Travelling responsibly or being a responsible traveler, with its different aspects for every region, due to social and cultural diversity has gained more attention in the past years. In this article, we try to briefly mention the common tips for being a responsible traveler in Iran and focus more on the Iran tourism demands from a traveler to be more sustainable and responsible in its local context. In brief, in sustainable tourism, you have to try your best to have the least or best adapted impact as possible as a traveler or an external factor; whether this responsibility is toward environmental impacts on nature, or socio-cultural and economic impacts on the society. Yet, we have some requests from you as a traveler when it comes to cultural and economic impacts if traveling Iran is in your bucket list.
Limitations of tourism industry in Iran
The biggest barrier for Iran tourism, is the U.S. sanctions on Iran which unfortunately, keeps folks and small businesses from connecting the world. In this lack of connection, the mainstream media have the upper hand to reflect extreme pictures of Iran sometimes.
Many big well-known tourism companies like booking.com have eliminated Iran from their listing. But it’s not the whole story. Many other big touristic platforms and websites such as TripAdvisor, demonstrate a global image of themselves and claim they act freely. Yet, they refuse to sell many of their promotional services to Iran and they make sure no one will notice. There is another type of isolation for Iran which keeps travelers to have a decent access to Iran travel tips. Most of the travelling websites and platforms such as leroutard.com, hostelgeeks and many others don’t cover Iran at all, since it doesn’t have financial efficiency for them to even bother. Usually they respond to the Iran businesses tendency to be reflected in their platforms with a short apology that they don’t have any ambassador in Iran or they don’t have this region in their close future plans. So, the best and most reliable option for Iran travel is googling. Visit the hostel’s own website. Read their recommendations and offers. No need to stick to travel agencies necessarily. In Hi Tehran Hostel website, in addition to present our hostel in Tehran for booking, we try to provide the tourists who want to travel to Iran, the most recent, practical information. From how to get their Iran visa on arrival or buy a sim card at the Tehran’s airport, to customized tours, to how to use the public transportation in Tehran, where to exchange money and all the essential information. Kindly visit Hi Tehran Hostel blog to get all the information you need for your Iran travel.
Cheap is not OK
Paying about 3-4 $ for a room or bed in a central hostel in Tehran might be tempting. But it’s not OK at all. There are hostels in Tehran where propose such cheap prices. If you ask, what’s the problem if that’s the fee? Well, it’s not! Of course, with not paying the workers right, skipping the workers insurance fees, using free volunteer staff or overcrowding the hostel, you can cheapen the price to have a better competitive prices. Another truth behind extremely cheap hostels, is that with their financial backups, they try to attract as much travelers as they can with the price dumping strategy. This strategy, will give other competitors no chance to keep up since it is completely impossible to even continue paying your rents and staff with a 3$ bed price!
Also, we frequently hear from our community of hostels in Isfahan , who have guests bargaining for a 2$ or 1$ bed per night, with the reason that they have paid 3$ in Tehran, so, other cities should be even cheaper! It’s an ugly and unfair strategy from some hostels in Tehran or elsewhere. Don’t go for it! Usually, you will end up paying more for their other services through scams.
In Hi Tehran Hostel, we are so happy for not accepting any paid features in any travel content so far, since it’s not a sustainable approach. We are aware of how it can help us to have a wider reputation in an easy way. Yet, we prefer to get our reputation through transparent, honest and sustainable approaches with the help of our dear guests who have experienced our service directly.
How to be a responsible traveler in Iran
The most essential guidelines about travelling responsibly is that, the tourism money have to go into local or small businesses instead of huge corporations. You have to be respectful to the norms of the local people while your visit and never dare to have an up to down or pitiful attitude toward them. Also, not as an obligation but you can act in way to enhance the quality of life – whether financially or culturally for the people. And of course every traveler must be responsible toward causing no damage toward the environment with having short and long terms in mind. According to many tourists, they grow big emotions toward Iran after their visit. The simplicity, kindness, hospitality, peace and warm attitude that they receive from Iranians, brings a new level of connection and bond to this culture. Yet, for sure there are way more to it than if you’re willing to look deeper as a responsible traveler.
common criteria for being a responsible traveler in Iran
Here, we list and describe the most important aspects of responsible travelling in Iran and some hints for consideration:
1. Spend your money right
As a responsible tourist who cares about long-term sustainability, the best way is to spend your hard earned money in small local businesses like hostels and small designed tours and events. It’s a mutual benefit when you can learn about a destination and its culture directly by socializing in a hostel where cares about your experience in their country. This attitude, also links you with the growing trend of cultural tourism and traveling to learn more about the lifestyle, culture and intangible heritages of a new country through interaction and having conversations with the local people themselves. It all results in more international understanding and connections and let go of the wrong perceptions or judgments. In addition, small, locally-run hostels are the best place to meet up with avid travelers and the local community. It’s very probable that you meet amazing solo travelers who you can team up with, to explore new places together.
2. Don’t take advantage of invitations
While in Iran, you’re likely to be dragged into a conversation, get invited in for tea, supper, stay over, or even a private ceremony. Locals tend to show you around as glorious as a private tour or help you with your problem as it’s theirs. It’s possible that they don’t let you pay for something as you will be considered as a guest. All these examples are just a tip of a cultural iceberg. Do you really want to be a responsible traveler in Iran? Please refuse free favors. Small businesses have overpass thousands of internal and external obstacles to even exist in Iran. Don’t participate in their failure by not spending the money that you should. Remember that Iran is already one of the cheapest touristic destinations in the world. It would be very sad to skip the real services to get free treats by kind locals. You may ask, when the tendency for providing free treats already exist among the locals, why shouldn’t you enjoy it. Here are the reasons. Again, due to the isolation caused by politics, many folks in Iran have the fear of judgment by the others. They really want to show everyone, the presented picture of Iran by international mainstream media is far from the reality and how the real humans of Iran have nothing to do with that picture or any extreme religious and political party. And the truth is most of Iranian folks are not religious at all! And almost no one hates U.S. or any other countries citizens (despite the selected show in some governmental marches which have a wide and bold use for the media). So, most of the time, the folks feel the obligation to somehow demonstrate their peaceful kind manner. But, unfortunately in a very wrong way: by being kinder than they should. Such kindness is risen from the lack of confidence or weakness. Please, please and please don’t take advantage of it. Even if they insisted (which is in Iran’s culture and it’s called Taarof: تعارف/ you can google it). Of course, one of the big reputations of Iranians is hospitality. It has been in Iran’s culture, literature and values for so long; to consider the guest as a superior to the host and believing in this famous Farsi moto that: The guest is a sign and friend of god and there’s no joy in anything if not sharing it with others. Feel free to accept and enjoy such kindness but don’t replace a real payed services with free favors. The sanctions have already damaged the tourism section in Iran, and it doesn’t need more pressure. For instance, putting the couch surfing aside (which is illegal in Iran and can cause unpredictable issues), we have the experience with some of our guests in Hi Tehran Hostel who preferred to check-out and stay for free in the folks houses and have a full-board free treat for everything! Ouch.
3. Don’t participate in the racism cycle in Iran
Not proud of it and fighting it every day, we humbly ask you to not participate in the sexual inequity and injustice and racism in Iran. Here, we clarify the main issues in Iran that you may encounter. Please note that, we have bolded the situation here to present what you have to notice easier. Otherwise, none of the mentioned topics in this subject is frequent nor acceptable in Iran. Your effortless reaction to the mentioned attitudes, will cause in modifications through time.
- Racism toward Afghan refugees in Iran: First of all, there are many refugees from Afghanistan in Iran or the second or third generation of Afghan refugees in Iran who are Iranian citizens now. In most of the cases and due to the complexity of work permissions or having identity cards, they have to occupy in physical, hardworking and most of the time, illegal jobs with very low payment. But it’s not the whole story. Even after many years of being in Iran, this section is exposed to some rooted discriminations and humiliations by some part of the society. The good thing is that, day by day, the awareness toward the aspects of these disgusting behaviors are expose and modified thanks to the young generation. As a traveler, if you witnessed such a thing, or heard any of Iranians you interact through your trip, called someone “Afghani” for downsizing the person, please object and show them you’re not fine with it at all.
- Gender insult toward women in Iran: Also, the same, if you witnessed, your driver guide, driver, tour leader or any other Iranian males or even females are downsizing a woman abilities whether in driving or doing something by mocking or making it harder for them. We’re extremely sad to say, sometimes, even your educated tour leader might act improperly toward a woman, since it’s been in the middle-east culture for hundreds of years. No need for any epic act, just represent your satisfaction and opinion that it’s not cool. Another important note is that if you’re a solo female traveler and you felt unsecured or harassed or followed by any male, don’t get scared at all. Stand strong and yell at him or strongly say the word “Police” to them and repeat it till they’re gone. When you do so, immediately, others will come to back you up. We don’t have much harassment in Iran as before, but unfortunately, you can still encounter a case. Especially, if the harasser think you won’t object since you can’t speak Farsi. Now, people are very protective and supporting when a woman asks for help. Count it double protection since you’re a guest. Don’t doubt that it will be working, fine and necessary to do with no consequences, damages or complexity. For the sake of everyone.
- Preferring and prioritizing western tourists over Asians: Did you think the racism is limited to Afghan refugees? No! clustering western and eastern tourists and treat the first group better is also another thing in Iran. More blonde you are and more colorful your eyes get, you will most probably more adored
- Don’t get along with any insults toward Arabs: The most frequent line you will hear as a tourist in Iran will be: “Iranians are Persians; We’re not Arabs” and sometimes it gets follows by: “We hate Arabs”. Unfortunately, and stupidly, some Iranians still blame the Arab race for Muslim conquest of Persia, also known as the Arab invasion of Iran, led to the fall of the Sasanian Empire of Iran in 633 and the eventual decline of the Zoroastrian religion. Surreal, huh? It’s acceptable for them to mentioning the difference between Iran and Arab world politely and in a right way. Yet, it’s no acceptable at all to accompany these explanations with any racism and hatred toward Arabs. It’s good to know, we also have a majority of Arab tribes in the south of Iran, recognized as Arabs of Iran.
4. Mind the costumes and culture, but push it for better
As an effective traveler, get engaged with locals, talk to them even with pantomime, take your chances and leave a good memory. You’re not in a north Korea organized tour (even as an American citizen). These communications help supporting and maintaining the local culture and the fascinating way of life of those people which was likely one of the reasons you wanted to go there in the first place. Your interest, help the traditions, intangible heritages and shared history to survive and have a good space to define its cultural identity.
The main topic here is that, there are some local customs and traditions wherever you go. Some right and others might seem not right. Of course, they’re not your call as a traveler to decide, yet with you can participate in changing for good according to fixed morals. For example, the hijab is obligatory for women in Iran. Yet, there are many wrong perceptions about the measures of it. With a simple googling, you will see not only burqa is not acceptable in Iran, but the women are not wrapped in black veils. Actually, the high fashion is taken very seriously in Iran. Read more about Iran dress code HERE. So, how you can help? Many women in Iran are trying to modify the hijab law. So, the interaction of more conservative folks with the world, can teach them to be more acceptable toward not only this issue, also different opinions little by little. As a tourist, respect the hijab low for sure, especially in small towns (as unfortunately, you have to anyway). Yet, don’t overdo it. No consequences or bad experience is waiting for you. Not a chance. Also, encourage locals in small towns to empower their women. It will be effective for them to hear it from outsiders.
Please note that, there’s a fine line between being ignorant toward local customs and recognizing them and acting responsible toward them. After all, international interactions are very important in the change process. Not to follow what is labeled as “modern” or “western” at all, but to modify and develop traditional habits and extract the best out of them. To have more effect, just learn a bit of Farsi. Simple words. And the results will be so amazing in making the folks happy. Or google about habits such as bringing a gift if invited or how to return a favor, etc.
5. Stay in sustainable accommodation and Iran tour plan
Fortunately, the products and services in Iran are not that industrial. But sooner or later, chain hotels, restaurants and services will happen here as well.
- As the first eco-friendly hostel in Tehran, we try our best to be responsible toward environment in Hi Tehran Hostel. We are aware we have a long way to go, yet, sometimes dear travelers make it harder as well. Please pay attention to separate compost and recycle bins and if you were in an accommodation where they didn’t separate dry waste and compost, kindly advise them to do so. If there is an instruction for how to act green (you can find ours, both on our website, and at the entrance of the hostel), take some moments to read them and share your precious advises.
- Another way of being more sustainable while in a tour in Iran, is to ask your tour leader to give you more than one option for restaurants, shops and activities for you to choose from. In this way, tours will be obliged to focus more on the experience quality to do contacts with certain restaurants and shops for commission. In our opinion, it’s the most annoying humiliating thing in a tour. That’s why, in Hi Tehran Tours, we really tend to design the tour within a co-creation with the traveler interests to create the best outcome. Of course, sometimes, in small villages or on the road, there might be not many options to choose from and that’s OK.
- You might not have the time for this one, but if you had, try to spend your money in destinations that normally wouldn’t benefit. Don’t donate irresponsibly. Just participate actively in their economy. In this way, you help to strengthen communities in the manner to highlight the job opportunities within their own rural village, with no need of migrating to capital cities.
6. Watch your waste & be transparent in local communities
We’re sure, as a responsible traveler, you will not only watch your waste, but to not leave any footprint in the natural places.
- Using reusable bags, containers and cutlery;
- Using natural & plastic free products;
- Walking on the path in your trekking trails;
- Carrying your waste out of small villages to town since they usually don’t have a mass dumping system. Right now, the biggest issue for Hormoz is the mass of waste in this little island in the Persian Gulf;
- Don’t collect any natural elements with you. It’s causing a disaster in Persian Gulf islands.
Go local in every way possible by spending money locally, buying locally and using local people in your plans as much as possible. Whether they are vendors, taxi drivers or service providers. Also, in small villages, try not to affect the folk’s life, economy, environment rapidly. Again, participation is much more sustainable than donations. For example, if you are in a small village, don’t make promises that can’t keep like helping them to immigrate somewhere else or that you will send them money or medicine, etc. If you really want to help, ask your tour leader to introduce you trusted NGOs for financial donations or if the community has anything local to sell or present and the offer is fair, take it. Here, we introduce Sosa Poverty NGO which is the best and most reliable organization for donations. With lots of safe houses around Iran, they provide occupation for women, sheltering the homeless ones, providing education for poor kids, and many other essential NON-RELIGIOUS activities.
7. Don’t buy your way around
We don’t have such a concept as a real VIP line or section which you can pay more and cut the line like what you can see in north America or Dubai. However, if your tour leader tried to cut any line for you (which is possible), tell them you’re fine with waiting. Also, sometimes, business owners or service providers tend to prioritize tourists over folks, not necessarily for more profit and just to make a kind gesture. Again, refuse the favor after appreciating their kind act, since locals are usually shy to object.
8. Don’t Bargain too much
Iran is already the most convenient budget destination you can imagine and world 1st pocket-friendly destination. So, please keep the saving strategy for home or in a top expensive touristic country. Even as budget backpackers, considering the limit of bargaining for items, whether its food and souvenirs at a market, or local transport. In countries like Iran, bargaining for goods is part of daily life. But it’s a cultural understanding for the folks in the context. Since you don’t know the context, you might over bargain and leave the poor vendor under pressure for selling. That 1 dollar of saving that you’re trying to do, is important for the vendor or business since it can make a difference when exchange in Rials.
The last word: Help Hi Tehran Hostel to promote Iran
Finally, to support responsible travelling, promote the places you visited as a normal traveler in Iran. As we mentioned earlier, most of tourism platforms on internet play twisted or completely ignorant toward promoting Iran, thanks to the sanctions and influence of mainstream media. Therefore, it can be very difficult for Iran tourism industry to get much exposure on platforms frequented by international travelers. Pay it forward, be a good ambassador, we don’t have the privilege of media or big influential companies. Yet we have the advantage of visitors as our ambassadors. The way it should be; the most sustainable way in this commercial world.
Also, if you’re a travel influencer, blogger, Youtuber or Instagramer with big audience, you can play a huge role in the success of a community-based tourism in Iran. Yet, there are some considerations according to our own experience in Hi Tehran Hostel:
- At least for the hostels, it will be very difficult financially to provide you long-stay free accommodation in exchange for being mentioned by you. Staying free for few days to really experience the accommodation for a real review can be fine since many of travel bloggers, travel as cheap as possible to be able to continue their trip. Yet, if you’re a travel blogger, be fair and don’t participate in the process of bolding richer accommodations;
- Also, sometimes, influencers ask for a huge amount of money in exchange for mentioning or linking the accommodations in their contents. Again, consider the incomes in Iran when proposing and acknowledge this harmful, unsustainable way of income!!!! Be more like Rozz! We only knew what a big influencer she is, only after she left Hi Tehran Hostel and promoted us in her Instagram account after few days. Without even letting us know or asking for anything.
- Don’t put the service provider you plan to promote, under stress and pressure to give you a way better service than normal. In any case, what reality would it bring for you to promote, if it’s so different from what they’re already presenting;
- If you’re not an influencer and simply a regular traveler, mention nice places and services you have received in Iran to friends who you know travel in a sustainable, ethical manner and who would appreciate the experience.
None of us in the tourism industry are perfect. We can’t switch to a pure sustainable version of us and our actions in one trip. But with practice, we progress in being a responsible traveler little by little. In Hi Tehran Hostel, we’ve seen so many Iran travelers in the past years, with different personalities. As a duty, we’ve tried our best to play a little part in pushing for better in Iran. For a more responsible travelling, sustainable travel style and full of love manner in interacting with the world; Whenever we have a chance to meet the world in Iran.
Writer: Golnar ZAMANI
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