Let us not destroy beauty

T V SARNGA DHARAN NAMBIAR –
The call of the distant lands. The enticing charm of unfamiliar cultures and beliefs. Or an inner urge to travel so as to get away from the daily grind… reasons could be myriad, but tourism is today one of life’s necessities rather than a luxury.
No wonder, tourism is booming like never before. And we pay a price, even as we gloat over its diverse benefits. It’s not just that tourism emits a significant 8 per cent of greenhouse gases, globally. The industry is held responsible for pollution of varied kinds including air and noise as well as aesthetic pollution, waste and littering and degradation of fragile ecosystems. It also accentuates the depletion of natural resources.
And it’s not just the foreign ers who are to be blamed; domestic tourism is also culpable. A recent study shows that carbon dioxide emissions caused by tourism shot up to 4.5 billion tonnes from 3.9 billion tonnes during the 2009-2013 period, contributed in various measures by flights, hotels, food and production of souvenirs.
And what lies ahead is certainly alarming: tourism industry is forecast to produce 6.5 billion tonnes of carbon emissions by 2025, making it one of the major culprits in abetting global warming. Thus it’s incumbent on all of us to make tourism sustainable. But, challenges stare at us as we move towards a framework for sustainable tourism.
Is it advisable to put a limit on the number of visitors and vehicles to a destination? Can we levy a tourism tax? How about discouraging construction of new resorts and hotels?
The fact is there is nothing much we can do to make tourism totally sustainable, except taking measures such as adopting mass transport systems instead of individual cars, raising awareness among locals and visitors and other stakeholders about sustainable tourism activities, and promoting eco-tourism in a big way.
With the Sultanate increasingly becoming popular as a unique, geographically diverse and relatively unexplored destination among global tourists, the government is extremely cautious in its approach to boost tourism.
While the focus is on enhancing tourism infrastructure, sustainability remains a key element of the government’s tourism strategy.
Oman is a signatory to the United Nations Agenda 2030 for sustainable tourism development, and its tourism strategy for 2040 reflects its commitment to the principles of sustainability. The focus is on protecting and nurturing its natural resources, ecosystems and heritage.
The concept of tourism is evolving, and eco-tourism is gaining momentum.
And, globally, coastal and marine tourism represents a significant share of the tourism industry and forms a key segment of the flourishing, sustainable Blue Economy. With an estimated global growth rate of over 3.5 per cent, coastal and marine tourism is expected to be the largest value-adding segment of the ocean economy by 2030, garnering a 26 per cent share.
In this context, it’s heartening that Oman-based reef monitoring project Biosphere Expeditions has been granted $10,000 by the Ford Motor Co. Biosphere Expeditions has already trained 14 Omanis in reef check techniques, and its community-based reef monitoring programme is a significant effort at nurturing this crucial underwater ecosystem.
With over 530 sq km of stunning coral reefs that support more than 100 coral and
580 fish species, the Sultanate’s prospects look bright in terms of developing and marketing coral reef tourism.
The words of Robert Brumbaugh, the Director of Ocean Planning & Protection at The Nature Conservancy, underline the whole point: “It’s clear that the tourism industry depends on coral reefs. But now, more than ever, coral reefs are depending on the tourism industry.”
Tourism is exciting; and a touch of sustainability certainly adds to the excitement.