TOWARDS SUSTAINABLE DESERT ECO-TOURISM IN
                                                  T
            KUWAIT: Learning...
put it, "more and more tourists are increasingly
Yasser Mahgoub


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Yasser Mahgoub
                                                                                                           ...
Entertainment and recreation is an important          and the authorities who do not enforce laws and
Yasser Mahgoub


   ...
Yasser Mahgoub
                                                                                                           ...
Yasser Mahgoub
open house international Vol 32, No.4, December 2007 Towards Sustainable Desert Eco-Tourism in Kuwait: Lear...
ENVIRONMENTALLY FRIENDLY                                     niques should be used according to a comprehen-




         ...
5. The swimming pool area should be well                   LIPPARD, L. 1999, On the Beaten Track: Tourism, Art and
Yasser ...
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Towards Sustainable Desert Eco-Tourism in Kuwait: Learning from the Regional Experience نحو السياحة الصحراوية المستدامة بيئيا في الكويت: التعلم من الخبرة الإقليمية

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Open House International, ISSN: 01682601
Volume 32, Number 4, pp. 75-82
2007
The desert was always part of the Arabian culture and a way of life. After the discovery of oil during the 1940's, traditional Arab societies became urbanized and settled in newly constructed cities and towns. The desert became a place to visit for leisure and entertainment by locals and tourists. In Dubai, the desert is used as a tourist attraction for foreigners. In Kuwait, the desert is a seasonal attraction for families and groups during the winter time. This involves informal leisure activities that endanger the fragile desert environment and cause its pollution and degradation. This paper discusses the impact of informal desert tourism activities on the desert sustainability in Kuwait. It warns against the negative impact of current practices on the fragile desert environment as a result of informal local tourism activities. The paper explores successful examples from the region and the world in order to highlight aspects of successful interventions that blend in with the desert context. It suggests sustainable measures to deal with the planning and designing for desert ecotourism facilities that aim at protecting the fragile desert environment from deterioration and eventual extinction.

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Transcript of "Towards Sustainable Desert Eco-Tourism in Kuwait: Learning from the Regional Experience نحو السياحة الصحراوية المستدامة بيئيا في الكويت: التعلم من الخبرة الإقليمية"

  1. 1. TOWARDS SUSTAINABLE DESERT ECO-TOURISM IN T KUWAIT: Learning from the Regional Experience Yasser Mahgoub open house international Vol 32, No.4, December 2007 Towards Sustainable Desert Eco-Tourism in Kuwait: Learning from the Regional Experience Abstract The desert was always part of the Arabian culture and a way of life. After the discovery of oil during the 1940's, tra- ditional Arab societies became urbanized and settled in newly constructed cities and towns. The desert became a place to visit for leisure and entertainment by locals and tourists. In Dubai, the desert is used as a tourist attraction for for- eigners. In Kuwait, the desert is a seasonal attraction for families and groups during the winter time. This involves infor- mal leisure activities that endanger the fragile desert environment and cause its pollution and degradation. This paper discusses the impact of informal desert tourism activities on the desert sustainability in Kuwait. It warns against the neg- ative impact of current practices on the fragile desert environment as a result of informal local tourism activities. The paper explores successful examples from the region and the world in order to highlight aspects of successful interven- tions that blend in with the desert context. It suggests sustainable measures to deal with the planning and designing for desert ecotourism facilities that aim at protecting the fragile desert environment from deterioration and eventual extinc- tion. K e y w o r d s : Ecotourism; Ecolodging; Desert; Kuwait. INTRODUCTION The desert was always an important part of the Arab Gulf countries culture and way of life. After the discovery of oil in the 1940s, many traditional Arab societies became urbanized and settled in newly constructed cities and towns. The desert became a place to visit for leisure and entertainment for locals and tourists. It became an endangered environ- ment because of rapid urbanization, war conflicts and informal tourist activities. In geography, a desert is a landscape form or region that receives very little precipitation (Wikipedia, 2007). It is a fragile habitat that hosts numerous types of plants, insects and animals. It covers one-third of the Earth's land surface. The Fig 1. Map of the Gulf and Arabian Desert. Arabian Desert is a vast desert wilderness stretching from Oman in the south to Iraq and Jordan in the from Yemen to the Persian Gulf and Oman to north. This part of the Arabian Desert covers almost Jordan and Iraq. It occupies most of the Arabian one quarter of the Arabian Peninsula and is called Peninsula with an area of 2,330,000 square kilo- in Arabic "Al-Ruba' Al-Khali" - the empty quarter - meters (USGS, 2007). indicating its emptiness and wilderness. (Figure 1) Kuwait lies at the northwest part of the Arabian The desert is a seasonal attraction for families and Gulf, covering an area of approximately 18,000 groups during the winter time. Yet, these informal km2 and a coastline stretching 500 km long. It is touristic activities endanger the fragile desert envi- located at the northeast tip of the Arabian Desert. ronment. There is a need to develop desert resorts This eco-region of the Arabian Peninsula stretches that are ecological and sustainable to provide dif- 75
  2. 2. put it, "more and more tourists are increasingly Yasser Mahgoub abandoning traditional vacation for a new type of tourism that gives them the sense of nature. Trekking in mountains, bird watching, archaeologi- cal digs, desert and photo safaris, and scuba diving are all new types of vacation that attract tourists to open house international Vol 32, No.4, December 2007 Towards Sustainable Desert Eco-Tourism in Kuwait: Learning from the Regional Experience travel to relatively remote and unspoiled areas. This type of travel is referred to as nature-based travel, ecotourism, or environmentally sustainable tourism" (Salama, 2001). According to The Ecotourism Society, eco- tourism is responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the well- being of local people. The World Conservation Fig 2. Map of Kuwait showing desert and urban Union's Commission on National Parks and areas. Protected Areas defines ecotourism as "environ- mentally responsive travel and visitation to relative- ferent facilities for the campers in the Kuwaiti desert. ly undisturbed natural areas, in order to enjoy and appreciate nature (and any accompanying cultural features - both past and present) that promotes AIM AND METHOD conservation, has low negative visitor impact, and provides for beneficially active socioeconomic This paper discusses the impact of informal desert involvement of local populations (Ceballos- tourism activities on desert sustainability in Kuwait. Lascurain, 1996). Ross and Wall define ecotourism It warns against the negative impact of current as "means of protecting natural areas through the practices on the fragile desert environment as a generation of revenues, environmental education result of informal local tourism activities. The paper and the involvement of local people (in both deci- explores successful examples from the region and sions regarding appropriate developments and the world in order to highlight aspects of successful associated benefits) (Ross and Wall, 2004). interventions that blend in with the desert context. It According to Caroline J. Stem, ecotourism can suggests sustainable measures to deal with the "provide local economic benefits, while maintaining planning and design of ecolodging for desert eco- ecological resource integrity through low-impact tourism facilities that aim at protecting the fragile non-consumptive resource use while contributing to desert environment from deterioration and eventu- conservation and community development." (Stem al extinction. et al, 2003" 322-347) The preceding definitions share concern towards possible degradation of the natural envi- THEORETICAL BACKGROUND ronment as a result of tourism activities. In the past ten years, ecotourism has risen from relative obscu- Ecotourism, short for ecological tourism, is a form rity to become one of the world's fastest growing of tourism that aims at being ecologically and industries. In theory, it can lead to environmental socially conscious. It aims at minimizing the nega- awareness and conservation, local economic ben- tive impact of traditional tourism on the natural efits, and integration of developing countries into environment. Ecotourism is the fastest growing sec- the world market. But in practice, it often leads to tor of the tourism industry (Lippard, 1999: 146). environmental degradation, conflicts with local The concept of "ecotourism" can be misunderstood communities, and increased dependence on for- and misused in practice by placing hotels and eign investment. accommodation developments in natural land- Hector Ceballos indicates that "inappropriate scapes that destroy the ecosystems and the fragile tourism developments - based mainly on the model balance between the fauna and flora. As Salama 76
  3. 3. Yasser Mahgoub open house international Vol 32, No.4, December 2007 Towards Sustainable Desert Eco-Tourism in Kuwait: Learning from the Regional Experience Fig 2. Desert campground activities. of mainstream or mass tourism - are producing commercial and agricultural use to tourist purpos- severe negative impacts on the natural and cultur- es can have significant social and economic al environment, including biodiversity. impact, especially if tourism is ultimately not a suc- Consequently, the appropriate interaction between cessful enterprise, destruction of flora, fauna or his- biodiversity conservation planning and tourism torical sites by the act of making a unique environ- planning and development has become a key con- ment or site accessible and the resultant increase in cern for many institutions at the local, national and human traffic damaging the environment and international levels. Even tourism developments in reducing its value, changing social values since the urban settings, far away from natural areas, may influx of tourists from different cultures and the pro- have unanticipated effects on surrounding lands visions of services for them will bring about social and waters and the atmosphere, thus affecting bio- changes in the local community, although benefit- diversity in many ways" (Ceballos, 2001:3) ing international understanding, this impact may be Salama indicated that until the mid 1990s, the unacceptable to all people and cause some social word ecotourism did not exist. It has emerged as a strain. feasible option for conserving natural and cultural heritage of regions and nations and contributing to sustainable development realm (Salama, 2000). THE CASE OF KUWAIT On the other hand, Eleishe describes how tourism like any activity has both positive and negative In Kuwait the camping season starts at the begin- impacts (Eleishe, 1998). Some of the tourism posi- ning of the winter season. The camping season, tive impacts include income generation, jobs, con- called Albar, is a happy season for all Kuwaitis. It struction of new community facilities, international provides them with a rare opportunity to come in understanding, and conservation of significant fea- direct contact with the desert environment and tures both environmental and cultural. On the other experience how their grandfathers have lived. hand, the negative impacts can be grouped under Camp grounds are constructed using fabric tents different headings: pollution from the increased and temporary structures are also erected to shelter economic activity and wastes produced by tourists , other services and facilities such as toilets and loss of useful community land from residential, kitchens. 77
  4. 4. Entertainment and recreation is an important and the authorities who do not enforce laws and Yasser Mahgoub part of albar experience. Tents are equipped with regulations. These remains endanger the fragile the latest modern life luxuries: air conditioned tents, desert creature and environment. The large TV's with satellite dishes, etc. Driving beach-buggies amounts of garbage and human remains pollute and 4-wheel cars to wonder through the desert is the land and negatively impact the delicate balance practiced by teenagers and children (Figure 3). between plants and animals. The movable toilets open house international Vol 32, No.4, December 2007 Towards Sustainable Desert Eco-Tourism in Kuwait: Learning from the Regional Experience Even fast food delivery motorcycles and vehicles are and excessive amount of filthy water drainage commonly seen delivering fast orders to desert affects the topsoil and the underground water camps. These recreation activities were identified by sources. many researchers as one of the sources of environ- mental problems in Kuwait (Caulton and Keddie, 1989). Abandoned materials such as cars, tyres, ECOTOURISM: REGIONAL BEST water tanks, corrugated metal sheeting, wooden PRACTICES boards, and rubble litter the desert landscape, not to mention the impacts of campers on the desert An important example of ecotourism in the Gulf (Al-Houty, 1998). region is Al Maha reseort in Dubai (Figure 5). The excessive use of vehicles such as 4-wheel Eleishe (1998) studied Al Maha resort and com- drive cars and beach buggies, destroys the fragile mented that "for the first time in the UAE, a complex topsoil and kills all forms of living creatures and has been created that will present Arabian culture insects. As warned by many researchers, desert and heritage in their natural surroundings so that plants are vanishing due to excessive topsoil grad- guests may enjoy the age-old traditions, while ing to clear areas for desert camp grounds and relaxing amid the unique flora and fauna of the excessive use of 4-wheel vehicles (4-wheel cars and Arabian Desert. It will provide visitors with a unique beach buggies). As indicated by Omar and Zaman and memorable way to experience Dubai" (Eleishe, (1998), one of the causes of the degradation of the 1998). rangeland of Kuwait is off-road vehicle use. Many The resort enables visitors to stay in luxury campers collect desert plants as souvenirs in their accommodation in the middle of a nature reserve way back from the desert. Desert plants are major featuring a wide variety of indigenous Arabian flora source of food for camels and desert animals. They and fauna. It is located deep within Dubai's interior are slow growers and depend on the scarce rain desert close to the Hajar Mountain range, on a 16 water. In the past, people were more sensitive to the sq. km. site about 40 minutes drive from the Dubai desert; they used to protect the desert habitat. International Airport - off the highway to the UAE After the end of the camping season, the desert oasis city of Al Ain. Access from the highway to the campers leave their garbage and waste everywhere resort is by four-wheel drive vehicles. In order to (Figure 4). The responsibility lies on the campers reduce the effect of vehicles on dunes and vegeta- Fig 4. Desert pollution after camping season. 78
  5. 5. Yasser Mahgoub open house international Vol 32, No.4, December 2007 Towards Sustainable Desert Eco-Tourism in Kuwait: Learning from the Regional Experience Fig 5. Al-Maha Desert Resort, Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Designed by Schuster Pechtold & Partners. tion, a fixed road network in the reserve is used for tracted to companies who show responsibility to the guest activities. The site, an oasis deep amid the environment by using only biodegradable products desert dunes of Dubai, covers an area of 3,500 and who have a desalinated water supply, and non- acres, providing panoramic views of the desert. plastic substances in their processing will be con- Only 2% of the total land area forming the resort is sidered. This applies to suppliers of any foodstuffs, developed, while the remaining 98% will form a drinks and other goods to the resort. wildlife and nature reserve. The energy systems to be used are calculated as A complete study and report on the designs was the most efficient for their type in their areas of use. conducted by Energy Management Services on the Solar power will be used for electrified fencing, staff systems to be used for the use, generation and re- accommodation's hot water systems and all remote use of power sources for the resort. Eco-friendly pumps. Gas will be used for cooking and kitchen measures ensure that the desert environment is pre- requirements. There is central electricity (DEWA) served wherever possible and that its eco systems production for the guest units. Special glass is used are disturbed as little as possible. For example, the in all windows to maintain the energy efficiency of resort is situated on top of a large fresh water reser- the buildings, cutting down on the energy loss. This voir and all water used is recycled back into the sys- is even further backed up by the materials used in tem so that the reservoir is continuously replen- the building structures. Water re-cycling: all water ished. Natural power sources, such as solar power used on the property is purified, re-cycled, re-fil- are used in areas of high-energy consumption. tered and used for ecological rehabilitation pur- Water used in the resort is recycled and used for irri- poses. This includes its use for re-establishing desert gation of the resort's landscaping, as well as the vegetation that has been removed or destroyed by ecological rehabilitation. Al Maha is working with overgrazing. the local authorities to improve the utilization of In keeping with the resort's concept, which natural resources. Hotel services, which require a focuses on Arabian culture and heritage, the large amount of water - laundry, etc. - is subcon- accommodation is designed as a traditional 79
  6. 6. Yasser Mahgoub open house international Vol 32, No.4, December 2007 Towards Sustainable Desert Eco-Tourism in Kuwait: Learning from the Regional Experience Fig 6. The Subiyah Resort, Kuwait. Designed by SSHI. Arabian Bedouin desert encampment, where fenced and designated as nature reserves, and one guests' suites set amid extensive landscaping on a as a National Park" (Al-Obeidan and Al-Sager rise overlooking the reserve. The architectural con- 1998:667-676). Yet, no serious attempts were cept is traditional Arabian Bedouin desert encamp- made to develop ecolodging in the desert in ment, of individual units that "open" to the desert Kuwait. Regional conflicts and wars during the landscape. In an effort to maintain an authentic, eighties and nineties did not permit the develop- ethnic ambience, Al Maha has employed tradition- ment of projects in the desert. Most tourist projects al expert craftsmanship for most of the interior fur- are located within the urban area and the southern nishings and ethnic arts and crafts. Many of these costal strip called Al-Kheran. items will be available for order by guests and will The Subiyah Resort is designed by the Kuwaiti be detailed in a comprehensive catalogue. Some firm SSHI. The project is located at the northern part items will also be available for purchase in the sou- of Kuwait on Khour Al Subiyah overlooking the venir/craft shop. Al Maha periodically runs educa- Bubiyan Island. The beach front extends to about tion programs for the general public, on methods 500 meters and is regarded as a shallow water of conservation. All craft-works, furniture and area with a high percentage of deposits due to its goods sold in the resort will be sourced from local proximity to the Shatt Al-Arab Delta. The resort craftsmen, and whenever possible goods supplied components are a hotel with 100 double-rooms, a to the resort will support local communities and resort with 63 chalets, various cafes and restau- businesses. rants, a Spa health club and marina complex for servicing private and rental boats of sea-bound vis- AN ECOTOURISM EXAMPLE FROM itors (SSHI, 2007). KUWAIT Serious attempts were made by Kuwait government TOWARDS SUSTAINABLE PLANNING to protect areas in Kuwait, "some of them were AND DESIGN FOR 80
  7. 7. ENVIRONMENTALLY FRIENDLY niques should be used according to a comprehen- Yasser Mahgoub TOURIST FACILITIES IN THE DESERT sive environmental study. OF KUWAIT 5. All building materials, colors, façades, roof treatment, entrances and parking areas should Ross and Wall argue that there is a "gap between reflect the character of the project that calls upon ecotourism theory as revealed in the literature and desert traditions while accommodating modern open house international Vol 32, No.4, December 2007 Towards Sustainable Desert Eco-Tourism in Kuwait: Learning from the Regional Experience ecotourism practice as indicated by its on-site lifestyle. application" (Ross and Wall, 2004). They suggest a 6. Materials and colors used in an ecolodge framework to help achieve a balance between con- project should be of good quality and high dura- servation and development through the promotion bility to sustain weather conditions. It is also pre- of synergistic relationships between natural areas, ferred to use local materials as much as possible. local populations and tourism. The framework can 7. Landscape design should give special also be used to assess the status of ecotourism in attention to unifying the entire project. It is to particular site or locality. attempt to highlight building entries, soften building Salama (2000) suggests that any ecolodge pro- masses, provide image to site development, and ject requires the adoption of a different approach to define site edges. architecture. This approach should be based on 8. Landscape design should mimic the natur- four principles that should be taken into account al desert environment surrounding the site. It should while designing ecolodges. These are 1) design sustain all weather conditions and preserve natural solutions grow from the physical surroundings of a water resources. place and its interaction with cultural setting around it, 2) design should be based on environmental cri- Economic Strategies: teria and environmental constraints, 3) local com- 1. Environmental techniques are to be used to munities should be involved in the design and reduce the energy cost of the resort. implementation processes since they have acquired 2. Appropriate thermal insulation to exterior sur- knowledge and expertise in design and building faces should be utilized. over the years, and 4) design should be integrated 3. Massive walls should be used to increase the harmoniously with nature and architectural forms time lag effect. should not compete with, but should complement 4. Small windows should be used to avoid within natural landscape. Utilizing this approach, a undesired hot outdoor air, and to reduce the effect set of sustainable design guidelines for Kuwait of the intense sunlight while adequately lighting the desert ecolodging can be outlined. They can be interiors during the daytime. categorized in terms of site considerations, eco- 5. Light interior surfaces, especially for the ceil- nomic strategies, and community planning. ing, should be used to diffuse the sunlight that enters through the small windows. Site Considerations 6. Light exterior surface colors to minimize the 1. The site selection should provide a variety of absorption of the interior radiation. camping levels and supporting facilities, including free camping, fixed camping, recreation and sports, Community Planning: and different gathering places to accommodate the 1. Buildings are to be as closely clustered as different needs of the visitors. possible for the shade they offer one another and 2. Environmental controls and passive tech- the public spaces between them. niques should be used to provide maximum com- 2. Orientation of principal facades of buildings fort for the users. should face south. 3. Any existing natural elements in the site, such 3. Shading elements should be used according as trees, water resources, facilities or utilities, should to specific strategies. be preserved and maintained. 4. Time related strategies such as the time shift- 4. Site development, building orientation, shad- ing concept should be adapted in some parts of the ing elements and other environmental design tech- project. 81
  8. 8. 5. The swimming pool area should be well LIPPARD, L. 1999, On the Beaten Track: Tourism, Art and Yasser Mahgoub developed to be the center of attraction in the pro- Place, The New Press, New York, USA. ject in the summer season. OMAR, S. and ZAMAN, S. 1998, Kuwait Rangelands 6. The camp area should be closed and well Status, Development and Research Priorities, In Omar, S. maintained during the summer season. Raafat Misak, Dhari Al-Ajmi and Nader Al-Awadhi (eds.) 1998, Sustainable Development in Arid Zones, Proceedings open house international Vol 32, No.4, December 2007 Towards Sustainable Desert Eco-Tourism in Kuwait: Learning from the Regional Experience This paper recommended the establishment of of the International Conference on Desert Development in regulations and guidelines to guide the develop- the Arab Gulf Countries. Kuwait Institute of Scientific ment of camp grounds and camping activities in Research,. Rotterdam: Balkema, PP 403-420. . the desert in the light of ecotourism and ecolodging needs and requirements. These guidelines should SALAMA, A. 2000, The Ecolodge: An Alternative Futuristic be enforced by laws to protect the sensitive desert Eco-Friendly Tourist Facility. Medina Magazine, Issue 11, environment from pollution by fines and cancella- January-February 2000, PP 54-59. . tion of license to camp in the desert. Continuous inspection of camp grounds is required in order to SALAMA, A. 2001, Ecolodges: A Tool for Sustainable Tourism Development in Egypt, A White Paper for the ensure their compliance with sustainability mea- Tourism Development Authority in Egypt, Ministry of sures. Tourism, Cairo, Egypt. ROSS, S. and WALL, G. 2004, Ecotourism: Towards REFERENCES Congruence between Theory and Practice. In S. Williams AL-HOUTY, W. 1998, Desert Biodiversity with Special (ed.), Tourism: Critical Concepts in the Social Sciences, Emphasis on Kuwait, In Omar, S. Raafat Misak, Dhari Al- Routledge, PP 240-258. . Ajmi and Nader Al-Awadhi (eds.) 1998, Sustainable Development in Arid Zones, Proceedings of the SSHI, 2007, Al- Subiyah Resort, International Conference on Desert Development in the http://www.sshic.com/leisure_and_hospitality_subiyare- Arab Gulf Countries. Kuwait Institute of Scientific sort.htm. accessed in May 2007 Research,. Rotterdam: Balkema, PP 657-665. . STEM, C., JAMES P LASSOIE, DAVID R. LEE, and DAVID J. . AL-OBEIDAN, K. & AL-SAGER, N. 1998, The Role of DESHLER 2003, How ‘Eco’ is Ecotourism? A Comparative Protected Areas in the Desert Development, In Omar, S. Case Study of Ecotourism in Costa Rica, Journal of Raafat Misak, Dhari Al-Ajmi and Nader Al-Awadhi (eds.) Sustainable Tourism, Vol. (11), No. (4), PP 322-47. . 1998, Sustainable Development in Arid Zones, Proceedings of the International Conference on Desert Development in USGC, 2007, United States Geological Society: Online the Arab Gulf Countries. Kuwait Institute of Scientific Document http://pubs.usgs.gov/gip/deserts/what/ Research,. Rotterdam: Balkema, PP 667-676. . accessed in April 2007 CAULTON, E. AND KEDDIE, D. 1989, Environmental WIKIPEDIA, 2007, Online Document Conservation Problems in Kuwait. The Environmentalist, Vol http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Desert#_note-0 (9), No. (3), PP 219-228. . CEBALLOS-LASCURAIN, H. 1996, Tourism, Ecotourism and Protected Areas, IUCN-International Union for the Conservation of Nature, Gland, Switzerland CEBALLOS-LASCURAIN, H. 2001, Integrating Biodiversity into the Tourism Sector: Best Practice Guidelines, Report submitted to UNEP/UNDP/GEF/BPSP . Author's Address Yasser Mahgoub ELEISHE, A. 1998, Eco- Tourism Resorts And Hotels: Al Maha Resort in the Dubai Desert – A Case Study, IASTE- Department of Architecture 98, Proceedings of the Conference of the International Kuwait University Association for the Study of Traditional Environments, work- State of Kuwait ing paper series, Vol. 108. ymahgoub@kuc01.kuniv.edu.kw 82

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