Dr.ALEKSANDRE MIKELADZE, GIVI NADIRADZE
ECONOMICS AND BUSINESS, IVANE JAVAKHISHVILI TBILISI STATE UNIVERSITY
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Abstract: Protected areas can be used for scientific, educational and recreational purposes. In Georgia, the Agency of Protected Areas is mainly responsible for protected areas. Its main function is the management of Strict Nature Reserves, National Parks, Natural Monuments, Managed Nature Reserves and Protected Landscapes contributing to ecotourism development. Over time, it has become clear to Georgian society that protected areas are not banned territories, but can also be used for tourism purposes. In 2017, compared to previous year, a growth rate of 29.9% was identified. Almost a half were foreigners. The majority of international visitors were from Russia (28.7%), Israel (13.6%), Poland (7.5%), Ukraine (6.4%) and Germany (4.5%) providing 4,504,473 GEL in total for local population.
Ecotourism involves visiting natural areas with an aim to learn, study or carry out environmentally friendly activities, supporting local communities. Ecotourism contributes to conservation of biodiversity and involves responsible action on the part of tourist, promoting SMEs and requiring lowest consumption of resources. The development of sector largely involves diverse actors ranging from governments to numerous SMEs that provide supplies and services such as hotels, restaurants, transport, local guides and various leisure and entertainment services.
Nowadays, stakeholder consultation has become inevitable for sustainable tourism development. Local inhabitants support the development of tourism if they believe that they will benefit from it. New strategies not only take into account the opinions of residents, but they also promote their active involvement, which contributes to the conservation of protected and endangered areas and the preservation of cultural heritage. Economist tries to assess non-market benefits of wilderness, showing that economic value of protected areas is higher than the direct economic impact of job creation. As a very important part of sustainable tourism, protected areas have a tremendous role in developing of ecotourism and ecologically friendly society. Sustainable tourism should also maintain a high level of satisfaction and ensure a meaningful experience to tourists. Besides, improving relationship between protected areas and communities has become one of the top priorities. There is a variety of favorable ways in which local communities could receive greater benefits from protected area tourism. In practice, locals’ benefits from tourism have often been limited to employment and some of the most important constraints facing is lack of necessary skills, practice, capital for investment, ownership rights, etc.
2. DESK STUDY
2.1. Ecotourism and Sustainable Development
Ecotourism is concentrated on the improvement or maintenance of natural resources through tourism. The term ecotourism was coined in 1983 by a Mexican environmentalist and was at first used to describe nature-based trip comparatively undisturbed areas with an emphasis on education. Ecotourists practice a non-consumptive use of wildlife and natural resources and contribute to the visited areas through labor. It educates traveler, provides funds for conservation, directly advantages the economic development and political empowerment of communities and fosters respect for geographical location, existence of water, wildlife, local food, festivals, local handicrafts, historical events and folks, architectural variety, ancient music and folk dance, artistic activities, etc.
Some proposed sets of guidelines for sustainable tourism. Besides subscribing to the principles of sustainable tourism, ecotourism has specific principles: it contributes actively to the conservation of natural and cultural heritage and includes local communities in designing, developing and implementing various activities. Ecotourism is one strategy for supporting conservation and providing financial gain for communities in and around protected areas. It will contribute to economic development and conservation of protected areas by generating revenues, which will be used to sustainably manage protected areas that provides local employment and inculcates a sense of community ownership. However, unplanned or poorly planned and enforced tourism will have serious negative effects, offsetting the benefits it was designed to provide.
There is a thought, that sustainable tourism is feasible. However, it needs a method that takes into consideration economic, environmental, social and cultural factors. Strategy ought to build optimum use of environmental resources that represent a key part in tourism development, while maintaining ecological balances and helping to conserve natural heritage and biodiversity.
There is a variety of ways that supports government and private-sector operators build tourism more sustainably. Long prospects for sectoral growth rely on building adequate infrastructure, strong supply chain and policies to confirm that tourism activities are carried out sustainably which meets economic, social and environmental objectives.
With respect to public policy, it is necessary to style, implement taxation and grant policies that encourage investment in sustainable tourism and discourage unsustainable tourism. Promoting sustainable tourism is comprehensive and involves broad actions, starting from the adaptation of latest technologies and practices to get efficiency enhancements in energy, water and waste systems, to the implementation of policies to revive biodiversity.
2.2. Poverty Reduction
Tourism might not be the solution of poverty elimination, though, it can contribute to reduction of the one. It depends, on the type of tourism, whether or not it is a large-scale tourism or a specialized tourism. Agriculture value chain often sustains more households than jobs in hotels and restaurants. Similarly, the wage level determines the pro-poor impact of tourism; the higher it is, the more it will cut back poverty. Investment in infrastructure, utility services, transport, stimulated by business enterprises, may conjointly profit the poor regionally. Employment generation is vital. As an extremely labor-intensive activity, the business enterprises tend to form a high proportion of employment and career opportunities for low- and semi-skilled employees, notably for poor, female and younger employees.
The tourism value chain will incorporate several sectors in an economy. Its promotion would require the development and operation of hotels, restaurants and different tourism-related facilities through backwards linkages and therefore the development of basic infrastructure services, like energy, telecommunications, agriculture, manufacturing and others.
In planning strategies for sustainable tourism, governments ought to assess and determine the potential linkages or tourism-related value chains within the economy. For instance, agriculture may be a key sector with strong backward linkages with tourism, as hotels and restaurants need a stable supply from locals. Additionally, increased demand for agricultural produce generates spillover effects to rural non-farming activities. Agritourism is one of the ways to attract travelers. Generally, the sector attracts a large number of travelers. Agritourism may be viewed like eco-tourism in that it is small-scale, low-impact, and, in most cases, education focused. As small landowners are mainly operating, opportunities for uniqueness and customization are limitless. Many agritourism activities require only a small farm crew in order to be successful, e.g. farm tours, bed and breakfasts, and many others. In Georgia, local infrastructure mostly supports urban and rural tourism. Georgian food and wine tourism is one of the major directions.
The availability of information and communication technologies made tourist services more accessible. Internet has radically modified the international tourism industry by shortening the distance between suppliers of tourist services and their clients. All categories of firms, massive and small, from anywhere within the value chain, will currently communicate directly with their final customers.
2.4. Access to Finance and Developed Human Resources
The quality of tourism infrastructure is extremely dependent on access to finance. In Georgia, access to finance is costly. Policies ought to therefore facilitate access to finance, particularly, for SMEs. Besides, tourism desires professionals with specific skills. There is an increasing need for specialized training to expand tourism markets, together with management and leadership training, information technology and foreign languages.
2.5. Concerns Associated with Tourism
Georgia faces some challenges and constraints, associated with external factors, natural disasters, political instability, etc. These factors will considerably influence tourists’ decision on travel. Beyond, there are challenges stemming from national policies. They embody an absence of capability or failure to stimulate linkages that may lead to financial leakages, sociocultural tensions and environmental damage resulting from tourism-related activities. The negative impact of tourism is related to the environment. Attraction of massive crowds affects environment and can cause cultural heritage damage. In several holidaymaker destinations, water is scarce resource and its large utilization can have a negative impact on environment as well.
3. FINDING ON ECONOMIC BENEFITS OF PROTECTED AREAS
The economic impact and value of protected areas are represented in many reports. Maintenance of ecological integrity, conservation of wildlife habitat and species, or cultural values are usually dominant reasons for establishing protected areas.
The economic viability of a protected area can rely on whether or not ecosystem health is maintained. Protected areas may additionally be created strictly to preserve necessary ecological or cultural values and do not offer direct opportunities. However, these areas still make an economic contribution by ensuring healthy population.
In Georgia, forests cover 40% of the whole territory. 380 species of the plants are endemic to Georgia and around 1,000 are endemic to the Caucasus. There are around 110 species of mammals, more than 330 species of birds, 48 species of reptiles, 11 species of amphibians and 160 of fish. There is a number of spectacular birdwatching locations. Each of them is interesting in terms of species composition. On a comparatively small territory, there is a multitude of diverse ecosystems. This is very favorable for bird watching, as in a short period and in area very close to each other, it is possible to see birds from different habitats. Birders tend to target Caucasian Snowcock, Caucasian Black Grouse, Great Rosefinch, Güldenstädt’s Redstart and Caucasian Chiffchaff and other regional specialties. It should be noted, that various organizations reached out individuals, urging birdwatchers to consider stepping outside the tourist mainstream to visit destinations where a birding vacation could help to enrich important ecosystems for both people and nature.
In Georgia, there are a few organizations, involved in nature conservation, e.g. Sabuko – a Society for Nature Conservation and Birdlife Partner in Georgia. The main directions of organization is conservation of species and their habitats. The mission is to promote the conservation of wildlife in Georgia, to increase the valuation of nature by the public, and to encourage the sustainable use of natural resources.
3.1. Ecological Services, Community and Economic Development
Healthy ecosystems offer a whole life support to all species, as well as humans do. This support system provides various ecological services that create life attainable and provides it meaning. Ecological services even have indirect benefit for communities. For example, clean water will eliminate the requirement for a costly water filtration. To comprehend native economic advantages, there is a high need for investment in coaching, community capacity building and improved infrastructure.
3.2. Protected Areas Role in Georgia’s Tourism Sector
Protected areas serve to conserve community’s natural assets, leading to social and economic advantages. At present, there are fourteen strict nature reserves, eleven national parks, nineteen managed reserves, forty natural monuments and a couple of protected landscapes protected nationwide, most of them are capable to be the subject to sustainable development through various events. These Parks and Reserves cover 520,811 hectares, that constitutes 8,6% of the entire territory of Georgia. More than seventeen years National Parks are managed through close cooperation with the renowned international establishments, such are the World Wide Fund for Nature, International Union for Conservation of Nature, List of National Parks of the United States, with funding by the international donors, such are Credit Bank of Germany, US Department of Interior, Deutsche Gesellschaft für International Zusammenarbeit, US Agency for International Development, World Bank Global Economic Fund, Caucasus Nature Fund, etc.
According to the WEF Travel and tourism competitiveness report, Georgia has 71th place in 2015 and 70th place in 2017. Besides, Georgia has largely improved ranking in parts of environmental sustainability. In 2016, another attention-grabbing information to be incontestable will be the survey “Monitoring and Estimation Questionnaire of Public Perception and Impact” developed by APA. The survey has been held for the population living close to the protected areas in Georgia. The survey aimed at identifying challenges and expectations of the population in protected areas and discovered the positive perspective of the population towards the protected areas and eco-tourism development. The local authorities try to activate their involvement in protected areas’ management process as locals underline the issues associated with pasture usage, woodcut, hunting, fishing, etc.
The increasing number of tourists on the protected areas will increase the risk of negative impacts of tourism on these areas. 1,088.157 visitors were identified in the protected areas. The quantity of tourists visiting the protected areas is increasing drastically.
Various tendencies also occur within the understanding of tourism upon ever-changing living conditions. Currently, tourism activities have significantly produced great changes in socio-cultural and economic aspects. Main purpose is not solely guaranteeing the socio-economic development but the protection of nature. Development process could be an extended process, which needs an effort from all those involved to bring benefits in the end and contribute directly to the creation of sustainable development.
Our study identified the following measures to support Georgian ecotourism:
• Reduce the economic uncertainty for resource industries, and increase the knowledge for business operators;
• Invest in data analysis, education, training, business incentives and infrastructure development associated with management of protected areas;
• Provide support and incentives to communities to contribute to the better management of protected areas;
• Update the government’s land management and conservation obligations for lenders.
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