Ecotourism in Iran: Challenges and Opportunities

Ecotourism in Iran: Challenges and Opportunities

Plan for the Land Society Iran

 

By Negar Ghadimi, Plan for the Land Society

 

Ecotourism activities are gradually becoming popular in Iran. Although Iran has a diverse climate and remarkable biodiversity, major limitations such as lack of conclusive regulations, educational programs and infrastructure, have contributed to the slowing of the development of ecotourism in the country. Iran has various natural attractions such as temperate forests in the north with high humidity and rainfall (1700 mm), deserts and salt lakes in the central part of Iran, high mountains (such as 5,604 meter‐high Mount Damavand), glaciers and coastal areas.

 

Considered one of the five countries in the world with the highest biodiversity, Iran is home to 514 bird, 172 mammal, 199 reptile, 20 amphibian, 173 fish and 9000 plant species. Popular ecotourism activities in Iran include trekking in mountains, desert treks, bird watching in coastal areas and wetlands, and diving. The existence of a large cultural diversity is another important characteristic that can attracts ecotourists to Iran. Different ethnic groups and folks live in various parts of Iran. Each of these ethnic groups has its own history, culture, customs, traditions, and language.

 

In March 2006, the Iran Cultural Heritage, Handicraft and Tourism Organization (ICHHTO) created the National Committee of Ecotourism as the first specialist team focusing on ecotourism. This Committee consists of educational, cultural, legal, technical and ecotourism activists. Beside this main center, twenty‐nine Provincial Ecotourism Committees were established representing each province of Iran. While the development of such groups shows positive signs, the provincial committees are currently not sufficiently staffed with enough fulltime specialists.

 

The first ecotourism‐related legislation in Iran, "Guideline for Ecotourism" was ratified in the Assembly of Ministers in 2005. Between 2006 and 2008, 533 individuals received ecotour leadership certificates from special educational centers in Iran. In order to promote healthy growth of ecotourism in Iran, there needs to be further development of ecotourism programs and ecotourism‐oriented institutions.

 

Experts believe that the potentials and limitations of ecotourism in Iran needs to be properly recognized both by the private and public sectors, and that the needs for capacity building, increased investment in human resources development, as well as practical regulations, are key to ensuring that Iran can meet its potential as an ecotourism destination.

Plan for the Land Society

In 2005, Mr. Ziayi, a university professor of mammals and pioneer of ecotourism companies in Iran, established the Plan for the Land Society, together with his colleagues and fellow ecotourism and conservation enthusiasts.

 

The Plan for the Land Society, currently with 14 staff members, is a non-governmental non-profit organization seeking a better plan for the homeland, Iran, through the conservation of wildlife and biodiversity in the country. Through publication and outreach, the Society works to raise awareness of environmental issues, both in cities and rural areas. The Society also offers youth educational programs, such as educational trips for children to teach them how to interact with nature.

 

The following are the four categories for the Society’s main activities:

  • Direct conservation field projects, e.g. gathering data on endangered species.
  • Indirect conservation projects, e.g. promotion of sustainable livelihood, ecotourism.
  • Educational programs to increasing public awareness of the importance of biodiversity and environmental conservation.
  • Publication of artworks by nature photographers and illustrators highlighting Iran's beautiful nature.

Under the supervision of the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), the Plan for the Land Society is currently running two ecotourism‐related projects.

 

1. Capacity Building and Ecotourism Development in Khafr: This project, in the village of Khafr, focuses on capacity building and aims to develop a management plan for the effective implementation of ecotourism. The Plan for the Land Society offers training and educational programs such as:

  • Training sessions for women to recognize and enhance their ability to produce handicrafts and local food products for visitors;
  • Training sessions for house owners who seek to use their homes as tourist accommodations;
  • Community education programs on environmental conservation and sustainable natural resources management; and
  • Ecotourism classes for local tour guides.

2. Ecotourism Education in the Touran National Park: This project aims to provide educational opportunities for local people of the communities in and around the Touran National Park. Through participation in this project, the local community members will be able to learn necessary skills to use ecotourism as a means to conserve the local ecosystems and to bring benefits for the communities. The Plan for the Land Society will run pilot eco‐tours based on the lessons learned through this project, with the goals of designing ecotourism packages that best utilize the potential and resources of the region. 

 

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