Bright prospects for Iran’s ecotourism

Financial Tribune- The government’s focus on the development of ecotourism, especially in rural areas, is a reliable means of creating a stable source of income for locals and preventing heterogeneous construction.

Based on the directives of the budget law regarding the creation of sustainable employment and support for development in rural and nomadic areas, low-interest loans (up to 6%) are being offered by the National Development Fund of Iran to those eager to establish ecolodges throughout the country, IRNA reported.

Ecotourism is defined by the International Ecotourism Society as responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the welfare of local people.

It is intended as a low-impact and often small-scale alternative to standard commercial mass tourism and its purpose is to preserve natural areas and environment and improve the well-being of the local people.

  Need for Infrastructure 

The new industry requires a variety of platforms and strategies for prosperity, including extensive advertising of the indigenous settlements, road construction and maintenance, and most importantly, establishment of ecolodges.

An ecolodge is normally run by a local family, provides not just an accommodation for travelers but an opportunity for locals to serve their regional cuisine, showcase handicrafts, perform traditional music and plays and organize tours and events for visitors.

When proposed as a tourism development plan in villages by Iran’s Cultural Heritage, Handicrafts and Tourism Organization, ecolodges were not so much welcomed by locals, except for a handful of young entrepreneurs.

“However, witnessing the rapid development and profitability of local guesthouses, those who were more conservative also started to embrace the plan instead of selling their lots and lands,” said Nader Saharkhiz, deputy head of Mazandaran’s provincial office of ICHHTO. He explained that villagers in the province who had no sustainable source of income except agriculture and fishing were forced to sell their inherited lands, giving more space to villa construction.

“With the development of ecolodges throughout the province, especially in Tonekabon and Neka counties, local travelers and gradually foreign tourists showed interest in staying in rural vacation rentals.”

According to the official, Tonekabon, which enjoys attractions such as forest parks, natural protected areas, beautiful cascades and wetlands, has managed to successfully accommodate thousands of domestic and foreign travelers in villages.

  More on the Way 

“Currently 18 ecolodges operate in the county, which is expected to rise to 20 soon,” Saharkhiz said, adding that there are 80 more applications pending for required permits.

Local officials are making efforts to reach the target of 100 ecolodges in Tonekabon by 2021.

Each ecolodge creates jobs for about 15 people. This is additional to the organic foodstuff and handicrafts that each traveler will be possibly buy, Saharkhiz noted, underlining the productivity of establishing ecotourism lodgings.

Providing more details, Mehran Hasani, deputy for tourism at the provincial ICHHTO said, “At the last count, the number of ecolodges throughout the province reached 70”.

Statistics show a 5% decrease in the rural population of Tonekabon since 2011. Officials hope that the development of ecolodges in rural regions will eventually result in reverse migration.