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Beyond the vast sun-drenched courtyard of Esfahan's Imam Mosque and its intricate 17th-century tiled stalactites, an audience of four Belgians and a Polish woman listens patiently to a young Iranian sheikh.Between March 21 and April 20, the first month of the Iranian year, 4,594 foreign tour groups visited Iran, more than double the number that arrived in same period last year, said Morteza Rahmani-Movahed, deputy of the government's Tourism and Heritage Organization. Iran wants to remove or ease visa requirements for 12 countries to draw more visitors, Intelligence Minister Mahmoud Alavi has said. Travel and tourism accounted for 6.3 percent of Iran's $482 billion economy in 2012, according to an estimate by the World Economic Forum in a report last year.Taking into account Shiite pilgrims and visitors from neighboring countries such as Azerbaijan, he said more than 4 million overseas visitors toured Iran from March 2013 to March 2014, each accounting for an estimated $1,200 of revenue, according to a report by the official Islamic Republic News Agency.Haddadi, who has managed the hotel for 14 years, wouldn't disclose earnings, though he said all 225 rooms were fully booked until June, with the exception of a few large suites kept empty for high-ranking guests.
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