Ecotourism: The million star hotel in the desert

Posted on May 22, 2011 by

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Ateshooni is the name of a 400 year-old house located alongside of the remains of a citadel from the Sassanid Empire period in the oasis of Garmeh. The Sassanid ruled Persia from 224 to 651 A.D. This old house has been renovated by Maziar and his family, by using the same methods and materials as people did 400 years ago, and is now a famous inn in the central desert of Iran, far away from the mega-cities and modern technology.

Ateshooni, in the Pahlavi language, which is the indigenous language of people in some parts of central Iran, means: night time celebrations around a camp fire.

Maziar and his family are originally from this village – Garmeh – and still live there. The inn shows almost no signs of new technologies, while Maziar’s family members are quite used to them. He himself is an architect and his father is a retired pilot. The other members of the family are highly educated as well. They have hosted many visitors from around the world in this unique inn. Their friendly and welcoming style has charmed many visitors since 1999 and they do their utmost to make the visits of their guests memorable by serving homemade delicious traditional Iranian food and by entertaining them with music performances using traditional Persian and other exotic instruments as the didgeridoo, a wind instrument developed by Indigenous Australians.

This region is ideal for those who are seeking a diverse and varied desert experience. This area can be fascinating for people with a variety of interests: desert botany and medicinal plants, geological formations and archeological studies of early human settlement.

What Maziar and his family have established, is a successful example of ecotourism. The term ‘ecotourism’ normally brings green areas, rivers, lakes or something along those lines to our mind; while the inn of Maziar and his family lies in the heart of an arid area.

Ecotourism is defined as “responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the well-being of local people”. [1] It is about combining conservation, communities and sustainable travel. Basically the people who are involved in ecotourism activities are supposed to follow the ecotourism principles:

  • Minimize impact
  • Raise environmental and cultural awareness and respect.
  • Provide positive experiences for both visitors and hosts.
  • Provide direct financial benefits for conservation.
  • Provide financial benefits and empowerment for local people.
  • Raise sensitivity for the political, environmental and social climate of the host.

The concept that Maziar’s family has used to attract tourists to the desert can be briefly summarized in some points:

· They provide accommodation that gives tourists the sense of living in an ancient civilization. “Maziar’s inn is out of this world. It feels like a Persian Indiana Jones movie!” a tourist says. There is no air-condition in the house and the architectural style and materials of the building –even the furniture- are the same as were used in this area in ancient times. The inn is also not as big as one would normally expect. The house only has ten rooms and can accommodate 25 people simultaneously.

· Maziar and his family serve the meals according to Iranian tradition. All of the guests eat together and the dishes are Iranian. You feel as if you are invited into a local home instead of staying in a hotel. There is no need for a cell phone alarm to wake you up in the morning; since all guests wake up to traditional Persian music. They are integrating the cultural aspects of this region very well, which could definitely be interesting for tourists. One tourist stated: “Maziar himself adds to the atmosphere because of his timeless Iranian look. He is good looking and has long hair and a beard. He wears traditional Iranian clothes. What makes it work is that he is very hospitable, genuine and dedicated to the cause of his hotel”.

· While there is almost no sign of modern technology in the inn; they have used technology for promotional reasons. A good description of the inn can be found in the “Lonely Planet” guide and the inn also has a good website.

· They have used the geographical features of the region very well to attract more tourists. There are opportunities for visiting the vast dry salt lake which has a surface area of about 3000 square kilometers. There are also moving sand dunes, as well as cool mountain villages surrounded by vegetation and cool streams. Historical adobe houses and villages and date palm orchards can also be explored. Maziar and his family arrange some unique activities such as camel riding, bike riding, motor cross, paragliding and overnight camping under incredible starry desert skies which give you the clearest observation of the Milky Way possible with the naked eye.

This pattern could be repeated as a sustainable development plan in many poor countries that do not have mineral resources, beautiful beaches or even vegetation to attract tourists. Ecotourism can help prevent massive immigration from the villages to big cities because of draught, poverty, etc.

Potentially, many countries have opportunities to develop ecotourism; but this needs some preparation. The most important one is security. The countries that are involved in civil wars or have a weak government cannot be an attractive destination for tourists. Also, basic infrastructure such as transportation facilities, are required to transfer tourists to areas that might be inaccessible otherwise.

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A room in the Ateshooni inn (Maziar’s inn)

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The salt Desert near Garmeh

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Man-made channels for the production of potassium

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Camel riding in the desert

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Sand dunes near Garmeh

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Maziar playing didgeridoo while camping

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Maziar playing didgeridoo and Persian musical instruments while camping

[1] The International Ecotourism Society, What is Ecotourism, 1990, http://www.ecotourism.org/site/c.orLQKXPCLmF/b.4835303/k.BEB9/What_is_Ecotourism__The_International_Ecotourism_Society.htm, last accessed May 18 2011.

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