The Saudi Commission for Tourism and Antiquities (SCTA) joined the international community on World Tourism Day, which was held this year under the theme “Tourism and Biodiversity” in an attempt to raise global awareness about the importance of tourism and biodiversity, and in addition to highlight the role of sustainable tourism for the preservation of life on Earth.
In this context, Dr. Taleb Rifai, secretary general of the World Tourism Organization (WTO) said, “Tourism and biodiversity is a subject designed by the World Tourism Organization in an attempt to raise awareness and encourage the persons concerned in the tourism sector to participate in the international responsibilities for preserving the complicated chain of species and unique biological systems that shapes our planet.”
The demand for eco-tourism is increasing significantly. This kind of tourism is the fastest-growing tourism sectors in the tourism industry with an estimated growth rate of 10-15 percent of the total expenditure for international tourism. SCTA is participating in the celebrations of World Tourism Day by underscoring the importance of eco-tourism, as well as shedding light on the SCTA’s programs and activities in this respect.
Ecotourism is one of the most important tourism types in the Kingdom. The Kingdom is rich in beautiful environmental sites such as stunning wild parks, wonderful sea coasts, mountains, caves, natural reserves, attractive lakes, beautiful gardens, deserts, forests, and the like. Biodiversity in the Kingdom is adding an important tourism feature to the tourism sector in the country and enabling it to access a superior position in the field of tourism internationally.
As Saudi families are fond of the nature of their homeland more than anything, eco-tourism represents the better option for them. In the spring, the wild parks are full of tourists; in summer, sea coasts attract large numbers of summer visitors; and the same could be seen in Asir Mountains, as well as neighboring areas of Riyadh, where families visit the desert areas that are famous for their stunning views, such as Khareem Park and Al Tanhat. White tourist tents can also be seen dotting the desert areas and pastures in Al Qaseem, Hail, the Northern Borders, the Red Sea, and Arabian Gulf where Saudis are found gathering in family tourism trips as a testament to their indelible thirst for eco-tourism.
The relationship between the environment and tourism is integrated, as the environment itself is the product of tourism. Therefore, for the benefit of its tourism industry, it has to protect and preserve the environment. The potential for negative impacts on eco-tourism in the future is low, but such low impact may amplify at the local level during stressed times, particularly in the mountains and the desert resorts and coastal areas. The National Tourism Development Strategy in the Kingdom provides that, such impacts will be reduced, avoided, or controlled as much as possible through awareness plans, with application of regulations and stringent standards, as well as the approval process for large projects to undergo especial programs for evaluating their environment impacts in addition to their economic and financial feasibility studies.
SCTA in its activities and programs gives ecotourism great attention, the most important programs and projects designed by SCTA in this respect are as follows:
FIRST: “LEAVE NO TRACE”
It is one of the new educational programs carried out by SCTA aiming to enroot the culture of eco-tourism, secure enjoying the environment, as well as developing subjective feelings by tourists on the importance of preserving environmental resources through educational programs, training courses, and social activities.
SECOND: SCUBA DIVING PROGRAM
“Saudi Scuba” is a first technical program specialized in the development of a domestic market for scuba diving sport under the sponsorship of SCTA (official sponsor), in which the latter represents the government. The program is the first step for graduating the first Saudi team for scuba diving besides activating marine tourism. The most important goal of scuba program is to protect and preserve the coral reefs, as well as preserving Red Sea and Arabian Gulf environments.
There are many tourism projects in the field of eco-tourism that the commission adopts and supports, such as environmental inns (eco-lodges). SCTA encourages investment in the field of eco-lodges and guest houses that contribute to the development of natural resources.
FOURTH: RURAL REST HOUSES
SCTA considers that the development of tourism in each province is not an end in itself, but rather is a means to improve the communities in the provinces in particular and for the country’s common interest in general. In the field of agro-tourism in rural areas, communities are mainly depending on the local natural, social, and human resources. Agro-tourism in rural areas (rural rest houses) encourages local agricultural crafts as a cultural component of the local community.
FIFTH: PROTECTED AREAS DEVELOPMENT PROGRAM
In an attempt to activate the cooperation agreement between the SCTA and the National Commission for Wildlife Conservation and Development (NCWCD), the Commission conducted the study for the rehabilitation of a number of natural reserves for the purposes of eco-tourism, as well as finalizing the procedures necessary to convert them into tourism destinations in a number of areas in the Kingdom, such as Mahazat Al Said Reserve in Taif and Al Jubail Marine Reserve among others.
SIXTH: FOCUS ON RARE ENVIRONMENTAL AREAS
SCTA gives considerable attention to the rare environmental areas such as caves and the like, in an attempt to convert them into attractive tourist sites, in addition to its efforts to design integrated programs to raise environmental awareness on wild lands and marine environs.