What is Ecotourism?

30 November 2017

Lab Chat

The United Arab Emirates are faced with a number of difficult challenges at present. One of those is reducing their environmental impact. Another is attracting tourists. Can they be combined? That’s where ecotourism comes in. But what is it? Read on for an introduction to ecotourism and how it could benefit the UAE.

What’s wrong with regular tourism?

Tourism is about attracting people to your country. Why? Quite simply, because they spend money and boost the local and national economy. To put it into context, tourism generates over two trillion US dollars every year worldwide. And in many countries, it’s the primary source of revenue and employment.

The problem, however, is that it’s unsustainable. Tourism is based on finite resources. The more people travel to places of natural beauty, the less beautiful they become because of things like pollution and extra pressure on local resources. Some historical sites are being damaged beyond preservation – and that’s not mentioning tourism’s contribution to climate change. Ironically, this is expected to lead to increased turbulence for planes over time.

Tourism can even become economically unsustainable. Rapid growth of tourist destinations leads to higher demand and eventually overcapacity with downward pressure on costs. Without any thought for sustainability, tourist destinations can easily see their economy decline.

Sustainable tourism

On the flipside, ecotourism is tourism that fully considers its own future – economically, environmentally and socially. It means catering for the needs of local communities and the environment as well as the industry and tourists themselves.

Over the past four decades, the UAE has developed its own tourist destinations, with entertainment and leisure attractions as well as business appeal. However, now is the time to consider the sustainability of tourism in the UAE. So, what have the Emirates got in store?

Ecotourism in the UAE

By 2021, the UAE is expected to attract 30 million visitors from around the world. To make this more sustainable, President Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan launched the UAE Vision 2021. It underlines the importance of preservation when it comes to the UAE’s natural environment, with projects planned to develop communities, improve conservation and raise awareness of responsible tourism.

43 areas have been officially declared as protected, which make up over 14 percent of the country. The country is also developing tourist resorts around its unique natural and historical sites. The likes of Liwa, Al Ain and Wathba Wetlands will see more investment to improve their facilities.

A number of these will be so-called “eco attractions”, which will emphasise the eco-friendly and sustainable aims of the government. Tourists will be able to go camping, ride camels and cycle around the dunes, as the UAE looks to utilise its natural selling points and spread the benefits of tourism to more rural communities. In a few years’ time, it will be more than just the big cities attracting tourists to the UAE.

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