Tourism Can Boost Rural Development

Tourism Can Boost Rural DevelopmentTourism Can Boost Rural Development

A variety of factors, from climate change to industrialization of agriculture, is forcing rural residents to abandon their farmlands to migrate to larger cities in search of better prospects.

This large-scale migration is putting unwanted pressure on metropolises such as Tehran, Ahvaz and Mashhad, which are not prepared to accommodate the large influx of mostly unskilled rural residents.

As they have to take up minimum-wage, often temporary jobs, villagers find it difficult to find appropriate accommodation for their families.

Furthermore, the abandoned farmlands gradually become sources of dust storms, as is the case in Khuzestan Province.

The only viable solution to the growing problem of urbanization is to help create jobs in rural regions and to do that, one need not look far. Development of tourism in rural and low-income areas will help address the issue.

 Leading Job Creator

The travel industry is a leading job creator, employing more people than the auto and chemical industries combined.

According to the World Travel and Tourism Council’s latest report entitled “Travel & Tourism: Economic Impact Research 2015”, the industry generated 277 million jobs (one in 11) in 2014, accounting for 9.4% of total employment. This is expected to rise by 2.6% in 2015 to 284 million jobs and rise by 2.3% per annum to 357 million jobs in 2025—10.7% of total world employment.

The report said the industry’s growth of 3.6% in 2014 outperformed growth in a majority of leading sectors.

Iran’s current unemployment rate is 11.6%, according to the International Monetary Fund, and it is expected to rise to 12.2% in 2016.

Tourism is a particularly attractive option for stimulating development in rural and low-income regions that have previously relied heavily on agriculture and natural resource exploitation.

Tourism development may also be welcomed by local populations because it can generate stable employment and income while promoting cultural heritage and traditions—all elements of a destination that are especially attractive to visitors.

 Agri- and Ecotourism

Agritourism and ecotourism are often touted as the two main fields of tourism that can help boost rural development and employment growth.

Defined as a hybrid concept that merges elements of two complex industries—agriculture and tourism—it opens up new, profitable markets for farm products and services, and provides travel experience for a large regional market. A well-developed agritourism sector can be even more profitable than farming.

By securing low-interest loans from state organizations, farmers can develop their lands in anticipation of city-dwellers looking to get away from the hustle and bustle of urban life for a few days. Organizing activities such as milking cows, harvesting crops and offering fresh products such as yogurt and milk are but a few examples of agritourism services.

Given Iran’s plethora of natural heritage sites and unspoiled landscapes, ecotourism—if planned well—can be profitable to local communities as well as the environment.

Those living in rural areas tend to inflict the most damage on the environment when they change the purpose of the land.

A well-planned ecotourism model not only generates substantial revenue, but it can also help instill a sense of responsibility in the locals toward the environment, especially when they realize the untouched landscape is a source of income.

To develop rural tourism, however, farmers and villagers require financial and technical assistance from policymakers and investors.

Sustainable rural development needs a massive cooperative effort, but it merits the time and money needed to make it happen, as it reduces unemployment, boosts the rural economy and protects the environment.