Ecotourism destinations in UAE are setting up exemplary models of sustainable tourism in GCC countries where hospitality industry is one of the fastest growing markets in the world. Visiting the UAE is in the wish list of global travelers since long and to heighten the tourism inflow, the country is making great strides to position itself as an attractive ecotourism destination of the world.
Tourism industry provides great employment opportunities and boosts the national economy but tourism being resource-intensive has severe impact on the environment and surroundings. Dubai’s Tourism Vision for 2020 aims 20 million visitors per year by 2020. To handle the voluminous tourist crowd, the importance of sustainable tourism in Dubai is seriously felt.
This year’s convention of Arabian Travel Market is themed on the sustainable tourism industry. The importance of ecotourism in UAE would be highlighted with an objective to minimize greenhouse gas emission, depletion of resources and pollution. Hospitality organizations from different regions and MENA countries are likely to share the best practices to foster responsible tourism in the desert country.
Can UAE be a prime ecotourism destination of the world?
Since last 46 years, the UAE has transformed into a major global leisure, shopping, entertainment and business destination. Therefore, to maintain its position in global tourism map, the country has to look forward to sustainable tourism.
Backed by government support, the rise in eco-tourism destinations in UAE has been appreciable. UAE has officially declared 43 protected areas covering more than 14% of the country’s territorial landmass exceeding the target set in National Strategy for Biodiversity 2015-21.
Additionally, the country is developing hundreds of natural sites and tourist resorts centering on attractive landscapes and historical places, which are naturally the top tourist drawers. The president of UAE during the launching of UAE Vision 2021 clearly emphasized in protecting natural environment from excessive tourism activities encouraging the growth of more eco-tourism destinations in UAE.
The importance of ecotourism in UAE has been greatly realized by the tourism and hospitality sector who has taken appreciable steps to create a more sustainable tourism industry. From the business point of view, an optimal utilization of resources reduces the cost and improves the bottom line.
The UAE government in cooperation with the Dubai Electricity and Water Authority are persuading hotels to reduce water and electricity consumption and emission of fossil fuels. A leading 5-star hotel already saved 90,000 DH per year by keeping their computers switched off for 12 hours every day and using more energy efficient office equipment. These efforts signal a bright prospect for green tourism in UAE in near future.
Prime eco-tourism destinations in UAE:
Tourists supporting eco-tourism can have a good time in visiting eco-tourism sites in the country. A few of them are listed below:
Unfenced desert conservation reserve in Dubai:
Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve, the first of its kind, can be counted among the top eco-tourism destinations in UAE. Covering over about 10% of Dubai’s total area spreading across 40 hectares, this reserve will have over 10 km of lakes including Al Qudra lakes.
The Marmoon Reserve, as it is named, would be a hub of varied sorts of adventurous activities which include stargazing, yoga and cycling apart from wild-life viewing. This largest project of sustainable tourism in Dubai already shelters 19 endangered fauna. The birds and animals can be viewed from the strategically located Arabian Oryx Head shaped observation decks and bird’s nest platform.
There would be spaces for meditation and relaxation and air-conditioned yoga lounges. Star observation decks in the middle of the desert would be exciting for the stargazers and astronomers.
The Annual Sporting event planned is likely to attract 20000 visitors. An outdoor theater with seating arrangement for 350 people would stage cultural programs providing high-level entertainment to the tourists.
Al Ain Oasis – The UNESCO listed conservation site:
Located on the border of Oman near Jebel Hafeet Mountain, Al Ain Oasis, the first UNESCO listed site in the UAE speaks highly of its conservatory efforts. Dating back to 4000 years, the oasis spanning 3000 acres is a reflection of the lifestyle of Bedouins.
Here one can experience traditional farming methods and the great environmental legacy. The pathways covered by expansive greenery of palm fronds and the historic irrigation system supplying water to date palm farms portray a perfect ecotourism destination.
Mangrove National Park:
The UAE’s ecosystem is supported by mangroves. Consequently, the Mangrove National Park located outside the central Abu Dhabi is one of the recognized eco-tourism destinations in UAE.
Covering 75% of the country’s mangrove forests, the park spanning more than 250 hectares prevents soil erosion, cleans up the environment and provides ideal breeding ground for marine animals. Meandering through the park in the 2-hour kayak tour, one can spot flamingoes, sea turtles, dolphins, western reef heron, mottled crabs and other exotic species.
Endangered hawksbill turtles’ nest in Saadiyat Island:
The 5.5 mile stretch of beach of the Saadiyat Island is a protected nesting area for the hawksbill turtles, a highly endangered species. The Hawksbill Turtle Conservation Program launched in 2010, the first in gulf region, provides a safe nesting ground for hundreds of critically endangered turtles in this island making it one of the important eco-tourism destinations in UAE.
During the nesting period from April to September, staffs from the nearby hotels check the signs of nesting and mark the nests accordingly. They take suitable precautionary measures to allow a safe passage of turtles to the sea at the same time providing tourists with boardwalk access.
Qasr AlSarab Eco-reserve sheltering the Arabian Oryx:
Located adjacent to the Qasr Al Sarab Resort, the fenced Eco-reserve breeds the nearly extinct Arabian Oryx. The conservation efforts taken by Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Arabian Oryx Reintroduction Program have increased the population of Arabian Oryx to 6900.
Qasr Al Sarab is the gateway to the vast uninterrupted desert that extends up to Saudi Arabia. The large seemingly endless undulating expanse of orange-red sand dunes has been attracting tourists for quite some time. Learning about local history and wildlife in a guided tour is an exciting venture.
Bird watching in Wasit Nature Reserve Sharjah:
What used to be an illegal trash dumping ground 10 years back stands as a transformed coastal wetland reserve today. It shelters more than 60 species of endemic and migratory birds which includes 2% of the world’s population of black-winged stilts. Out of the many places in the world, Bird watchers can have a great time from the viewing platforms in different locations of the reserve in Sharjah. Roaming sand gazelles found here are no less attractive.