Risky Business: Tourists Taken Hostage By Iran Not Of Concern To Irresponsible Travel Companies

‘Safe As Sweden’ Marketing Ignores Tourists Taken Hostage

(New York, N.Y.) – Nearly three full years after being taken hostage while in the Islamic Republic as a tourist, French national Benjamin Brière was released by the Iranian regime on Friday along with Bernard Phelan, a Paris-based travel consultant and French-Irish dual national similarly taken by the regime while traveling in Mashhad, Iran in October 2022.  

Despite these cautionary examples, tour operators based in Europe, North America, and Australia continue to mislead consumers about the risks of traveling to the Islamic Republic and, in most cases, fail to disclose warnings about the risk of traveling to Iran, neglect to encourage travelers to consider advisories issued by their home governments, or actively undermine government warnings. 

U.K.-based Steppes Travel is open to enquiries about its tours to Iran and offers no advisories about security risks or recommendations to consult authorities. U.S.-based Far Horizons is selling a 17-day tour of Iran and, as part of its marketing materials, includes a testimonial that “nothing is true of the officially supported ‘not safe country’ preconception.” Geographic Expeditions goes further by declaring that its “security consultants assess the majority of Iran as low-risk—the same level of risk as Sweden.” Other U.S.-based firms, including Wild Frontiers, Ker & Downey, and Cyrus Travel, are not so brazen as to undermine the State Department’s Travel Advisory; they simply fail to disclose any risks whatsoever.  

In January 2022, the American Society of Travel Advisors wrote to UANI that they shared “serious concerns about the risks associated with travel to Iran by American citizens,” and agreed “wholeheartedly … all tour operators have a common law duty to their clients to disclose the existence of any heightened or unusual risks associated with travel to a particular destination, and this includes – but is by no means limited to – travel to Iran.”  

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UANI Senior Advisor Barry Rosen and Michael White in Newsweek: “We Were Hostages In Iran. The U.S. Can Prevent More Stories Like Ours 

Increased awareness about the risks of traveling to Iran has prompted some travel agencies to rethink their offerings. Greater caution is being exercised, albeit temporarily, by Australia-based Intrepid Travel. Earlier this month, the company announced the cancellation of all tours in Iran through September 1, 2023. However, it also advises future would-be travelers that “petty crime does exist but probably the only danger you'll face while here is the country's chaotic traffic” and is selling five tours to Iran scheduled to depart after its self-imposed moratorium expires, including a “Women's Expedition” scheduled to begin just one week after the anniversary of Mahsa Amini’s death. More than 500 women, men, and children have been killed since Amini’s death sparked the Women, Life, Freedom movement.  

Other tour operators have appropriately stopped selling tours in Iran, though it remains unclear if the decision to do so is temporary. United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI) expressed its concerns to U.S.-based Distant Horizons and U.K.-based firms Exodus Travel and Ciceroni Travel in December 2021 about tours on offer. None of the three firms have future tours scheduled in Iran.  

“Businesses that are failing to properly advise travelers of the risks they are accepting or actively undermining government warnings are truly irresponsible and should be held accountable,” said UANI Research Director Daniel Roth. “Selling tours to the Islamic Republic also threatens international peace and security. As U.S. Special Envoy for Iran Robert Malley said in January 2022, the likelihood of the U.S. agreeing to a nuclear deal with Iran while Americans are being held hostage by the regime is very hard to imagine. Tour operators should no sooner bring travelers to Iran than they would other hostile states like North Korea.”