Finding a place for Ecotourism in the UAE (page 1 of 2)
- United Arab Emirates: Wednesday, December 24 - 2003 at 13:41
Few of us associate leisure tourism with environmental degradation. How, after all, can recreational activities like lying on a beach, water sports, golfing, wildlife viewing or even shopping, harm the environment?
Tourism's environmental impacts are mounting. Underestimated in the past, these are causing concern now because so many sites around the world have been spoilt; many times, resulting in destruction of the very attraction that draws people to a place. It has happened in the Caribbean, where 'sun-sand-sea' vacation packages are concentrated along the coast.
It has happened in Mexico (Cancun) where resorts, piers and marinas have replaced mangroves and salt marshes. Particularly badly affected has been the world's tourism capital - the Mediterranean region - where huge tourism infrastructure developments have dramatically altered the natural dynamics of the coastal ecosystem, urbanizing more than half the coastline. And now, it's happening in the Gulf countries.
The explosive growth of the tourism industry has made it very big business the economic impact of which is astounding indeed. But there is a negative side to the economic boom: the sheer numbers traveling around the world has a major and ever increasing impact on nature and people.
Too much concrete, too much neon, too much plastic, too little regard for waste and emissions, insufficient attention to carrying capacity and harmony with nature - mass tourism has degraded habitats and landscapes, depleted natural resources, generated waste and pollution and proven detrimental to the social fabric of local communities. In doing so, it has destroyed the basic resource upon which it depends to thrive and grow: a sound environment. Tourism's sustainability is the greatest challenge facing decision makers today.
Ecotourism is at the other end of the tourism scale. It is gaining popularity as holiday makers' tastes change - moving away from highly packaged, standardized, traditional city or beach-based mass tourism destinations to more personalised, life-enhancing travel in attractive natural environments.
Consequently, ecotourism has become the fastest growing segment of the tourism industry, estimated to be increasing 20% annually compared with 7% for tourism overall. The World Tourism Organisation predicts that the trendiest destinations of the future will be the tops of the highest mountains, the depths of the oceans and the ends of the earth!
Touted as a solution and responsible alternative, ecotourism is considered as one of the trump cards of tourism. But is it?
Yes if it entails responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and sustains the well being of local people. It is low-impact tourism, based on appreciation of the environment, and where a conscious effort is made to re-invest an adequate proportion of revenues in conservation of the resource upon which it is based. A natural extension of this definition is ensuring that benefits flow to local peoples.
No if it entails just any travel that occurs in a natural setting regardless of what is being done, and how. In many cases it is not ecotourism at all. It is conventional tourism in the garb of 'nature tourism', 'adventure tourism'... even 'ecotourism' just because it provides visitors access to ecologically sensitive areas.
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