison. Somehow, in light of this headline, Iran travel guides such as the one recently compiled by The Independent – enticingly promising a “surprisingly welcoming,” “untouched” destination full of “riches” for “intrepid globetrotters” to enjoy – seem incongruous and farcical.