Desert and Drylands Extreme Environment Tourist Development
Recently a couple from the State of Qatar died of thirst when their car overturned in the Rub al Khali desert south of the city of Doha. Although this region contains stunning natural beauty, including unusual fauna and biota, oases, sand dunes, and unique geomorphology, the Empty Quarter (Rub al Khali) desert is still a forbidding and extreme environment which must be explored with great caution. Drylands and deserts, defined by the ratio of precipitation to evapotranspiration, cover approximately 40-50% of the world's land surface (including the dry Polar regions); thus they represent an important and underutilized tourist resource. This study reviews the challenges of developing the desert regions of MENA and the Arabian Gulf for sustainable natural and cultural tourism and the potential strategies for utilizing their unique gifts while at the same time maintaining their fragile existence. Deserts do not regenerate quickly and human impacts can remain and degrade these biomes for decades. Thus planners must determine whether mass tourism, niche market (adventure or extreme), or other strategies are appropriate, and the policies to prevent the destruction of the unique environmental features of these locales. As case studies of both successful and harmful projects in Jordan, Egypt and the UAE have demonstrated, desert tourism can be either beneficial to national GDP, local stakeholders, and international tourists, or, on the other hand, harmful to the environment, socially divisive, and unsustainable in the long term. A general consensus is emerging among tourism researchers that in order to productively add value to an economy and nation, tourism must be sustainable: it must take into account both short and long term environmental effects as well as the impact on local communities. Although seemingly counter-intuitive, lessons learned from sustainable extreme environment tourism development can be applied to all regions of the world, including water-rich tropical zones.(author's abstract)
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