Biodiversity is tourism’s natural capital, motivating millions of people to travel the world each year. Yet biodiversity is at risk on a global scale due largely to unsustainable human activities.
“Biodiversity is central to all our lives, yet is being lost at an alarming rate,” said UNWTO Secretary-General, Taleb Rifai, “Through developing sustainable tourism, we can help to change attitudes and increase conservation. This particular project will raise awareness of Georgia’s great biodiversity, generate income for nature conservation, and preserve precious species and habitats for future generations.”
“Georgia, as part of the Caucasus region, is a biodiversity hotspot. These hotspots are recognized globally as priority sites, based on criteria such as the diversity of species and plant types, and this rich biodiversity increases Georgia’s attractiveness as a tourist destination,” said the Head of the Georgian National Tourism Administration, Maia Sidamonidze, “Ecotourism can fund conservation, contribute to the protection of endangered ecosystems, and promote development in poor areas. However, there are also examples of tourism having a negative impact on the environment. In light of these contradictory impacts, this project aims to reduce such conflicts by raising awareness of these areas for protection.”
“Ecotourism has a great future, and there is huge potential for the development of ecotourism in protected areas in Georgia. We hope that in the near future, Georgia will have an ecotourism country label,” said Giorgi Shonvadze, Chairman of the Agency of Protected Areas.
The project, to be carried out by the UNWTO Consulting Unit on Tourism and Biodiversity, will develop tourism products in mountain and freshwater ecosystems in four protected areas in the country, in order to raise awareness of these areas, as well as generate income for their conservation.
Potential products to be developed include a zip-line route, a canopy rope walk, and a canoeing trail. A marketing strategy will also be devised to promote the new products, as well as training workshops for nature protection authorities, tourism officials, and other local stakeholders.
Launched in Tbilisi, Georgia, on the occasion of World Environment Day (June 5), in the presence of the Georgian Minister for Environment, the Chairman of the Georgian Agency of Protected Areas and the Head of the Georgian National Tourism Administration, the project will run until spring 2014, by which time a number of sustainable, biodiversity-based tourism products will be in place and run by local stakeholders.
The project is supported by the German Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation, and Nuclear Safety and will be implemented by the Georgian Agency for Protected Areas, the Georgian National Tourism Administration, and the Center for Research and Sciences (NACRES).