Iran’s falling currency hits outbound medical travel

 

The Iranian rial has lost almost three-quarters of its value against the US dollar since January to hit a low of about 140,000 to the dollar in September. Goods and services priced in dollars are now more costly, making travel prohibitively expensive for many middle-class Iranians.

As their currency weakens, fewer Iranians are going overseas. This includes falling numbers of medical tourists. Countries seeing a substantial decline in numbers include Turkey and Georgia.

Iran is also struggling with a deepening economic crisis, with falling currency, double-digit unemployment and high inflation.

The economy has worsened since the US re-imposed sanctions in August, including on Iran’s foreign currency trade. More US penalties on Iran’s oil and banking sectors are set to start in November 2018.

Airlines and travel agencies are being badly hit as outbound bookings have dropped. Major European airlines are completely or partially cancelling flights to and from Iran. State carrier Iran Air has cut flights to Dubai, Hamburg and Sweden’s Gothenburg.

According to local travel and medical travel agencies, medical travel abroad by middle-and-upper-class Iranians has significantly reduced.

Iran does not release any statistics on travel abroad so reliable figures on outbound tourism, let alone outbound medical tourism, are hard to establish.

The benefit of a falling currency is that Iran is increasing numbers of inbound medical treatment, as relative prices drop. According to the World Travel and Tourism Council (UNWTO) most travellers to the country are from the Middle East, rather than the US or Europe, so sanctions have little effect. UNWTO estimated inbound travel numbers at 4.9 million in 2016.

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