EghtesadOnline: Economic development through tourism is contingent on protecting cultural and environmental resources.
A booming tourism helps preserve both the nature and culture, an independent operator of an ecotourism venture in Pasargadae County, Fars Province, said in an interview with Financial Tribune.
Amir Miri, 42, began his foray into the tourism sector when he was a university student of statistics and informatics by guiding tours to the historical monuments of Shiraz.
“In the early years after the Islamic Revolution, whenever tourist buses crossed the main street of our town [Sa’adatshar] to visit the tomb of Cyrus the Great in Pasargadae, kids including me, would throw fruit at their buses. We were children of [Iraq-imposed] war, seeing foreigners as enemies,” Financial Tribune quoted him as saying.
“Later, when I grew up, I learned that foreign tourists travelling to Pasargadae viewed Iran as the cradle of civilization and home of civilized people but what we were showing them was totally different from their expectation. I believe one of the main weaknesses of tourism industry in Iran is that children are not taught how to treat tourists.”
Beyond a Lodgement
The owner of Kolbeh Aghamir (Aghamir Cottage) says a TV program on eco-lodge accommodations in Garmeh, Isfahan Province, which is run by Maziar Aledavoud, the founder of ecotourism housing in Iran, inspired him to renovate his century-old father’s cottage with the help of his wife.
The word eco-lodge came into being in the 1990s and was coined to describe a type of lodge distinguished by the way it is constructed or operated.
There are many eco-lodges across Iran to serve visitors in line with the traditions of the region, offering tourists a glimpse of the local way of life while helping the native people earn a livelihood.
“We opened the cottage to guests in 2009 on the theme of astronomic tourism and established the brand of AstroVillage. For the first time in Iran, we managed to offer night-long astronomical observations in Pasargadae, Hafezieh (a shrine complex in north of Shiraz where the tomb of renowned Persian poet Hafez is located) and other historical monuments in Shiraz,” he said.
Miri and his team also began a campaign named Khersi, the natural habitat of Pasargadae brown bear, in January 2015 to protect one of the main wildlife species in Fars Province through activities, including building watering troughs for the native animal, organizing environmental and anti-hunting movements or even celebrating bear cubs’ birthdays.
These moves have raised environmental awareness among locals and 198,000 hectares of Eqlid County, Pasargad County and Marvdasht County were designated as the no-hunting zone of brown bear.
Those visiting Aghamir’s eco-lodge can see a Persian carpet woven by foreign tourists, featuring the brown bear as its centerpiece and the flags of different countries along its borders.
Miri, who has won the United Nations World Tourism Organization award for excellence and innovation in tourism in 2011, noted that he expanded his ecotourism venture to include nomadic adventure tours and culinary tourism by serving traditional foods.
Bolstering Local Economy
Asked about the benefits of his tourism venture for the local community, Miri said, “In fact, I was learning about tourism industry since I opened Aghamir Cottage in 2009 until 2011 by passing courses in tourism management and taking on tourism industry professionally.
“The scientific expertise I acquired and the experience I gained during these years have helped create a dozen of direct and around 20 indirect jobs and improved my family’s economic well-being as well as the members of our local community,” he said.
“Although our business is entitled to a 2-billion-rial (about $52,630) low-interest loan from Omid Entrepreneurship Fund, we managed to set up Fars Bamdad House on visitor donations.”
Bamdad House is located 500 meters from the tomb of Cyrus the Great in Pasargadae and includes a center for selling handicrafts and a restaurant serving local foods and beverages.
“Some 4,000 million rials ($105,260) were donated by foreign tourists, mainly from European countries, and friends to support the launch of Bamdad House,” Miri added.
Noting that women are initiators of sustainable development and protectors of culture, Miri said a mother can bring up a generation who can think culturally and protect the ecosystem.
“A group of local women are making handicrafts with environmental protection themes or collect native herbs and plants used for making herbal teas. Tourists are willing to buy such products and now several jobs have been created for locals. Also, Bamdad House is a women-run business,” he said.
“The economic development I believe in is a culture-based development. Although all our culture-oriented efforts have proved to be economically viable, profit-making was not our top priority. Cultural economy pursues one objective and that is sustainable tourism, the concept of visiting a place as a tourist and trying to make a positive impact on the environment, society and economy.”
Asked whether he has received financial aid from governments, Miri said, “While I am an independent operator, my tourism venture needed approval from government offices. For 12 years, I tried to secure a permit. I only managed to obtain the license in May 2016.”
Miri won the top hotel and lodging award of the last Iranian year (March 2016-17) and received the accolade from President Hassan Rouhani.