Remarks of David Morrison on the Occasion of the Signature of an MOU on Protected Areas Tourism Development in Armenia, February 2014
I am often asked: “What does tourism have to do with nature protection? In a world where we are losing biodiversity at such a disastrous rate, aren’t people the problem for nature? Wouldn’t it be better just to close off the national parks and reserves so nature can be left alone?”
My answer is a clear no—this would be wrong. Tourism—the right kind of tourism—goes hand in hand with nature protection.
So why are tourism and nature protection natural partners?
Because—in the 21st century, with 9 billion of us around—nature can no longer be protected without people. The people living in the communities surrounding the national parks must be convinced that wilderness has value. If they are not, they will poach and develop it unsustainably, rather than conserve it, and nature conservation, long-term, is doomed. Fences—and armies of rangers—may put off our date with the catastrophic consequences of the continuing impoverishment of the earth through species loss. But without support for conservation from the people living near the most sensitive places, our date with those consequences will come.
Eco-tourism in protected areas brings benefits to the local communities. These benefits are an important part of winning the conservation argument. They help to persuade Armenians, both locally and nationally, that the value of nature conservation is not just abstract and long-term. The value is also tangible and immediate—in the form of tourism receipts. So, in the end, tourism has a lot to do with nature protection.
Conversely, I suppose those mainly interested in tourism development might rightly ask: “What does nature protection have to do with tourism?”
The response, I hope, is clear to everyone here. If Armenia is to reach its tourism potential, it needs to broaden its tourist offering. Today visitors are focused mainly on visits to monuments and religious sites. But most tourists seek variety, and even those most deeply interested in Armenia’s culture and history are usually also interested in seeing something else. And here is where nature comes in. Armenia’s biodiversity is unique. Its landscapes and wilderness areas are breathtaking. These are treasures for the world—just like Armenia’s culture.
So the ability to offer the culture/nature combination broadens Armenia’s tourism product range and attracts a more diverse clientele. And that clientele is not only young backpackers; it also includes affluent middle aged tourists looking for a unique destination and a beautiful walk.
I speak from experience—with the support of NCFA, I organized and led a tour in September of last year. A dozen American and European donors to my organization, most of whom had never been to Armenia, took the culture/nature trip, and were dazzled by the unique combinations:
- Khosrov Forest and Garni Temple;
- Dilijan National Park and Goshavank monastery;
- the Debed canyon and the Haghpat complex.
For our part, CNF will continue to invest in the protected areas of Armenia so that they can develop and sustain the trails, horses, bikes and facilities to support eco-tourism. We are investing $650,000 per year in the country’s PAs. Some of that money is invested directly in tourism, but the balance, devoted more to protection and conservation work, is also important.
The birds, flowers, butterflies, bears, mouflon—and even the knowledge that a leopard may be wandering in the distance somewhere—are key parts of the tourism story. So I am pleased to be here today, renewing CNF’s commitment with our existing partners the Ministry of Nature Protection and WWF, and enlisting the support of a new partner—the National Competitiveness Foundation of Armenia which acts as the country’s tourism board. I can’t think of better partners to help us turn this combination of nature protection and tourism into a happy one for both. If we do our job right, this should be a classic win/win—for Nature, Tourism and the people of Armenia.
David Morrison is Executive Director of the Caucasus Nature Fund.