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Home / Other / Analysis / Ecotourism: No Harm to Nature

Ecotourism: No Harm to Nature

Ecotourism is currently seen as the most promising type of tourism, for its important environmental and educational value.

As estimated by the World Tourism Organization (WTO), ecotourism ranks among the five major strategic directions of tourism development for 2020. The share of ecotourism in the total volume of the global tourism industry has reached more than 10% in recent years, and its growth rate is two or three times higher than the rate of the entire tourism industry.

Ecotourism came to light in the late ‘60s of the last century. The reason of keen interest in it comes to steady deterioration of environmental quality, as well as the remarkably grown environmental consciousness of people. Given the upsurge in the rates of urbanization and pollution of natural landscapes in the foreseeable future, the interest in ecotourism will grow respectively.

Preservation of natural resources stands as a key pillar of ecotourism. Instead of consumer attitudes like deforestation, mining, and that sort of things, the profit is made without any sacrifices for the environment.

Ecotourism is mainly aimed at introduction to natural, cultural and ethnographic peculiarities of certain area without violating the integrity of ecosystems, but creating the economic conditions, under which the protection of nature and natural resources would be beneficial for the local population.

The official status and the name of ‘eco-tourism’ have been assigned to this kind of tourism relatively recently, in 1990. With the assignment of the status, ecotourism has acquired the right to convene the annual international symposium Annual World Congress on Adventure Travel & Ecotourism, and establishment of non-profit organizations like Ecotourist Society, the International Ecotourism Union, and others.

 There are many definitions of ecotourism. The one approved by WTO stipulates that ecotourism includes all forms of nature tourism with observation and communion with nature as major motivations for tourists. The diversity of its forms includes ecological excursions (walks along the ecological path, visits to museums on the territory of national parks, trips to farms with advanced agricultural technologies), rural tourism, caving (tours to caves), cruises on sailing ships, observation of birds. Summer ecological student camps are another successful form of ecotourism. Hiking, cycling and water tours rank among the most appropriate ways of environmental education.

Ecotourism is directly linked with sustainable development of the country. In Uzbekistan, it is promoted by state policy in the field of biodiversity conservation, rational use and reproduction of flora and fauna. The republic has been actively involved in international environmental cooperation: we acceded to key international conventions on nature conservation, including the Convention on Biological Diversity, and took on the commitments related to protected areas.

Uzbekistan has a great capacity for ecotourism development with its natural and climatic peculiarities: we have unique nature, a variety of scenic landscapes and rich cultural heritage.

Aimed at ensuring favorable living conditions for present and future generations, the forward-looking environmental policy is reflected in the creation of new protected areas: national nature parks, nature reserves, biosphere reserves. They are the centers of ecological stability and rehabilitation of natural ecosystems, which contribute to maintaining the appropriate conditions for human life.

The ecotourism development has also been contributed by the tourism infrastructure with more than 200,000 employees and 110 international tourist routes. More than 500 hotels, motels and campgrounds provide tourist services in line with international standards. Numerous ancient monuments of civilization and culture have been restored in the years of independence.

With more than 7,000 monuments of different epochs and civilizations, Uzbekistan ranks among the most interesting destinations of the world tourism. The big centers of medieval science, art and culture as Samarkand, Shakhrisabz, Bukhara and Khiva, are included in the UNESCO World Cultural Heritage List.

The unique network of protected natural areas has been essential for the ecotourism development in Uzbekistan. Their total area now covers 5% of the country. They are eight nature reserves, two national parks, three natural nursery, twelve wildlife sanctuaries, five natural monuments, one biosphere reserve. In the future, it is planned to protect additional 81 square km, including two national parks, five nature reserves, eleven wildlife sanctuaries, two biosphere reserves.

Ecotourists might be interested in the mountains of southern Uzbekistan, Kyzylkum landscapes, mountain areas of Tien Shan and Pamir-Alai, large water bodies with rich avifauna.

Flora and fauna of Uzbekistan is distinguished by the astonishing variety – 4,100 species of plants, 97 species of mammals, 83 species of fish, 58 species of reptiles. The country possesses more than 17,000 natural reservoirs, 51 storage reservoirs, 500 lakes, 1,500 springs, 525 glacial mountains.

For instance, the Kyzylkum desert is home to many species of rare animals. Located in the Amudarya reeds, the Kyzylkum reserve is a natural park, which is inhabited by rare species of animals. The Jeyran Ecocenter, locating 40 km south of Bukhara, is engaged in the restoration of endangered animals: gazelle, kulan, Przewalski's horses and others.

Boysun district of Surkhandarya region has a great potential for ecotourism, as it is located at the historic crossroads of cultures and religions, including Zoroastrianism, Buddhism and Islam.

Weather conditions are favorable for recreation and ecotourism. The large rivers like the Ugam, Chirchik, Zarafshan, can be used for practicing a variety of sports and tourism.

Mountainous areas of Uzbekistan are most popular for Chimgan Mountains with their 3,309 meters peak of Big Chimgan. This area is the concentration of mountaineering trails, hiking trails, rock climbing, horse riding trails, ski trails.

The Chatkal River that flows into the Charvak reservoir and has rapids of several categories of complexity is a unique route for rafting.

The Baysuntau ridge is interesting for cavers for its deep caves: Boy-Buloq, Festival-Ledopad, Ural, and Kiev caves on Kyrktau plateau, Zaidman cave on the Chatkal ridge, and others.

There are several yurt camps on the Aydarkul Lake shores. Like other lakes of this system, Aydarkul is a good place for recreational fishing. Tourists are also offered camel rides and other romantic services that draw a picture of ​​the nomadic life.

Another interesting place – the Sarmyshsay tract - is located on the outskirts of Kyzylkum. It is a gorge with a mountain river on the southern slope of the Karatau mountain range, 30-40 km away to the north-east of the Navoi city. Sarmyshsay is known for the monuments of ancient human life, which are concentrated on an area of ​​about 20 square km.

There are quarries, mines, ancient settlements, burial mounds, tombs and rock paintings - about 4,000 pieces of rock art. Since ancient times, the locals performed their rituals there, as the territory was considered sacred.

The priceless wealth must be used wisely and without damage to natural and historical sites.

The development of ecotourism and its transformation into a socially important socio-economic phenomenon entail the relevance of its effective regulation. This implies the instruments that would ensure the full and effective coordination of operation of economic entities and ongoing activities at the regional level.

The approval of tourism development programs for Khorezm, Surkhandarya, Tashkent and Kashkadarya regions by the Government of Uzbekistan in 2013, which provided for the disbursement of more than $260 million, was a new stage in the development of this sector. A part of funds will be channeled for the development of ecotourism in these regions.

A Program for building a developed ecotourism infrastructure in the regions of Uzbekistan for 2016-2018 years is currently under development in order to ensure the appropriate organizational, legal, infrastructural conditions for the further development of ecological tourism in Uzbekistan.

Along with addressing organizational and legal issues, the program stipulates the implementation of certain measures for the development of scientific and methodological foundation of ecotourism, infrastructure, diversification of ecotourism product, as well as the promotion of ecotourism potential of Uzbekistan in the domestic and foreign markets.

The implementation of the program will involve public and nongovernmental non-profit organizations. The successful implementation of the project activities is ensured by the fact that they take into account all the provisions of the Law ‘On social partnership’, which was adopted in 2014, and is called to regulate the interaction of state bodies with NGOs and other civil society institutions.

The cooperation of state and non-governmental organizations in promoting ecotourism, formation of new environmental culture in the population, creation of the information resources that can draw a complete picture of the organizations that provide eco-maps, diagrams, train qualified staff (guides, attendants, guides for environmental issues), is expected to bear fruit in the near future.

The experience of the states that have achieved significant results in the development of ecotourism, suggests that effective governance and regulation is particularly relevant at the stage of formation and is a determining factor for building a national ecotourism market.

Experts see eco-tourism not just as a source of income, but an important instrument in cultural exchange, education, recreation. Most people support its ethical side, that is the preservation of natural resources, and regard as most suitable for traveling and intercultural dialogue. In conditions of high urbanization, ecotourism should be developed not only in nature, but also in urban areas, thereby ensuring the preservation of the natural and cultural environment of people.

This was the focus of International Conference on ‘Ecotourism as Important Factor for Sustainable Development and Environmental Protection: the Experience of Uzbekistan and Foreign Practice’ in Tashkent. The event was organized by the State Committee for Nature Protection in cooperation with the National Company Uzbektourism, with the participation of the OSCE Project Coordinator in Uzbekistan.

The forum brought together more than 200 participants, including representatives of international organizations like UNWTO, UNEP, UNECE, the International Ecotourism Society, financial institutions, the diplomatic corps and accredited international and regional organizations, as well as MPs and senators of the Oliy Majlis, representatives of ministries , departments and public organizations. Zhu Shanzhong, WTO Executive Director, was the honored guest of the international conference.

As noted at the opening ceremony, Uzbekistan has great prospects for the development of ecotourism, establishment of a unique and sustainable network of ecotourism routes, which would be attractive for all categories of tourists, with the further integration of the country into the international market of these services. Yet at the present stage, the republic leads among the Central Asian states in popular ecotourism destinations.

A demonstration of a video film on natural and biological diversity of Uzbekistan and its ecotourism capacity was a part of the opening ceremony.

The main objective of the conference was to develop proposals on promising directions, mechanisms and instruments for the development of ecological tourism in Uzbekistan, taking into account international experience and expansion of international cooperation in the field of ecotourism and nature conservation.

The plenary meetings were held in four major thematic areas: ‘Uzbekistan: the national legislative, research, methodological and institutional framework in the field of ecotourism, the study of foreign experience’, ‘Ecotourism Prospects for Natural Objects’, ‘Public and private partnership in tourism’, and ‘Training and retraining of highly qualified staff for environmental tourism industry’.

The development of ecotourism implies a comprehensive support of a system of environmental protection, conservation of biodiversity and unique natural areas, maintenance of population incomes, and is a promising market for investment projects, emphasized the speakers.

The geographical location of Uzbekistan at the intersection of routes from China to the West, from India to the northern countries, the climatic features of the country, a unique network of protected natural territories, and a rich variety of landscapes suggest broad opportunities for the promotion of ecotourism routes.

Following the forum, the participants signed bilateral documents on cooperation in ecotourism and nature conservation, including contracts on channeling foreign investments and technical assistance for the development of the sector.

Foreign guests were introduced to natural, historical and cultural attractions on ecotourism routes by the example of Ugam-Chatkal National Park.

 

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