UNEP Website GEO Home Page

Tourism (Figure 5.7) is another opportunity for development, but investment in tourism is risky. The risks are illustrated by the recent history of tourism in Chad and Niger. They have uniquely attractive deserts, but civil war throttled tourism in both in the 1980s and early 1990s, and the rebound, if any, has been from a low base (Hosni 1999). Chadian tourism is under retreat from unrest again in early 2006. And even if there has been growth, it can falter: visits to Namibia fell appreciably in 2004, perhaps because of recession in parts of Europe, perhaps because of reports of rising crime in Namibia itself. Tourist numbers fell significantly in Mexico, Chile and Peru after 11 September 2001. Distance is not, yet, an obstacle: large numbers of Europeans, North Americans, Japanese, and now Chinese and Indian tourists still visit distant deserts (like the Namib, the Atacama, Uluru, Oman and Dubai), but energy prices threaten all these flows. Terrorism and recession are other, inevitable threats.

Tourism development has other dangers that should be recognised explicitly in policy, such as corruption (of all sorts and at all levels), competition for resources like water, damaged beauty and biological value, temptation for street and organizedcrime, flagrant inequity, and litter. Against all that, ecotourism, to which the deserts have much to offer, is said to be the fastest-growing sector of the tourist market, although there are concerns that the label is used to cover activities that damage biodiversity, such as off-road motoring. More carefully defined, monitored and marketed, it has the potential to enhance nature conservation, and to contribute to local incomes (Goodwin 1996).

© UNEP 2006