Hard times weigh heavily on Iranians on New Year's holiday
By Yeganeh Torbati
DUBAI (Reuters) - These should be prosperous days for Ali Pasha, who owns a tourism company in Dubai that arranges holidays for those seeking a break in the sunny Gulf emirate.
The Iranian New Year on Wednesday, called Nowruz, is typically a time when tens of thousands of Iranians, Pasha's main customers, cross the Gulf to enjoy the city's glitzy hotels, luxury shopping and many beaches.
But the number of Iranian tourists heading for Dubai's shores has slowed significantly this year, and in between answering phone calls and smoking a cigarette in his office on a recent afternoon, Pasha sounded exasperated.
"For Dubai, Iranian tourists used to be very important," he said. "Now they have lost their importance."
He and other local travel agents estimate they have seen a 40 percent drop in the number of Iranian customers compared to last year.
Iranians' purchasing power has decreased following a halving of the value of the rial against the dollar, due largely to several rounds of U.S. and European sanctions over Iran's nuclear program. Some Iranians say they can no longer afford foreign plane tickets, hotel stays and visa fees as a result.
Iran's most important holiday, Nowruz is rooted in ancient Zoroastrian culture and marked by large family gatherings, gifts for children, vacations and spring cleaning (called "house shaking" in Persian).
But Nowruz this year caps 12 months of high inflation and unemployment and comes with no sign of an end to Western sanctions on Iran's energy and banking sectors that have halved the country's oil exports and made it difficult to conduct trade, even in items not banned by the West. Continued...