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The evolution of local resident’s perspective toward ecotourism development in Iran by Dr. Esrafil Shafiezadeh



Ecotourism is recognised in the litrature as a  promising strategy for development and for improving  the quilty of life of local communities in general and in less developed countries in particular.The investigation of local residents’ perspectives on ecotourism development  is of great interest to both academics and environmentalisms, especially in the remote protected area. However, indigenous’ view and their participations in the development and operation of ecotourism  is crucial issue. Few studies have explored the host residents’ perceptions regarding visitors’ attitude toward local people and their traditions, and the how their views  influence ecotourism development.

Dr.Esrafil Shafiezadeh is Managing Director at Jasmin Tours and Safaris, PhD in Tourism, Antonio Nebrija University , Madrid , Spain

Using a quatitataive  research approach, the case study reported here focused on Lisar, a protected area in Iran. This thesis evaluates the relationship between ecotourism impacts, lifestyle of local people, and traditions and local residents’ perspectives on ecotourism development in  the Soobatan a mountain village in  Lisar protected area.The village is located in the west part of Lisar, which is considerd as an important location  for ecotourism in Iran. The indigenous people in Soobatan are typically “religious”(Muslim); thus, cultural and religious traditions are central to them.This case study aims to examine the relationship among cultural traditions, religious traditions, and demographic variables and residents’s perspectives on ecotourism development in Soobatan.The study asserts that ecotourism exerts impacts on traditions and life style of local residents and influences their perspectives on its development. It concludes with contextualized recommendataions for the private and public sectors for consideration and implementation.


1.1              Introduction

Ecotourism has become a critical part of tourism debates since the 1980s.  Concerning the growth of tourism, Jafari (2001) recognized four stages or “platforms of thinking” in the literature.  They are the advocacy, the cautionary, the adaptancy, and the knowledge-based platforms. Regardless of any cost, the demand for tourism has been increasing for many years (advocacy platform).  Considering the benefits of tourism development in the earlier stage, research community has highlighted awareness of negative economic and sociocultural impacts (cautionary platform). “Alternative forms or adapted type of tourism” which have fewer negative impacts than others, formed in 1980s (adaptancy platform).  “This third position emerged by favoring those forms that are especially responsive to the host communities and their sciocultural, built, and natural environments and, at the same time, that provide tourists with new choices and rewarding experiences” (Jafari, 2001, p. 31).  He asserted that one of the latest alternative forms, known as ecotourism, has attracted the attention of scholars, operators, and governments.

 A culmination of the Advocacy, Cautionary, and Adaptancy Platforms has been identified as fourth stage (knowledge-based platform).This final platform with a scientific foundation has been maintaining bridges with the other three platforms.

Further, it systematically studies tourism’s own structure; annexes it to various fields of investigation or disciplines; defines its place in this larger multidisciplinary context that generates and accommodates it; examines its functions at personal, group, business, government, and system levels; identifies factors that influence and are influenced by it; and more (Jafari, 2001, p. 32).

A review of these “platforms of thinking” shows that perspectives and attitudes about tourism and its development were changing.

 Regarding ecotourism, the literature has presented much discussion about its definition; impacts, and sustainability.  Studies have shown that it has recognized as a solution for economic problems in less developed countries since the 1990s.  In this regard, scholars emphasized the contribution of ecotourism in economic development by providing employment for local residents, generating revenues, and the like. Early research into its impacts has particularly focused on the economic benefits that it brings to destinations (Foggin& Munster, 2000; Lindberg et al., 1996;Preece& van Oosterzee, 1995;Richardson, 1993).  Afterwards economic benefits, coupled with negative sciocultural and environmental impacts of ecotourism has led to many studies for its development.  Accordingly, academic community has drawn greater attention to sociocultural as well as environmental impacts of ecotourism on host community (Burnt & Courtney, 1999;Lepp, 2007; Wallace & Pierce, 1996;Wearing, 2001;Zambrano et al., 2010). 

A central principle of ecotourism that consistently appear in the literature is its consideration for local people.  As well, the existing literature emphasizes that its economic, sociocultural and environmental impacts have an imperative influence on local residents’ perspective regarding the development of tourism. The adoption of this thought has resulted in a stream of the literature focusing on host community’s perspective regarding ecotourism impacts. Despite these documented impacts (Kayat, 2002;Kiper et al., 2011; Liew-Tsonis, 2010; Mibaiwa, 2003;Ogutu, 2002;  Ramsr, 2007) , less has been said about the influence of the host community’ opinion on ecotourism development.

As a matter of fact, it is suggested that the assessment of ecotourism impacts and its development is complex dependent on different circumstances and characteristics of host residents in various destinations.  The focus of this study is to examine the influences of cultural and religious traditions on resident community’s perspective on ecotourism development in a protected area in the northern part Iran (Subatan) where tradition is the main social context.

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