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An Iranian travel startup is tackling the country’s economic sanctions and consequent financial exclusion by offering visitors to the country an opportunity to pay for their travel experience with Bitcoin.
Speaking to Bitcoin News, IranbyBit‘s founder Setare Shabanipour discussed the importance of having the option to pay with Bitcoin, and how the business is helping to grow both the tourism sector in Iran and international levels of Bitcoin adoption.
Why does Iran need a Bitcoin travel option?
Iran has been subject to economic sanctions from the US, the European Union and the United Nation Security Council in various capacities since the Iranian Revolution in 1979. Through the years, the sanctions have taken the forms of asset freezes and trade embargos, which have taken a serious toll on the country’s economy and people.
It is difficult to send and receive money from other countries while based in Iran, creating a major issue for attracting outsiders to visit the country. Shabanipour explained that tourists are not able to use credit cards, Visa or Mastercard; ”Travelers need to exchange their money to the Iranian local currency and carry cash with themselves which is a troublesome and an unpleasant experience,” she said. It also makes it difficult for international travelers to book their accommodation and events such as local tours before they enter the country.
The premise of the Bitcoin travel body is to give travelers the opportunity to pay for these things with cryptocurrency, making booking a trip to Iran as simple as it is for any major country. ”At IranbyBit we seized the opportunity that Bitcoin provides,” Shabanipour told Bitcoin News.
Doing its part for Iranian tourism and the economy
Iran cannot quite be called a top holiday destination right now but Shabanipour believes that by enabling foreign travelers to use Bitcoin to plan their trips, more tourists will be attracted to the country. She has high hopes about where IranbyBit can take the tourism sector: ”The more foreigners visit Iran, they can decide for themselves about the country and this can lead to a change of attitude toward Iranians in global communities and markets. Also, this can result in attracting more investors and their investments toward Iranian businesses.”
The Iranian economy could certainly use the boost that Shabanipour hopes tourism can bring after decades of financial exclusion because of international sanctions, and the cultural benefits of having foreign travelers experience the country could help break down the prejudices that Iranians face on the global stage. ”It is inevitable that cultural bridges will form among foreign and local cultures. Such a flourishing market will result in attracting investment and building up more tourism infrastructures in Iran,” Shabanipour predicted.
As she describes it, financial inclusion goes beyond just being able to purchase things in Iran in the way that now Bitcoin allows. Rather, it also means opening up Iran as a safe, fun, accessible destination for the rest of the world to experience, and she hopes to do this in a sustainable way.
”Iranbybit provides travelers and local communities the chance to communicate with each other and understand different cultures. We support the economy of local communities and pursue flourishing rural markets. We also recognize an increase in tourist demand for the countryside instead of cities, hence, a flourishing countryside decreases the rate of migrations of Iranians to big cities. Natural resources can be used as a source of income and they will be treated as treasures and preserved appropriately.”
Left to Right: Founder Kokab ”Setare” Shabanipour, Web Administrator Saeed Nasiri, Bitcoin Research and Development Manager Ziya Sadr, System Software Developer Nima Behkar
Calling for Bitcoin adoption
IranbyBit supports and uses Bitcoin because they appreciate that it removes the barriers in their way of entering the global market, and they have called for other Iranian business to do the same in order to promote economic growth. Because IranbyBit’s revenue is all coming from Bitcoin, they hope they are helping to support widescale Bitcoin adoption and development of a future economy where the reliance on fiat currency is minimal.
Shabanipour says that in Iran, Bitcoin use is a grey area; while it is not regulated by the government, the work IranbyBit do does not break any laws. Even if this changes, they truly believe in Bitcoin as a payment system and would hope to still find a legal way to accept it. ”The general opinion about Bitcoin in Iran is very positive but even if that changes, we are still going to use and support it.”
The Middle Eastern nation has a very active Bitcoin community and IranbyBit is proud to be a part of spreading the message and encouraging other business to also accept cryptocurrency for payments.
In terms of blockchain, IranbyBit does not see a useful way of integrating the technology into their business right now: ”Our main focus is on utilizing Bitcoin for our business and we don’t think that blockchain as a technology is relevant in this area. Up to now, it’s hard to imagine real-world use cases for blockchain but maybe it can have some in the future. There are very active people in this community in Iran and blockchain is possibly one of their areas of interest.”
Bitcoin getting Iranians excited
According to Shabanipour, potential customers that IranbyBit has spoken to have been very enthused about this new opportunity and plan to use their services to book their future travels in Iran. Several people they spoke with have already had experiences traveling by Bitcoin, and have given them a lot of positive feedback.
The body offers Ecolodges for those who are seeking nature-based accommodation, and Shabanipour says that it is the people who are the most adventurous travelers that are attracted to their services over anyone else.
IranbyBit uses a commission-based revenue model based on seasonal travel popularity. The agency provides substantial information on its website for each accommodation and service available for booking with Bitcoin payments, including local sim cards and tourist debit cards to help people access money and local communications.
Right now, just the first release of the website has been launched which can service over one hundred tourists. ”We have more than 20 accommodations with complete details ready to serve tourists from anywhere in the world. Once the MVP is released, IranbyBit will take its first step in the global tourism market,” Shabanipour detailed.
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Image Courtesy: IranbyBit/Setare Shabanipour