The New Conservationist

Travel & Environment Desk
The New Conservationist
The New Conservationist

People across continents celebrated the 46th annual Earth Day on April 22, demonstrating their support for environmental conservation once again and calling on world leaders to spare no effort to protect the planet and all it has to offer.

But protecting the Earth is not solely the responsibility of authorities; it is up to each and every one of us to do our fair share to ensure the planet’s natural resources — be they water, forests, or natural heritage sites — remain intact for future generations to use and protect.

If you live in Iran, this may surprise you, but tourism can contribute to conservation.

A tool for conservation in both the developed and developing worlds, tourism has helped restore natural sites and contribute to conservation efforts, but Iran has so far failed to reap the benefits of tourism, both financially and in terms of environmental protection.

Environmentalists are often wary of and normally opposed to tourists visiting natural attractions because on more occasions than one they have left a trail of destruction. The most recent example is the flattening of the stepped terraces of Badab-e-Soort Natural Springs in Mazandaran Province which forced officials to close the site in September last year due to the extent of damage.

  Contribution to Conservation

A well-managed tourism industry is not only a stable source of revenue, but a tool with which the environment and all the habitats it supports can be protected, which in turn help draw visitors and generate revenue. Allow me to explain.

Tourism can contribute directly to the conservation of sensitive areas and habitats. Revenue from entrance fees to protected areas can be allocated specifically to pay for the protection and management of environmentally sensitive regions.

For example, UK-based tour operator Discovery Initiatives makes an annual contribution of $45,000 to the Orangutan Foundation International thanks to its earnings from only five tour groups of 10 people visiting the Tanjing Putting National Park in Central Kalimantan in Indonesia, a large orangutan habitat, according to the UN Environment Program. The money funds the orangutan care center in the park and helps employ more rangers to protect the site.

In African countries home to large numbers of protected wildlife habitats, such as in Kenya and South Africa, a substantial portion of the entrance fee goes to beefing up security against poachers and help breeding programs for endangered species.

Furthermore, tourism can indirectly help protect the environment. User fees, income taxes, taxes on sales or renting of recreation equipment, and license fees for activities such as hunting and fishing can provide governments with the funds needed to manage natural resources. Such funds can be used for overall conservation programs and activities, such as park ranger salaries and park maintenance.

For instance, at the turn of the century the Seychelles in the Indian Ocean introduced a $90 tax on travelers entering the Seychelles. Revenue is used to preserve the environment and improve tourism facilities.

According to the United States’ Environmental Protection Agency, in the state of West Virginia a whitewater rafting tax is collected from everyone who participates in a commercial rafting trip. The fee goes toward studying the environmental impacts of rafting. In addition, the rafting companies participate in several river cleanup days each year.

  Sustainable Tourism in Iran

Sustainable tourism means causing minimal impact on the surrounding environment and community by acting responsibly while generating income and employment for the local economy and aiding social cohesion.

Iran’s Cultural Heritage, Handicrafts and Tourism Organization is a proponent of ecotourism, but staunch opposition from environmentalists has brought progress in developing this key subcategory of tourism to a standstill. The organization’s less-than-stellar track record of protecting heritage sites of all kinds has done little in the way of swaying environmentalists.

However, the impasse could be resolved if the two sides opted to compromise. As other countries’ experience shows, tourism is a stable, green and growing source of income which can also be used for conservation purposes. By employing both tourism and environment experts, nations have turned the travel industry into a major contributor to conservation efforts, and Iran needs to follow suit.

Travel agencies can hire environmental experts and use their expertise in planning successful ecotours that help promote environmental awareness and have little or no negative impact on natural attractions.

Travel agencies that organize medical tours to Iran are obliged to have a medical professional on their roster, so it is reasonable to expect tour operators who plan ecotours to employ environmental experts.

Furthermore, tour operators can contribute a portion of their revenue from tours to natural sites to environmental causes.

For their part, the authorities should set regulatory measures to help reduce the negative impacts; for instance, controls on the number of tourist activities and movement of visitors within protected areas can limit the impact on the ecosystem and help maintain the integrity and vitality of the site. Such limits can and should also reduce the negative impact on resources.

Sustainable tourism benefits everyone involved. Visitors benefit through better links with local communities, a high quality tourism experience and a natural and built environment that is cared for. The local community and the country at large will reap the financial benefits, leading to a higher quality of life.

Becoming a sustainable tourism destination will give Iranian tourism businesses a competitive edge by generating greater community support for tourism and creating new marketing opportunities.