RITIKA SHARMA /
Going beyond its regular ‘sun-sand-shopping’ image, UAE is making considerable strides towards eco-tourism and making it a vital part of the buoyant UAE hospitability sector along with the financial diversification. According to World Travel and Tourism Council forecasts, the UAE’s tourism sector is
expected to experience annual real growth of about 6.5
percent till 2021, with eco-tourism playing a sustainable role in it.
Hotels in the UAE have also increased their eco footprint to catch up with the growing number of green tourists. A Dubai Chamber report identified the growth in “niche” eco-tourists as a key driver to tourism flows in coming years.
Mentioning that biodiversity in UAE is an important driver for tourism, Christian Gerart, General Manager, Anantara Hotels, Resorts & Spas – Sir Bani Yas Island, told Emirates Business, “Biodiversity, the variety of life on earth such as the diverse species of plants, animals, microorganisms and the different ecosystems, can certainly be an important driver of tourism, as is the case in UAE.”
“We have observed that the traveller of today is not only looking for comfort and luxury anymore, he is also seeking for memorable experiences, combining culture and history, and having a more holistic approach during his journeys. Appropriate conservation and sustainable development strategies can be an integral part of
attracting visitors to UAE,” he added.
Sir Yani Bas Island, one of the most sought after eco-tourism destination in the capital of Emirates, is a nature reserve with about 15,000 free-roaming animals. The resort is considered the perfect destination for guests looking for a more adventures and conservation centric experience in UAE.
“Guests can be inspired by a range of outdoor activities at Desert Islands Resort & Spa by Anantara, immerse in Arabian traditions as they enjoy views of the beachfront and lagoons at Anantara Al Yamm Villa Resort, or catch sight of bountiful free-roaming animals while trekking to or from the extraordinary Anantara Al Sahel Villa Resort. Over the years, we have seen a growing demand for environment friendly resort stays among our visitors,” he added.
Apart from desert based-tourism, UAE is also eyeing substantial revenue from its marine biodiversity.
It is notable that the Arabian Gulf is home to rich biodiversity including the second largest population of dugongs on earth, as well as over 25 species of sharks. Also, a large part of the tourism industry in the UAE relies on a healthy marine environment.
Marina Antonopoulou, Marine Programme Leader at Emirates Wildlife Society and World Wildlife Fund for Nature (EWS-WWF) told Emirates Business, “We’ve seen the trend internationally for people looking for adventure, conservation and eco-holidays and in the future, the UAE’s diverse biodiversity will certainly be an important driver of tourism. In the UAE we have deserts, mountains, wadis, coasts, islands and seas teeming with life. Many iconic species (such as Green and Hawksbills
turtles) call the Arabian Gulf their home.”
“The marine environment is an integral part of our cities (for instance, there are mangroves in Abu Dhabi) and is undoubtedly supporting the diversification of the tourism sector with popular activities such as snorkeling, diving, fishing, water based activities such as kayaking and SUP, and sailing popular with tourists,” she added.
It is worth a mention that EWS-WWF recently launched Gulf Green Turtle Project to conserve endangered species and critical habitats in the UAE and raise awareness about how conservation of turtles and their habitats can benefit the wider environment and UAE tourism economy.
“Unfortunately, while we have enjoyed the coast and seas, we have also taken it for granted. 40 percent of the UAE’s coastline has been modified or developed and increased coastal activities, when not properly planned, can lead to unsustainable coastal development. This has had a detrimental impact on critical marine species and habitats,” she said.
Experts suggest that there is the need, and also a great opportunity, for the government and the tourism industry in the UAE to promote and operate responsible practices to support a healthy marine environment.
Marina pointed out, “It does cost money to protect, conserve and support biodiversity to survive and flourish. Partnerships play a key role in our efforts to drive the course of conservation and we are actively looking for sponsors willing to support us in our efforts to conserve endangered marine species, such as marine turtles, and critical habitats in the UAE.”