By Seyed Amir Mahmoud Mojabi and Sahand Dabiri

Ecotourism in Iran: opportunities and challenges

January 1, 2022 - 13:44

TEHRAN - Ecotourism, if considered as a responsible trip to natural areas, will preserve the environment and establish a comfortable life for local people.

In other words, ecotourism deals with multifaceted goals of environmental protection, respect for local communities, and promotion of socio-cultural and economic components of the host community, which align with the concept of sustainable development. 

On the other hand, ecotourism is one of the main components in the formation and development of a sustainable economy. 

The special geographical location and diversity of natural phenomena have made Iran the fifth country in terms of natural diversity in the world. However, despite having many natural attractions, the country's ecotourism has faced various problems and obstacles in attracting tourists, which has prevented its expansion. 

Hereunder, different ecosystems in Iran are explained, and then opportunities, challenges, and effective solutions for the development of ecotourism in the country are examined.

Forest ecosystem

The area of Iran's forests is 14.3 million hectares, which covers 8.8% of the total area of the country. Although the area of forests in Iran is smaller than many countries and Iran is considered poor in terms of forests, but there are very valuable forests in Iran, such as Hyrcanian forests, Arasbaran forests, Zagros forests, and forests. Mangroves (mangroves).

For example, the dense and lush Hyrcanian forests, which are located in a narrow strip on the southern shore of the Caspian Sea, dates back to the third geological period.

These forests are among the oldest forests in the world and are one of the most valuable forests in Iran and the world (currently a World Heritage Site) that can play an important role in tourism development.

Also, natural forest parks such as Si Sangan, Royan, Saravan, Gisum, Gharg, and Deland are the main centers of tourist attraction.

One of the most famous and pristine forest promenades in the country is "Shahroud Cloud Forest". Currently, the uncontrolled harvesting of these forests to produce wood, change their use to agricultural lands or turn them into villa towns and build numerous roads will cause their irreparable destruction. Other forests in the country that have a high ecotourism value include western oak forests in the Zagros region.

Mountainous ecosystem

Mountains cover about 55% of the country. The mountains of Iran are divided into four mountain ranges: North (Talesh, Alborz, and Khorasan), Zagros, Central, and East. Today, the mountains are one of the most sought-after leisure centers. There are about 40 peaks in Iran with a height of more than 4000 meters, of which Damavand Volcano Peak, with a height of 5671 meters, is the highest peak in Iran. Sabalan peaks (there is a beautiful lake on top of the peak) and Alam Kooh (with a wall of 450 meters) are world-famous.

Desert ecosystem

More than a third of the country is dominated by deserts. Iran's deserts are mainly due to the impact of the subtropical high-pressure belt and are part of the Earth's desert belt. The deserts of Iran are divided into two main parts, the Dasht-e Kavir, and Kavir Lut.

Dunes, clots, steppes, and salt lakes are among the most important amazing phenomena in the desert areas of Iran. It is also one of the lifeless regions and thermal poles of the planet in the Lut Desert. The Lut Desert is the second natural heritage of Iran in the world after the Hyrcanian forests in UNESCO.

Aquatic ecosystem

Aquatic ecosystems, which consist of marine, coastal-marine, lake, wetland, and river ecosystems, are among the most important ecosystems in the world. 

Although Iran is one of the water-scarce countries in the world, it has different forms of these ecosystems. So that the Caspian Sea (the largest lake in the world) with about 873 km of coastline in the north of the country and the Persian Gulf and the Sea of Oman with about 4644 km (including islands) coastline in the south of the country is proof of this claim.

The existence of 25 international wetlands registered in the Ramsar Convention (this convention was proposed by Iran and signed in the city of Ramsar) indicates that Iran has such a valuable ecosystem.

Variety of plant and animal species

The diverse nature and climates of Iran include many plants and animals that are amazing both in number and diversity compared to other parts of the world.

Iranian plants are very diverse due to the size of the country and the prevailing climatic and ecological conditions. Existence of more than 8000 plant species, among which about 2000 endemic species of Iran, shows how high the plant richness is even though Iran has an arid and semi-arid climate. 

Among these species, some are more important for attracting tourists, such as Chelcheragh lily (an endemic and unique species in Damash, Gilan), Laleh Vazhgon (in the Zagros region), Shaghayegh plains, lilies, old cypress trees (Cypress 3000). 

Herzville in Masuleh and 4500-year-old Abarkooh cypress in Yazd), Gaz and hawthorn desert species, and mangrove sea forests are among them.

Iran has about 545 bird species (because Iran is located in three bird migration routes, it has species from Europe, Africa, and Asia), which is more diverse than all European bird species, so Iran is known to be the bird paradise for bird watchers in the world. The golden crow is the only endemic bird in Iran that lives in the deserts of Iran (Desert National Park).

Other Iranian wildlife attractions that can be targeted by nature lovers include Persian zebra, Persian yellow deer, Asian cheetah (rarely seen), Persian squirrel, bottlenose dolphin, humpback dolphin, purpura, turtles Sea urchins, short-nosed crocodiles (gando), and a variety of fish associated with coral reefs.

Threats and Challenges of Ecotourism in Iran

In general, the main challenges of ecotourism in the country can be expressed as follows:

- Lack and even lack of proper infrastructure structures such as transportation routes, health services, lack of signposts and providing tourist information, medical centers, and welfare and tourism service centers throughout the country

- Worn out and insufficient facilities in the country's public transport fleet, especially for proper transportation in the tourism industry (worn-out aircraft or equipment such as buses and minibusses)

- Lack of proper marketing and advertising in the global tourism market to attract foreign tourists to the country

- Lack of necessary support for those involved in the tourism industry, especially ecotourism and adverse macro-management in the country's tourism industry

- Strict security view of foreign tourists and the lack of visa issuance

- Occurrence of social and cultural problems between the host community and tourists due to lack of proper planning for tourism development, especially ecotourism

- Lack of priority for the development of the tourism industry in the macroeconomic development policies of the country by the country's politicians and decision-makers

- Lack of understanding of the true value of ecotourism attractions by the local community from the perspective of sustainable development

- Lack of preparation of a comprehensive atlas of ecotourism areas and natural attractions in the country

Suggestions and strategies for ecotourism development

Economically, ecotourism causes prosperity and development of areas with natural attractions, and this provides a good ground for the development and progress of these areas. Therefore, in order to remove the existing obstacles and develop ecotourism in Iran, it seems that the following items will be effective in the development of ecotourism in the country:

- Marketing management based on information technology and extensive advertising in the global tourism market to attract tourists by participating in exhibitions, conferences, and content production for tourism marketing

- Supporting the creation and development of businesses related to the tourism industry, especially ecotourism

- Participation of local people in decision-making and implementation of ecotourism programs and equitable distribution of income from ecotourism among local communities

- Proper and wise management and planning for tourism development according to the social and cultural considerations of the host community and also the priority to protect the environment

- Prioritize the development of the tourism industry, especially ecotourism, taking into account the principles of sustainable development in the country's macro-policies and land management

- Public education and awareness and participation of all tourism stakeholders in tourism development planning

- Necessary support and facilities for those involved in the tourism industry and continuous monitoring of their activities

- Creating and strengthening appropriate infrastructure for the development of the tourism industry by attracting investors

- Establishing and implementing progressive laws and regulations in the field of tourism, especially ecotourism, as well as preparing comprehensive and detailed nature tourism plans in Iran

- Using the capacity of non-governmental organizations (NGOs), the local community in managing the country's tourism industry with government interaction

- Establishing diplomacy and developing appropriate relations with other countries in order to attract tourists, taking into account the protection of national interests and security of the country

- Preparing a comprehensive atlas of ecotourism and natural attractions of the country by mentioning the appropriate timing of tourism and its necessary permits

- Preparation of a comprehensive eco-tourism plan of the four environmental areas by specifying the zones of residence, visit, and ...

- Providing insurance to support natural tourists, especially in the field of adventure tourism
 

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