Sustainable tourism – a way forward for struggling Middle Eastern economies

Being one of the largest industries in the world, tourism is considered to be the engine of growth for many developing countries with abundant natural resources.

Roman amphitheatre, Bosra, UNESCO World Heritage Site, Syria

The Middle East as a region of a profound cultural heritage, unique architecture, religious and archaeological sites is potentially one of the very few destinations that have not been explored by masses of tourists due to the lack of infrastructure and turbulent past. Although it is wrong to generalise and account for all countries of the region in the same way, overall there are certain parts of the Middle East that are relatively safe for visitors and therefore concepts of sustainable tourism could be, and are successfully implemented for the benefit of tourists and the local communities. One of the greatest advantages of the designed financial models for investment in sustainable tourism infrastructure in post-conflict countries is their income generation potential, which can be put back into local communities to support redevelopment of schools, roads or hospitals. The Middle East is a fascinating part of the world and with appropriate investment and promotion it could attract a large number of visitors from Western Europe and the U.S.

A good example of an effective management could be the USAID-funded Jordan Tourism Project, which promotes development of tourist attractions that help to integrate local communities and promote microenterprise development. As a consequence the country benefits environmentally, socially and economically from visitors to their country.

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Sustainable tourism – definition

Sustainable tourism cares for the needs of tourists as much as it does for local communities and the environment. It combines ecotourism with prospects for sustainable development for destinations. In other words, while maintaining and encouraging development of the tourist industry with benefits for local people, concepts of sustainable tourism ensure minimal negative footprint and introduce initiatives aiming to protect natural environment and cultural heritage of the hosting region.

The concept of sustainable tourism is closely related to growing concern over climate change and consequences of greenhouse gas emissions, which are generated by transportation and accommodation of tourists. Also, as tourist industry heavily relies on nature-based, outdoor attractions and activities, sustainable concepts encourage responsible management of natural resources to preserve their values with respect for local communities.

Moreover, by engaging local people through the use of guides, home- stays and various modes private transportation, the tourism industry has a potential to improve local communities’ awareness of their natural environment and provide local people with sources of income.

Questions answered!

Is there any linkage between animal activists and the anti-globalisation movement?

Anti-globalization movement is one of the most international and broad social movements of recent times and it brings together campaigns about labour conditions (including child labour and slave labour), environmental destruction, animal rights, social justice, third-world development and debt, anarchism, anti-capitalism and politically oppressive regimes.

Based on the above definition it is argued that anti-globalisation is often used as an umbrella term, which unites social movements with varied primary objectives, but with a common element, which is opposition to globalisation as most of the movement’s adherents believe that globalisation leads to exploitation of the world’s poor, workers and the environment.

Animal rights activists are one of many groups even within anti-globalisation movement, which campaign against damaging animals’ natural habitats as a consequence of expansion of urban areas and protection of endangered species as well as animal welfare. To that end, animal rights activists challenge companies on the use of animal ingredients and testing products on animals, environmental policy and waste disposal.

But possibly the most prominent linkage between the two groups, is their activism, in other words means of achieving their goals. Both, anti-glibalisation participants and animal activists take action in support of a cause. And whereas on a personal level, actions taken by the groups associated with anti-globalisation movement and animal activists would differ, on a mass, direct action level both groups seek to put their agenda across through the means of protests and civil disobedience. These, for both groups, would involve protests, sit-ins and occupations, destruction of property related to exploitation and abuse of animals on the one hand, and damaging of property of global corporate companies on the other. Also both groups would often meet in places where high-profile events are taking place and join forces to make even stronger impact on politicians, the media and the general public.

In the recent years anti-globalisation protests have often resulted in violence. Examples include clashes during the 3rd Summit of the Americas held in Quebec in 2001, which attracted some 20,000 protesters representing whole spectrum of groups united under anti-globalisation movement label. But it must be mentioned, that even though violent clashes with the authorities take place, most of the protesters are supporters of non-violent direct action, and have used tactics such as guerrilla gardening (which saw Winston Churchill’s statue getting a turf mohican), and Feed the Birds (giving pigeons in Trafalgar Square food when authorities are trying to remove them) to demonstrate their disagreement with certain practices.

It is commonly believed that opposition to globalization, or anti-globalisation movement focuses on two areas. First there is the perceived growth in the power of multinational corporations, and secondly anti-globalists focus on activities of international bodies such as the World Bank, International Monetary Fund, and the World Trade Organization. However, as evidence presented above proves, this definition is vague and inadequate. In fact global movement of anti-globalisation incorporates numerous groups representing their own, more focused agenda. Yet, similarities between groups working under the label of anti-globalisation movement can be found and these include similar working practices, tactics and ways of protest as well as some “common enemies”.

Podkarpacie – Poland

The Podkarpackie province is considered a particularly interesting region in terms of the natural environment, while Bieszczady is undoubtedly the most beautiful corner of Poland. The Bieszczady Mountains are located far from civilization, at the southeast end of the country and still maintain their natural charm. It is a cult location, a must see for every tourist who admires quiet and open stretches of land. Moreover, numerous national parks in Podkarpacie are home to unique wild life, large populations of wolves, wild boar, lynx, bears, European bisons and deer.

With a good tourist infrastructure and many recreational centres, the region encourages outdoor activities such as hiking, cycling and water sports. Also, mineral water springs together with clean air and a favourable microclimate attract visitors to health resorts in Rymanów Zdrój, Polańczyk and Horyniec Zdrój.

Inscribed in the landscape are historic urban complexes, rural churches, chapels and synagogues. While the renaissance palace in Baranów Sandomierski and a castle in Krasiczyn are among the most valuable monuments of this era in Poland. Definitely worth visiting!

Why journalism remains one of the great careers of all-time?

Is it a glamorous lifestyle filled with freebies, or ethical principles and a crusade for the truth? Many reasons drive aspiring journalists into the profession, the key is to find one and truly believe in it.

It’s a privilege as much as it’s a job.

For me this is a unique craft that questions everything and everyone, it exposes injustice and informs the public. Journalism is about interpretation of the world around us, but its first obligation should be to the truth.

We don’t work for editors or media corporations, but for people. Some say that’s an over idealistic view of the profession of ‘whores’ selling their souls to rich and powerful. Maybe, but sooner or later those will be exposed too.

Coming from Poland, country where democratic structures are relatively young and people still learn how to exercise great power of the free media, I appreciate even more the British tradition of transparency in the press as well as on television.

Although in general media in Britain are perceived as free, they are not free of all the restrictions, no matter if imposed by law, editors, political or economical factors. Journalists in Britain and all over the world are often struggling to put their message across.

One specific feature of that struggle is that it will never be over. It is endless, like Sisyphus in hell, constantly pushing his huge boulder up to an unreachable hilltop. Maybe not that rewarding, but isn’t it an exciting challenge?

The thought about becoming a journalist has been in my mind since I realised that being a lawyer scenario isn’t any close to Ally McBeal. And even before that I had been attending after school workshops for young journalists simply because I enjoyed writing for no good reason.

It is only when I entered higher education I understood why it remains one of the great careers of all-time. As a student I have been trained not only to think like a journalist but also about journalism.

One of my favourite aspects of the profession is media ethics. The code set by the industry for the industry, its strengths and weaknesses, but also principles and motives of individuals.

I have had my ups and downs. Believing in the public service very strongly one day and questioning the sense of being a puppet in the hands of powerful corporations the next.

Some practitioners find themselves trapped in a morally defined cage, and start to wonder if often controversial methods of news gathering are purely pursued in the greater interest of the public right to know.

Last year I traveled across Eastern Europe to Russia through Ukraine and Belarus. First, in Kiev, at the Independence Square I took part in a ceremony in memory of journalist Heorhiy Gongadze. Hundreds of people were holding candles to mark the 8th anniversary of his disappearance and beheading.

The posters read: ‘Ukraine, Aren’t you ashamed of this?’ Gongadze crusaded against official corruption. His killing triggered months of protests against then President Leonid Kuchma, and eventually lead to the Orange Revolution.

It was a very touching event and made me think a lot about the purpose but also the power of journalism. And there was more to come. In fact I was heading to Moscow to write an article about a life and death of a woman that I have always admired, Anna Politkovskaya.

I didn’t find out much about her as Russian state secrecy and a lack of accreditation from recognised media organisations were obstacles too big to get over.

I met Tony Halpin, Moscow Bureau Chief of the Times. I asked him if he still believes in journalism as a defender of freedom and truth, he said that if he didn’t he wouldn’t be sitting in Moscow struggling with Russian state bureaucracy and hard-to-get officials. He said he would be in London working as a PR for much more money.

With my mind set, major doubts disappeared. But, it is still a big mission to accomplish – getting into journalism for real. Although I have had a few or more pieces published it is really hard to convince editors that your writing is not only worth printing but also a wage.

There must be something that makes me stand out from the crowd of nearly thousands of people applying for the same dream job. Good degree, good start, nice portfolio and lots of placements – even better.

But, to find a particular area you enjoy with lots of scope and endeavor to become a specialist, that’s the key! Since I was ‘lucky’ enough to be brought up in Eastern Europe, I think it would be wise to use this.

Many critics claim that there are less and less foreign correspondents who are experts in their area, who would have language, knowledge and background to report from particular region and to explain not only what was happening but to explain why it was happening.

Like in every business it’s about spotting a gap in the market.

Fascinated by war journalism, I would like to reach a point in my career when I will be able to see it for myself.

To report conflicts, question the war and military logic, with respect to the rights of the enemy, with as much emphasis on understanding the roots of war as possible.

The road into journalism has many twists and turns, but I cannot think about more challenging, exciting and meaningful future. I am sure I will make it!

Deadly Russia

Two years ago she was found dead in her block apartment in Moscow. It may be chilling coincidence but she was killed on Vladimir Putin’s birthday. Russian journalist, Anna Politkovskaya, paid the highest price for doing her job.

On October the 7th two years ago, 48-year old, Politkovskaya drove to a local supermarket. Her pregnant daughter had planned to meet her there but was late.

As a surveillance camera later showed, Anna was not alone. A young woman and a tall, slender man have been following her.

Politkovskaya made her name reporting for Russia’s liberal newspaper, Novaya Gazeta. On the day of her murder, Politkovskaya had planned to file a lengthy story on torture practices believed to be used by Chechen authorities.

Anna drove home and parked her silver Vaz 2110 just outside her apartment block. The entrance security system was in order.

She carried two bags of groceries in the building’s elevator up to her apartment, on the seventh floor and dropped them at the door. Then she went down to get the rest of the shopping

When the elevator opened on the ground floor she met her killer.

He shot her four times, the last shot was a control shot from inches away, in the head. A pistol was left by her side – the obvious hallmark of a contract killing.

The gun found was a 9mm Marakov, known as the weapon of choice for Russian hitmen.

After her murder, President Putin claimed that Politkovskaya’s influence on political life in the country was “extremely insignificant” and that the consequences of her murder were in fact more serious for him than the “damage inflicted by her articles”.

Politkovska was recognized and honored with numerous international awards for her work, bravery and commitment.

She often said that with a KGB officer as president, the least you could do was to smile sometimes, to show the difference between him and you.

Two years later

Political opponents of the Kremlin can end up in jail, such as the oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky, only Iraq has claimed more journalists’ lives than Russia in the past decade. Though, nobody is suggesting that Mr Putin had anything to do with the deaths.

Former Russian spy and author of a book critical of Russian president Vladimir Putin, Alexander Litvinenko, had publicly accused Putin of her murder. He was poisoned a few months later.

At the end of August, last year, the Kremlin proudly announced that it was close to solving Politkovskaya’s murder. Prosecutor General Yuri Chaika said that 10 suspects had been arrested, mostly Chechens, but also three former police officers and an employee of the domestic intelligence agency, the FSB. The case was as good as solved.

He blamed conspirators interested in undermining President Vladimir Putin’s authority and destabilising Russia.

Anna Politkovskaya’s son, Ilya Politkovsky, told Reuter news agency that Mr Chaika’s announcement was politically motivated. A prominent journalists’ organisation in Moscow – the Centre for Journalism in Extreme Situations – has called the official version a fabrication. Also former associates of Politkovskaya were skeptical about Prosecutor General Yuri Chaika’s murder plot theory.

And, within days many of the 10 arrested suspects had been released and the investigation had been severely compromised.

Brave beyond believe

“Anna published over 500 articles in the Novaya Gazeta. Almost each of them could have been the reason of her murder” – claims the Editorial Board of the Novaya Gazeta.

Politkovskaya was writing form the wrecked villages and shattered towns of Chechnya, talking to soldiers’ mothers, trying to find their sons’ corpses in military morgues. She constantly reported on “filtration camps”, where kidnapped Chechens, often teenagers, suffered torture, mutilation, rape and death.

She had been in Chechnya over 40 times. On one occasion she said: “I simply reported what I saw. I feel that it’s my professional duty – if you hide information, you have failed in your duty.”

“Actions of authorities are supported by a huge propaganda machine. This machine has been able to create a picture of the enemy, this enemy living down south.”

Anna had been trough a lot but always came back for more. She had been locked in a hole in the ground by Russian troops and threatened with rape. On her way to Rostov, after the Beslan school siege in 2004 she was poisoned by FSB and nearly died.

Politkovskaya had acted as a negotiator in the Dubrovka theatre siege in Moscow in 2002, when 129 people died after the special services released gas into the building. A year earlier, she had been forced to flee to Vienna after receiving serious death threats.

During a conference on the freedom of press organized by Reporters Without Borders in December 2005, Politkovskaya said: “People sometimes pay with their lives for saying aloud what they think. In fact, one can ever get killed for giving me information. I am not the only one in danger. I have examples that can prove it.”

She had piles of post and hundreds of phone calls, people were offering information, more often asked for help.

Deadly Russia

Over the past 15 years, Russia has become the third-deadliest country in the world for journalists, after conflict-ridden Iraq and Algeria, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.

It is estimated that 47 journalists have been killed in Russia since 1992. More than half of them lost their lives after Vladimir Putin came to power in 2000 and the majority of the murders have never been solved.

Shot, stabbed or poisoned, the cases have two things in common: no one has been convicted, or even arrested.

The Kommersant reporter, Ivan Safronov, is the most recent journalist to die in suspicious circumstances.

Despite falling four floors from a window in his Moscow apartment block, he did not die immediately. Witnesses say he tried to get to his feet after hitting the ground, but then collapsed for the final time.

The police say the death of the well-respected journalist, who worked for the daily Kommersant newspaper, has all the hallmarks of suicide – though they are willing to consider the possibility that he was “driven” to kill himself. But his friends insist he was not the sort to take his own life. Why should he?

In September The prosecutor’s office of Moscow Central Administrative District closed the criminal investigation because of ‘an absence of foul play’.

All eyes on Russia

(AP Photo/Mikhail Metzel)

Russia has always been ruled by strong, authoritarian leaders. From Ivan the Terrible through tsar Alexander I, to Vladimir Putin. Now, with a new president, the power is about to be shared between two men.

Although many had expected Vladimir Putin to amend the constitution to allow him a third term in office, he moved out from the Kremlin. Commentators believe that with Dmitry Medvedev as a president it could be easier for Russia to warm up relations with the West.

Mr Putin would still remain in charge, overlooking the economy and social services as a head of the government.

Welcome to Mr President
The mainly pro-Kremlin media in Russia have welcomed Mr Medvedev’s victory. Izvestia newspaper said the vote was a “triumph of the majority” that created a “bridge to the future for Russia”.

But Western media wonder how the new president will work with his predecessor. In the West, Mr Medvedev is perceived as more liberal and a better face of Russia. Maybe this is the reason why he was designated as the third president of the Russian Republic.

The Western leaders congratulated Dmitry Medvedev, 42 year-old lawyer, on becoming Russia’s new president but gave him rather cool welcome. Gordon Brown’s spokesman said that Britain would judge the new Russian government on its actions.

In a letter to Mr Medvedev, Mr Brown said that he looked forward to meeting the new Russian leader at the G8 Summit in Japan in July. He added that Britain hoped to get Russia’s cooperation “on a number of issues”.

But, Tony Halpin, Chief of Moscow bureau of The Times said: “Mr Brown pointedly failed to invite Mr Medvedev to Downing Street, underlining the continuing strains over the murder of the dissident former spy Alexander Litvinenko in London and Vladimir Putin’s refusal to extradite the main suspect to Britain.”

What’s next?
The Western world is yet to see if Russia will take a long-awaited, softer course in its foreign policy. Dr Alexandra Smith, lecturer in Russian at Edinburgh University, said: “Mr Medvedev is younger and belongs to a different generation altogether.”

But Dmitry Medvedev vowed to continue the path which has been carried out by President Putin so changes are unlikely. “I think (my presidency) will be a direct continuation,” he said, referring to Mr Putin’s eight years in office.

Soon after being elected Mr Medvedev said: “We will increase stability, improve the quality of life and move forward on the path we have chosen.” According to Russian constitution the president defines Russia’s foreign policy, defence and security services, but Mr Putin’s influences are very likely to be reflected.

Both politicians have known each other for years and declared harmonious relations. The question is if Mr Medvedev accepts to be the junior partner.

A teacher from Moscow, Nina Trufanova said: “Dmitry Medvedev has always been Mr Putin’s right hand; they have supported each other and probably will in the future.”

Elections in Russian style

Mr Medvedev, was the clear favourite from the start and enjoyed generous coverage of the state owned television. The head of observers from the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), Andreas Gross, said Russia’s “democratic potential” was unfulfilled.

Dr Smith said: “Mr Putin’s vision of managed democracy has a certain influence on the media and other institutions related to power structures and public opinion.” Nonetheless, Mr Medvedev, President Vladimir Putin’s chosen successor, won a solid mandate from the majority of Russian people with a support of 70.23% of the votes.

The reality

Since Vladimir Putin came to power eight years ago, Russians, in general, have become wealthier and Moscow itself has been experiencing economic boom. The rapid economic growth in the country and pro-Kremlin media propaganda won millions of supporters for Mr Putin’s regime.

But Vladimir Putin’s years in power have also been marked by a restriction of democratic freedoms and tough attitude towards Russia’s former Soviet neighbours and the West.

There are serious questions to be asked about the democratic freedoms in the country.

Gdansk – let yourself go…

Three hundred feet shuffle slowly forward, pushing an assortment of bags across the airport floor. The plane to Gdansk is going to be full – there are 150 people here taking the dare, seeing for themselves.

This is the new destination of choice – made popular by a £100 round ticket from Glasgow or Edinburgh.

The historic city of Gdansk may be known for the Lenin shipyards and the birthplace of Solidarity movement, but soon it will be put on the football map of Europe. As a part of a winning bid by Poland and Ukraine, Gdansk is set to play a major role in Euro 2012. Group matches and quarter final are planned for a new 40,000 seater stadium, to be named the Baltic Arena.

Image: Baltic Travel Company

Gdansk is a beautiful city in spite of, or with thanks to, its turbulent history. And there are not many places in the world where the history of our times seems more immediate.

After all it was here in September 1939 that the hell of the Second World War started and the first shots fired.

But in the queue, that all seems a long way off. Nearly four out of five making their way to the check-in are Polish. They are going to see their missing friends and families.

Maria is next in the line to the check in desk. She is very excited to go home again. “Last time I went to Poland it was winter, just before Christmas. It feels like ages ago! I remember freezing wind that stroked me when I got off the plane, the temperature was far below zero.”

The plane will take off in 40 minutes. Airport staff is closing the check-in, those who were late won’t get on WZ3096 flight to Poland this morning.

The city centre of Gdansk was completely destroyed during WWII. In the Dlugi Targ (Long Market) with the beautiful coloured houses, only two were standing after the bombardments. When the war was over all of these houses were rebuilt stone by stone by those who survived.

Passengers are going slowly through the security check. Some of them still don’t know new airport restrictions and keep liquids with them, soon all the bottles are binned.

In the departure lounge they learn that the flight is half an hour delayed. Somebody spotted the information on the screen and let others know, who may have not understood it.

Jane is going to Poland for the first time. She says:”My best friend Kate is Polish, I know, her real name is Kasia but we all call her Kate. I don’t really know what to expect, I have never been further east than Germany. Kate was going home for a few days and asked me to come with her, I said, why not?”

The girls are going to be very busy. Kasia planned almost every hour of their trip to impress her friend, to show her that Poland is so much different from what old stereotypes say.

Kasia’s brother will come to pick them up from the Lech Walesa Airport. Polish, traditional dinner will be on the table when they arrive to their final destination – home.

Walking along the medieval docks and city is an experience in itself. Gdansk was a major port during the late middle ages and renaissance periods, the restored city and in particular the cathedral bear testament to the city’s undoubted former wealth. The city itself is a colourful heaven of magnificent architecture and boasts a vibrant evening and nightlife.

On the plane everyone seem very happy and chatty, cabin crew speak in Polish and then translate information for passengers to English. Only a few seats stay empty when the plane is ready for the take off.

For most passengers it is a happy time of holidays, break from work or school, time to relax and see those who they had been left behind before moving to Scotland.

It is estimated that around fifty percent of workers who have entered Britain since the EU’s expansion have come from Poland. And this is not surprising as out of the 80 million people who entered the European Union last year, 40 million of them were Poles.

Majority of passengers are young, in their twenties or thirties, a few of them speak English, planning stag  and hen night celebrations. Two Scotsmen moan about coming back to work in Gdansk but they seem to look forward to seeing their Polish girlfriends.

Gdansk, called by many the Baltic’s golden oldie has a new spring in its step, and what’s more, her two brothers Sopot and Gdynia are making sure that Poland’s coastline has more than one ace up its sleeve.

According to The Times, economists calculate that by relieving labour shortages and pay pressures, the Poles have contributed to economic growth and held down inflation and interest rates. When their own economy is stronger, many of the Poles will return home. In the meantime, we should celebrate the fact that they are here.

“Take a dare, see it yourself” – this is the slogan from a new advertising campaign to encourage foreigners to visit the city of Gdansk, northern Poland. With daily budget flights from Edinburgh and Glasgow it has become easier than ever.

Just over two hours later the plane gently lands in its final destination. Some of the passengers start to clap their hands and shout “Bravo”. This is to thank the pilot for safe and pleasant flight. A few passengers cannot wait to get off. They take their seatbelts off and try to reach their hand luggage even before the plane completely stops. Cabin crew ask them to sit down.

In just a few minutes all of the passengers will go in different directions. Many will see their relatives who take them home, some will get a taxi to the hotel, others be getting ready to work the next day.