Foreigners! Welcome to Tehran! You may also line up here,” announces a smiling airport official dressed in a long, black chador who is pointing to a newly opened immigration booth. A throng of young Dutch, Polish and German travellers pick up their rucksacks and peel off from the back of our queue and rush towards the new one.
Queues for foreign passport holders at Imam Khomeini International airport have been conspicuously short for almost a decade, but 2014 is tipped to be the biggest year for western tourism in the Islamic Republics 35-year history. The populist and bombastic former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad left office late last year and his replacement, Hassan Rouhani, has assumed a softer diplomatic style, lifting many barriers that kept tourists away.
The news, this week, that the British embassy is to reopen in Tehran should see the Foreign and Commonwealth Office change its advice against all but essential travel to Iran. Most Europeans can pick up a two-week visa on arrival and Britons can now get a visa in London, since consular services resumed in spring after a two-year hiatus.