Tourism and Biophilia: Protecting the world’s remaining natural habitats

As disparate as the subjects of tourism and biophilia would seem, it is apparent that in my life and countless others, they are indeed closely connected. Biophilia is a term created by my environmental hero, Edward O. Wilson, to describe the innate affinity, fascination, and awe that we humans have for other species. Judging from the rates that we visit our zoos and wildlife parks, it must be a common affliction. Yet today, many of us spend our vacations traveling to natural environments not knowing the effect tourism has on the habitats of the very species we set out to see.

According to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) Sustainable Consumption and Production Branch, tourism impacts the environment in three main ways: depletion of natural resources, pollution, and physical impacts, and that nature tourism is growing at an annual rate of 10-12 %, with most of the expansion happening in the world’s remaining natural areas. One can conclude that tourism has an impact on the future of all other species. I might add our own species to that list.

I saw firsthand the importance of reconciling tourism and biophilia recently during an excursion to Kalimantan (Indo-Borneo) at the conclusion of my consultancy on the island of Java, Indonesia. I stayed at an ecolodge called Samboja in East Kalimantan, which also happens to be the location of the Wanariset Orangutan Reintroduction Center and Samboja Lestari project founded by Dr. Willie Smits.

The former is the largest primate rehabilitation program in the world. To orangutans – approx. 30,000 left – clinging to their last island home in a nation rampant with deforestation and illegal logging, it is a matter of survival of their species. Ecotourism is not yet common to this remote equatorial island but Samboja is a reason to believe that it can have a significant impact. The lodge attracts naturalists from all over the world, from birdwatchers and hikers, to botanists and city dwellers.

Many visitors volunteer for weeks, providing assistance with the various labor intensive tasks of the reforestation program. They pay a premium to stay there, and understand that their tourist dollars help provide funding for a seriously endangered fellow mammal. The general manager of the lodge, Jan Burrows, greeted his guests, including me, with the admonition, “go to bed early; turn your lights off at night, and be quiet. You are guests of the orangutans.” As I thought about those words, I realized that it seemed to me like good advice for all properties bordering natural habitats.

Samboja Lodge is about a one-hour drive from the main airport in Balikpapan, the capital city. The paved road ends several miles before Samboja, and the tropical setting is unmistakable as you near the Samboja Lestari compound. The ecolodge is mostly built from local natural materials, including its impressive roof from a local sugar palm fiber. Its structure is so nestled into the natural setting that it is barely visible from only a few meters away and sunlight drips slowly through the dense vegetation onto its facade. Due to its tropical setting, the open dining and lounge areas offer unbelievable sights of a rainforest landscape.

The 24 rooms all have abundant views of the jungle setting, which is the reforestation project, and all offer spectacular natural sightseeing. My room was luxurious with a king size bed and extended height ceilings that I shared with a gecko for the night. Water was to be spared as noted in a sign near the bathroom so I limited my showers to several minutes in total.

The premium tower rooms located above mine provided views of the six islands that host the orangutans in their various stages of rehabilitation. The observation tower, one level up from the rooms, peered slightly over the jungle canopy and offered stunning topical views but at a distance also revealed signs of forest clearing.

Kalimantan is irreversibly creating orangutan orphans by cutting teak, mahogany, ramin and meranti at illegal rates estimated as high as 75%. While most of the wood is cut and burned for fuel wood or for government sponsored palm oil plantations, some is sent to other nations, and some ultimately is turned into furniture that ends up in hospitality applications. No teak headboard from Kalimantan could ever be priced high enough to warrant exterminating orangutans from the wild.

Any manufacturer that does not pay attention to its chain of supply may be complicit to the devastation of a habitat like that in Kalimantan. Samboja is one of the few examples in Indonesia where native minds have realized the potential of ecotourism. My guide, Firdaus Yamani, of Borneo Discovery Tours, explained that ecotourism is still as incomprehensible to the majority of the natives as is the notion of irreplaceable biodiversity. In fact, many Indonesians have yet to realize the value of the wood that gets cut.

On my last day at the lodge, I took an early morning guided hike through the jungles of Samboja. This excursion took me on a bridge between the tiny islands and brought me to an emotional confrontation with an orangutan that was on one of the islands designated for impending release. Her wide, curious eyes bespoke wisdom we could sense and her movements were most human-like, as that of a young girl watching an intruder from the porch.

But this was no porch. This is the last island of her existence; her last hope; a final reminder for me of the importance of ecotourism to the few remaining natural places of the world. And while orangutans only occupy a small portion of Kalimantan as solitary nomadic creatures, the third largest island in the world, unoccupied space is essential to their survival.

Edward O. Wilson said in his autobiography, Naturalist, “Earth, in the dazzling variety of its life, is still a little-known planet.” As we revisit some of the remaining biologically diverse and unchanged habitats of our little-known planet, we must support those ecotourism projects that have the most positive effect on local habitats, and realize that our affinity for other species should directly influence how we build in these fragile environments. Ecotourism can become a powerful ally in the preservation of our remaining natural habitats and in the growth of sustainable hospitality worldwide.

About the Author: David Mahood is the V.P. of Sustainable Hospitality, NEWH, and the principal of Olive Designs. He is a sustainable manufacturing consultant to the hospitality industry and lecturer on the topic of sustainable hospitality and a contributor to publications dedicated to sustainable furnishings. He also serves as the co-chair of the standards committee of the Sustainable Furniture Council, and is a sponsor of the Nexus Green Building Resource Center, located in Boston, MA.

Ecotourism in Afghanistan

Tourism in Afghanistan? It’s not what you expect from this remote and beautiful, but troubled Central Asian nation. Most media reports on Afghanistan talk of war and bloodshed, insurgents and explosive devices. What they rarely report is that most of the northern half of the country is in fact quite peaceful and that reconstruction and development are moving forward. Play casino without depositing any of your own money! Almost every casino offers free spins or no deposit bonus casino for new players when opening account.

A trickle of adventurous tourists is already arriving in Afghanistan, reminding Afghans of the heady days of the 1960s and 1970s when their country was a popular destination for thousands of foreign visitors, and tourism was good business. Those who came then ranged from archaeologists and ethnographers to hippies and other Western youth looking for adventure in high Asia.

The Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN), one of the world’s largest private development agencies, works extensively in South and Central Asia. In two regions of Afghanistan (and in neighbouring Tajikistan), the Network is now supporting cautious plans to help revive the tourist industry as a way of creating jobs, and also to ensure that the inevitable tourism developments remain under the control of local people. Join our new UK mobile slot site today and get £5 free no deposit required! Play slots and casino games on your desktop, smart phone, tablet.

AKDN has ecotourism programmes in two areas – the remote and mysterious Wakhan Corridor, in the panhandle of northeastern Afghanistan, sandwiched between Pakistan, China and Tajikistan; and in the serenely beautiful Bamyan region of central Afghanistan, site of the giant Buddha statues destroyed by the Taleban.

The first concern is, of course, security. Both the Wakhan and Bamyan are generally safe and peaceful. Wakhan is so remote it was virtually untouched by the years of war. Bamyan, high in the Central Highlands, has always been somewhat removed from the mainstream of Afghan politics and has been quiet since the end of the Taleban regime in 2001. These ecotourism programmes are aimed at long-term development, helping local people to prepare for a tourism industry which is already reviving.

Afghanistan is not for the fainthearted traveller, but several thousand expatriates already live and work here. Most are accustomed to the country’s special circumstances and could provide a ready market for the sort of small-scale trekking and adventure tourism which both Wakhan and Bamyan can provide. Apart from foreign tourists, Bamyan is already a popular destination for Afghans who visit the area in large numbers in summer. The ecotourism programme is also aimed at this market, to attract more Afghan visitors and to help them better understand the region’s local culture and ecology.

Of the two regions, Bamyan is better known internationally because the valley was the site of two giant Buddha statues carved into the red cliffs, dating from the 6th century. These were famously destroyed in 2001 by the Taleban. The giant niches where the Buddhas were carved remain, as well as hundreds of caves dug into the cliffs by Buddhist monks in the 1st millennium AD.

Bamyan was then a key transit point through the Hindu Kush mountains for travellers on the Silk Road trade routes which linked China, Europe and India. The Bamyan valley is also rich in other archaeological and historical sites, all set in a sublime landscape of green fields, ochre cliffs, cave complexes and fantastic wind-eroded rock formations reminiscent of Cappadocia in Turkey.

Another well-known site in the Bamyan region is Band-e-Amir, a chain of seven turquoise lakes formed by natural dams which have just become the centrepiece of Afghanistan’s first national park, declared in May 2009. Also nearby is the Ajar Valley, a spectacular secluded valley which was once the private hunting preserve of Afghanistan’s last king.

The Bamyan Ecotourism Programme, funded by the government of New Zealand, and implemented by AKDN, got underway this year. A tourist information office has been established in Bamyan, and brochures, a website and other information materials are being prepared. Local guides are being trained in the history, geology and folklore of the area.

Training is also getting underway to help establish small private guesthouses, and training courses will upgrade the quality of services at local hotels and restaurants. At Band-e-Amir, campsites will be developed, and local people helped to set up horse trekking and other tourist services.

The programme will stress the preservation and development of local culture and the protection of the natural environment as assets which are essential for a profitable tourism industry. In remote, poor areas with few natural resources like Bamyan and Wakhan, such assets as natural beauty and a vibrant indigenous culture can be exploited to attract visitors and money to develop the local economy.

The Wakhan Corridor is very different from Bamyan, culturally, ethnically and geographically, but this great valley of the upper Amu Darya, or Oxus, river was also an important part of the Silk Road since it was one of the chief routes through the mountain ranges of Central Asia on the way to China. Marco Polo became the Wakhan’s most famous early tourist when he travelled along the valley in about 1270. The Wakhan was also a focus of the “Great Game” in the late 19th century when rival British and Russian explorers and spies came to find the source of the Oxus, or to win imperial influence in this little-known region.

The Wakhan Corridor and the Afghan Pamirs is an area tailor-made for the adventurous traveller keen to trek with a horse or a yak through unknown valleys and camp in yurts in the high summer pastures of the last Kyrgyz nomads. A network of small family-run guesthouses has been established along the length of the Wakhan valley which visitors can now use as a base for exploring the region, whether by vehicle, or (preferably) by horse or on foot. Information brochures are being prepared and a website will be ready soon, giving detailed information. Training courses here will also help to improve the standard of food and accommodation, which at present are very basic.

Wakhan also has some of the highest mountains of the Hindu Kush – Mt Noshaq, at 7492 metres, is Afghanistan’s highest peak. Wakhan was emerging as a new mountaineering destination in the 1960s and 70s, until the Soviet invasion of 1979. With the recent publication of a mountaineering guidebook for Wakhan, steps are now underway to develop the region’s mountaineering potential.

In a notable achievement, two local Afghan mountain guides, trained as part of the ecotourism programme, recently became the first Afghans ever to stand on top of their country’s highest mountain, when they climbed to the summit of Mt Noshaq on 19 July this year.

For visitors coming to Afghanistan from outside the country, some are uneasy about travelling through the capital, Kabul, where there have been well-publicised bombings. Fortunately, there is another option for getting to Wakhan – a recently opened border crossing into Afghanistan from the Gorno-Badakhshan region of neighbouring Tajikistan at Ishkashim, the gateway to the Wakhan. AKDN also supports an ecotourism programme in the Tajik Pamirs, so the intention is to enable adventurous tourists visiting Tajikistan to make a short excursion into Afghan Wakhan. Afghan visas can be easily obtained at the Afghan consulate in Khorog, the capital of Gorno-Badakhshan.

Tourists won’t be flocking to Afghanistan in the near future, but as the country seeks to build a more secure and prosperous future, many Afghans are eager to welcome foreign visitors back to their country. Now is the time to begin preparing.

Hands-on tourism education: Outdoor rural tourism study program in Nepal

By Bijaya Pradhan, Executive Chairman, Dream Nepal Travels & Tours

In June, Dream Nepal Travel & Tours organized a three-day outdoor rural tourism program in Nagarkot (33km north east of Kathmandu) for the students of Silver Mountain School of Hospitality Management (SMSHM). Working with tourism colleges, Dream Nepal organizes these trips across Nepal, encouraging education and capacity building through outdoor activities.

As part of the SMSHM program, the students prepared presentations on their skills and what they have learned about setting up tourism and hospitality enterprises. The outdoor activities on the rural tourism program allowed the students to go and see for themselves what they have learned about in the classroom. The close encounter with nature, culture and adventure will not only help them further develop their skills, but also grow their confidence as they prepare for their career in travel and tourism.

DreamNepal-PresentationsGenerating students’ interest in the places they visit, the local people and cultures, and the social, political, cultural and environmental issues facing these destinations, is just as important as providing courses and training opportunities. By offering hands-on learning experience, we are helping prepare today’s youth for the development of the tourism industry in Nepal. There are many students in Nepal studying tourism, but unless they are familiar with the on-the-ground realist of tourism, their learning.

These outdoor study trips also promote domestic tourism and support rural communities. The goal is to engage students to further help the destinations they visit by sharing their experience with others, and, in the future, contribute to promoting the destinations as tourism professionals.

DreamNepal-OutdoorThese students are the future successors of the tourism industry. That’s why it’s important to pass on the knowledge and experience of today and prepare them for tomorrow. Many tourism businesses believe that these types of programs targeting youth not only provide educational benefits for students and economic benefits for rural destinations, but also help build a sustainable future of the tourism industry in Nepal, with the potential to attract more domestic and international tourists.