Ecotourism in Iran and The Free Trade Zones of the Persian Gulf
Today, tourism is one of the most successful economic activities in the world. The rapid and staggering growth of urban life and its consequences have contributed to the development of this global industry, so that today its growth is greater than that of world trade. The emergence of a whole travel and leisure market and the investments made in this area has enabled many countries to generate huge revenues. Maybe a few decades ago, few would have believed in this exponential growth. Despite the presence of certain problems and difficulties, Iran is a favorable investment ground for this sector, allowing it to increase the share of its non-oil revenues. It brings in neighboring countries like Turkey $ 12 million, and is expanding significantly in the United Arab Emirates. In relation to its neighbors, Iran has certain assets: an important historical heritage as well as a very diverse climate, fauna and flora; from this point of view, it is one of the ten most privileged and richest countries in the world. It is unfortunate that multiple and complex political, economic and social reasons have not favored the development of ecotourism.
The place of ecotourism in the world
The World Tourism Organization is convinced that in a decade, more than 20% of the world's current tourists will have visited nature and its beauties, whereas they currently represent only 7%. And if we add to the definition of ecotourism and nature tourism other kinds of tourism such as sports tourism, rural, nomadic etc., the 20% would be likely to reach 50%. According to estimates by the International Ecotourism Society (TIES), nature tourists can be divided into two age groups that stand out above all for their motivation to travel: a group that seeks adventure , the discovery of wild lands, and which is generally between 19 and 35 years, and another within the age limit between 35 and 54 years looking for more calm and rest.
Similarly, TIES studies tend to show that more than 80% of these international tourists have higher education, and this figure reaches 100% when it comes to people whose goal is to change air and to commune with nature. 60% of international ecotourists prefer group travel, 15% family travel and 13% individual travel. They are about 80% from 8 to 14 days. Studies show that for each trip, ecotourists spend from $ 1000 to $ 1500, which can still be increased depending on the type of trip chosen.
Statistics show that in 1996, the incomes of 300,000 people in America depended directly or indirectly on ecotourism. This sector has since grown considerably. In the 1980s, the ecotourism growth of many small countries reached nearly 255%. Countries such as Costa Rica and Kenya owe nearly a third of their foreign exchange earnings to ecotourism. This growth was only possible thanks to the safeguarding of animal species, the careful protection of the zoological natural environment, as well as to an important publicity made on the wildlife of these countries.
The place of ecotourism in Iran
Many world experts place Iran among the top 5 countries with an interest in ecotourism. This country is home to a large number of dispersed, unregistered and, in many cases, endangered species.
Considering its investment potential and the extent of its natural resources, ecotourism in Iran is an unparalleled wealth and potential. Its geographical latitude, its topographical conditions and its biological diversity make it unique. It is also home to the largest lake in the world to the north and a 1200 km coastline with the Persian Gulf to the south, 50 inland lakes - 18 of which are wetlands of the Ramsar Convention - Lake Orumiyeh - one of the 59 natural resources of the world - dense northern forests of unique secular vegetation, vast deserts, mountain ranges with high peaks, not to mention a great diversity of cultures .
Iran's attractions for ecotourism can be enumerated as follows:
- Hiking, which includes discovering the animal world, discovering landscapes and unique natural resources, study and research in the natural environment etc.
- Hunting and fishing, including hunting and fishing
- Ethnology: nomadic tourism, cultural tourism and rural tourism
- Winter sports: skiing, sledding, mountain hiking
- Water sports: swimming, boating, water skiing
- Discovery of the desert with the caravan tours
- Care by nature: thermal cures, thalassotherapy, health centers in the countryside
- The discovery of rocks and caves with climbing, walking on ice, speleology
Compared to other types of tourism, ecotourism in Iran includes some advantages:
- The development of ecotourism does not require large investments to create infrastructure such as roads, hotels, etc. ;
- It promotes the protection and preservation of landscapes and the natural environment;
- Ecotourists are very sensitive to the social and religious rules of the host country;
The charms and ecotourism capacities of the free trade zones of the south of the country make it particularly suitable for the development of ecotourism.
Beach sports and water sports in free zone
The south coast of Iran is one of the country's main tourist centers. In recent years, the two famous islands of the Persian Gulf, Kish and Gheshm, have enjoyed the largest tourism investment. It must be considered that if Iran's blue tourism (coastal tourism) wants to take off internationally, it can only rely on ecotourism and nature tourism.
Gheshm Island, near the Strait of Hormuz, is the largest island in the Persian Gulf. Generally, its coasts are conducive to the construction of ports. In addition to the town of Gheshm, this island is home to traditional villages and the mangrove of Hara, which is one of the rarest aquatic vegetation in the world.
Kish Island has the second largest area of the Persian Gulf. Currently, this island is managed by the organization of free zones. It enjoys, with the island of Tchabahar, significant revenues from trade and the creation of customs facilities which are specific to the free trade zones. In addition, it has, apart from beach sports and water sports, a remarkable potential for the development of ecotourism. It offers the discovery of the rich local culture, as well as tours specialized in scuba diving, navigation, water skiing etc.
Unfortunately, high costs, some constraints and insufficient publicity mean that many tourists prefer to travel to neighboring countries of the Persian Gulf, such as the Emirates and Qatar, even as the creation of these free trade areas and investment in some $ 100 million was made to attract tourists and traders to promote economic development in the region.
The natural wealth of the southern free zones
These regions have very important natural habitats, which are home to numerous animal reserves and valuable aquatic plants. They have a vital role in the aquatic life cycle and as a fishing reserve.
The coral regions
Coral reefs are one of the sensitive habitats on Kish Island. They have a particular central role in the aquatic food chain. Coral reefs look like cities engulfed in the seabed. They are near the coast and are the cause of the shallow depth of the water. So far, 29 kinds of corals have been recorded. In addition to their use in medicine, they are also used in ecotourism for diving.
The forests of Hara (mangrove)
The height of these evergreen trees reaches up to thirty meters in some areas and shrubs measure from 2 to 4 meters. Their leaves are bright green or gray. In summer, small clustered flowers bud at the end of their branches. The mangrove of Hara located on the island of Gheshm spreads and regenerates very difficult, so that its development is limited. The whole of Hara, as a biological reserve of the planet, is protected by UNESCO. In general, these "maritime forests" have an important ecological role since they prevent coastal erosion. They are also suitable places for the development of a diversified fauna: fish, shells, shrimps, snails, etc. The wood of these trees is used in industry and crafts.
Birds and mammals of the southern free zones
These islands are on the passage of birds that immigrate from the northern hemisphere to the southern hemisphere. Approximately 22 million birds of all kinds follow this route each year in the winter season and source from these areas, giving them global ecological significance. The dolphins, always companions of navigators, are often visible in these regions, as well as the whales that sometimes wander a few moments in these waters.
Fish and other marine animals
Nearly 340 kinds of fish, turtles, shrimps, crabs, starfish, sharks, seahorses etc. are listed in these regions, which helps to attract many tourists and researchers.
Ecotourism capacities of the free trade zones of southern Iran
These regions have enormous capacity, active or potential, to attract ecotourists. From the long list of their positive points, it is important to consider the following factors:
- The environmental and natural characteristics of these regions and the existence of unique landscapes;
- the absence of customs problems and the presence of facilities for entry and exit from the territory;
- Quality transport networks;
- Fewer cultural barriers compared to other inland regions of the country;
- The neighborhood with the Arab countries;
- The availability of useful facilities for ecotourism such as water sports;
- Less visual and acoustic pollution.
Some difficulties, however, remain likely to limit the arrival of listeners in these areas. One example is the pollution of the waters surrounding these regions, which results from several factors such as exploration, exploitation, refining and oil exports.
- pollution produced by maritime traffic (oil tankers, commercial vessels, etc.);
- Physical changes in the seabed and shoreline, caused by industrial, urban, port and other activities;
- pollution caused by wars (Iran-Iraq, Kuwait-Iraq);
- pollution from unknown sources;
- Sewers, etc. ;
- Problems created by administrative loopholes, the lack of answers from the leaders, the struggles of personal interests;
- Problems related to the direction and control of the government, particularly with regard to the coastline;
- a small number of foreign investors;
- The high cost of expenses for tourists and national walkers (transport costs, etc.);
- lack of direction and strategy in coastal development plans;
- lack of appropriate marketing to attract ecotourists from targeted countries;
- Insufficient indoor and outdoor advertising.
Proposed solutions to attract ecotourists and walkers to free trade zones
Thanks to certain actions, ecotourism can flourish in these regions. They can be limited to:
- The creation of facilities and possibilities, so that visitors can acquire enriching experiences.
- The implementation of a strategy in the form of management and coastal planning. It must be taken into account that the coastline is very vulnerable, and that the coastline of these regions is very narrow. Construction of buildings and infrastructure can then cause a lot of damage to the coral coast. Similarly, the use of agricultural pesticides causes irreversible damage.
- Education of people by the press and the media. For example, national and even foreign ecotourists, when feeding fish, must respect the following points: do not feed fish in fishing areas, as this creates disruption in the activities of the species. That only fish food be given without adding anything. For swimming and scuba diving, you also need to give some instructions: the swimmer must be careful not to touch the animals, not to influence the trajectory of a swimming fish, or not to hit his feet live animals.
- The use of competent guides who know the natural environment;
- Accessible and inexpensive transport networks;
- The construction of accommodation of different kinds at reasonable prices, and the creation of shelters equipped;
- Advertisements necessary to make known the nature and heritage of Iran;
- A marketing and knowledge development of habits, markets and the host country, the establishment of information office;
- Attract private investors, especially foreign investors;
- Reduction of bureaucracy.
The safeguarding and restoration of this environment and the response to tourist expectations will be the decisive factors for the development of this sector. The ultimate goal of tourism is customer satisfaction, knowing that every discontented tourist can dissuade nearly 20 people from traveling. A tourist spends about 50 barrels of oil during his stay. The importance of a few million tourists is therefore easily understandable, and all the more so when we know that the development of this sector is in the long term.
Free trade zone officials can, through targeted and judicious investments, prevent the exit of the country's currencies. Iran's ability to attract ecotourists is much greater than that of the Arab countries, and as it is often mentioned, the latter often take advantage of the negligence suffered by the sector in this country.