Tourism is currently the world's largest industry and it has an increasing impact on protected areas. Our understanding of these mechanisms, their ecological impacts and our capacity to manage tourism in protected areas lags behind the growth of tourism to protected areas. In many protected areas, tourism is a major activity that occurs without much forethought or preparation. To ensure that the benefits of tourism outweigh the costs, careful planning and management of tourism impacts are needed.
Mass market-driven nature tourism is known to have a clear negative impact on local cultural and natural heritage. The starting point is therefore to distinguish between this kind of uncontrolled tourism and ecotourism which is by definition an ethical form of travelling, responsible and small scale. A dangerous confusion between these two types of tourism is widespread and anything nowadays tend to be labelled and
sold as “ecotourism”.
Due to an increasing demand for ecological accountability and travel ethics, the international tour operators and the ecotourism local initiatives have the interest in being certified by independent bodies such as international conservation NGOs or by authoritative private accreditation associations. Achieving a unified international certification system together with identifying suitable and efficient mechanisms to create a viable business while controlling it, is the challenge of any ecotourism scheme. Conservation NGOs, in cooperation with ecologically conscious visitors, have the potential to ensure that any specific ecotourism
initiative remains under control socially, culturally and environmentally.
The present feasibility study is intended to provide independent and objective information to the relevant stakeholders, useful to decide whether an ecotourism scheme would be an economically, socio-culturally and
environmentally viable hypothesis of development relatively to the Palmyra desert. An option for developing an ecotourism enterprise should involve all main stakeholders in discussing, negotiating and planning the
idea through a series of participatory workshops, ensuring that the idea is not actually imposed on the local community. An ecotourism business option is identified and discussed relatively to the Palmyra desert:
thanks to the detailed reconnaissance work started as early as 1996, this area is regarded as holding sufficient attractions in terms of archeological, cultural, landscape and natural heritage to attract a fair amount of cost-conscious European visitors with a desire to enjoy the desert nature and culture, while contributing to its conservation.

By Gianluca Serra
BirdLife International
February 2007

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