Wild Jordan – Eco Tourism for Conservation

Wild Jordan is responsible for developing eco-tourism in RSCN’s protected areas and sees it as major tool for supporting the conservation of these areas. It works to the principles enshrined in the following definition of eco-tourism:

“Responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the well-being of the local people.” – The International Ecotourism Society (TIES)

More specifically, Wild Jordan’s eco-tourism operations are bringing the following benefits for nature conservation:

  • Substantial income for biodiversity protection
  • Jobs and revenue for local communities, which create more support from local people for conservation and provide alternatives to ‘harmful’ land uses like grazing and hunting.
  • More support from decision makers, and the Jordanian population in general, who are able to see the tangible social and economic value of nature conservation

What eco-tourism projects have we done so far?

Eco-tourism facilities and activities have been created in four protected areas so far: Dana, Mujib, Ajloun and Azraq. These areas have widely different habitats and landscapes, from rugged mountains to Mediterranean forest and desert wetlands.

The Dana Biosphere Reserve is the most developed for tourism, having a guest house, campsite and eco-lodge and a range of trails and tour programs. Hiking is the main activity in Dana, although many visitors just come to enjoy the amazing mountain scenery and experience the local culture.

In the Mujib Reserve, which lies on the shores of the Dead Sea, we have developed the most exciting river trails in Jordan. These take you through deep gorges of red sandstone lined with palm trees and down high waterfalls, assisted by ropes. A ‘chalet village’ has recently been opened (2008) at the edge of the Dead Sea offering overnight accommodation with spectacular sea views.

In complete contrast, the Ajloun Forest Reserve offers tranquil wooded hills in the north of Jordan, which you can enjoy by staying in a tented lodge or more individual cabins. A range of trails and tours have been developed from the Reserve to enable visitors to see important archaeological sites and experience local village culture.

The Azraq Wetland Reserve lies in the Eastern Desert and its oasis is famous for migrating birds. A unique lodge has been created nearby in a renovated 1940’s British Field Hospital that offers a comfortable and very unusual base from which to explore the wetland and the Eastern Desert.

Helping Jordan’s tourism industry

The eco-tourism sites and operations being developed by Wild Jordan are making a significant contribution to the development of Jordan’s tourism industry. In 2007, the number of tourists to RSCN sites exceeded 40,000 and the revenue generated contributed over 45% of annual conservation costs and supported hundreds of local community jobs. While the number of visitors for these eco-tourism experiences is modest at present, the impact on Jordan’s tourism industry is significant and growing. Some 30 Jordanian tour operators are involved in promoting RSCN products, usually as ‘mixed’ tour programs involving eco-tourism sites and traditional historical sites, thus extending the average stay of visitors to Jordan (which currently stands at a low 4.2 days). Having observed the success of RSCN’s enterprises, the private sector is now developing new eco-tourism facilities and operations in other areas of Jordan, including Wadi Rum, and these will undoubtedly expand the sector further. At a wider, planning level, the principles that RSCN has applied to the development of eco-tourism in sensitive ecosystems and landscapes are becoming mainstreamed into government land use policies and development strategies, such that two major regions of the country now have embryo master plans that place equal emphasis on tourism development and resource protection.

Planning and design for eco-tourism

One of the main tools we use for planning eco-tourism operations is the zoning plan. Each protected area has a zoning plan that identifies which areas can be opened for visitors and available for the construction of facilities. The boundaries of these areas are decided from detailed ecological surveys that indicate the relative ecological value and sensitivity of different parts of the protected area. Usually, three types of zones are delineated: ‘wilderness’ or ‘core’ zones, where no public access or construction is allowed; ‘semi-intensive use’ zones, where limited access and small scale facilities are allowed; and ‘intensive-use zones’, where more access and construction is allowed (but still tightly controlled). Daily access limits are defined for each of the last two zones and general impact monitored. In the popular Dana Biosphere Reserve, for example, the daily limit for the Rummana campsite area is 60 people per day. So far this has not caused unacceptable damage to the integral habitats and landforms. In reality the area open to visitors in any given protected area is only a tiny fraction of its total size and, while visitors themselves do not usually notice the restrictions, this ensures that the most of the protected area remains undisturbed and wildlife can flourish.

In terms of building design, all the lodges, campsites and other facilities in RSCN’s protected areas are highly individual and reflect local vernacular architecture and cultural history or the adjoining landscape. The intention is to give each facility a unique character and atmosphere that adds to the visitors’ experience. The campsite buildings in Dana, for example, reflect the domed shapes of nearby rock structures, while Feynan Eco-Lodge has the essence of a desert caravanserai; and, in complete contrast, the Azraq Lodge incorporates military elements into its design to acknowledge its pas use as a military field hospital.

Wherever possible, environment-friendly features have been introduced into the design of our tourism facilities, although some were constructed before ‘green architecture’ was fully understood or appropriate technology available. Common features are high levels of insulation for cooling, solar hot water systems and the use or re-use of local building materials. The Feynan Eco-Lodge is more advanced and has solar electricity for use in bathrooms and kitchens. We recognize, however, that we still have a long way to go in some important areas, including waste management and energy conservation, and we are in the process of developing tougher criteria and standards.

This piece is taken from the website of Wild Jordan.

See on-line at: http://www.rscn.org.jo/orgsite/Group1/EcoTourismforConservation/tabid/164/Default.aspx


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