A step in the ecotourism direction

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This year Dubai and Abu Dhabi topped the list of most sustainable cities in MENA.

On the global ranking list, however, they’re at 52 and 58 respectively. Both cities now have five years to steer the UAE towards the goal of becoming the world’s most sustainable country by 2021.

To help the course, Dubai-based Eco Resort Group (ERG), partnered with London based architect and design director Baharash Bagherian. With the architect in tow they are going to launch the Oasis Eco Resort, which they say will be the “world’s greenest resort”, in Liwa, in 2020.

ERG is specialized in land acquisitions and developing eco resort real estate with a mission of building low impact and eco friendly tourism in the UAE and MENA region, said Belash Bagherian, cofounder of ERG and also Baharash’s brother. 

“The project has many environmental benefits including recycling waste water on site for irrigation, onsite waste management, the enforcement of a zero emission zone and 157,000 square feet of solar panels,” Baharash told Wamda.

A rendering of the resort. (Images via Baharash Bagherian)

The resort will be built around a spring - what Baharash calls “the heart of the resort”. The lodge has been designed to promote eco activities like riding and dune cycling, with a restaurant and bar that prepares its meals with organic ingredients grown onsite.

The resort is tapping into one of the most lucrative industries of the UAE - the tourism industry.

According to the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC), the UAE generated around 95.5 billion Emirati dirhams (US$26 billion) in ‘visitor exports’ in 2015. That’s basically what international tourists spend within a country for leisure and business travel.

Uncontrolled conventional tourism causes harm to natural areas, by putting excess pressure on the area,” Baharash said. “This can then lead to impacts such as increased pollution, soil erosion, loss of natural habitats and endangered species. It puts pressure on water resources, and it can force local populations to compete for the use of critical resources.

“Transforming UAE’s rapidly growing tourism sector into a green economy, by investing in ecotourism, is no longer a choice… it has become a necessity.”

An eco resort project is not without challenges, though. The builders need to acutely monitor the resort’s energy supply to ensure installed equipment is environmentally and economically sound. Additionally, the limited number of eco resorts worldwide make for fewer reference points, which leads to another set of criteria issues altogether.

“[We have to also ensure] that the resort becomes a conservation hub to protect the many species and various types of wildlife in Liwa,” Baharash said. “ [That] it will become a zero emission zone which will cover the entire resort area, meaning only vehicles that emit no waste products and that do not pollute the environment are allowed access inside the resort vicinity.”

Oasis Eco Resort isn’t the only sustainable project going on in UAE either.

At the start of this year The Sustainable City in Dubai had its first residents move in. Prolific Baharash worked on this also.

“Transforming UAE’s rapidly growing tourism sector into a green economy, by investing in ecotourism, is no longer a choice… it has become a necessity.”

Then in June the Dubai Electrical and Water Authority announced the third phase of its solar powered park that wants to be largest single-site solar project in the world. The park has a planned capacity of 5,000MW by 2030, which is enough to power 800,000 homes with a total investment of 50 billion dirhams (US$13.6 billion).

The Expo 2020 site is building a Sustainability Pavilion that will outlast the event and become a landmark in the city.

Also this year, Dubai Tourism signed agreements with Etihad ESCO, Dubai Carbon, Emirates Environmental Group (EEG) and Emirates Wildlife Society-WWF to “significantly reduce the carbon footprint”. Dubai airports too have taken serious steps towards reducing their carbon footprint. And lastly, to not leave the rest of the world behind, the UAE has committed, over the last six years, more than 3.1 billion dirhams (US$840 million) to renewable energy in more than 30 countries.

Baharash says the idea that one has to go big if going eco is not necessary when creating communities. Rather, he says that thinking on smaller scale opens up more economic opportunities for private companies to invest in the sector.  

“Successful ecotourism projects... require a bottom-up entrepreneurship and empowerment of local people,” he said. “Ultimately, it takes a holistic approach to create ecotourism destinations.”

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