Evaluating the current situation of ecotourism in Kaji Namakzar Wetland in South Khorasan Province, Iran and offering strategies for its sustainable development are the main objectives of this study. To this end, different decision making tools were used including questionnaires and interviews with experts, local residents and visitors of the wetland. Strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats (SWOT) and quantitative strategic plan- ning matrix (QSPM) analysis techniques were conducted to identify the required management strategies. Results showed that the existing ecotourism activities within the wetland are not in line with the sustainability require- ments. Although the result of the present study showed that KNW has an unsustainable situation with regard to its current management strategies, if authorities take its great opportunities and strengths more into consider- ation, it can have positive effects on developing sustainable strategies to increase ecotourism activities in the region and to reduce the adverse effects on the environment.
Iran has various natural attractions such as temperate forests in the north with high humidity and rainfall (1700 mm), deserts and salt lakes in the central part, high mountains (such as 5604 m-high Mount Damavand), glaciers and coastal areas (Ghadimi, 2014). Although Iran has a diverse climate and remarkable biodiversity, major limitations such as lack of conclusive regulations, educational programs and infra- structure, have contributed to the slowing of the development of eco- tourism in the country (Sayyed, Mansoori, & Jaybhaye, 2013). Some prior studies have been conducted on the development of ecotourism in Iran using strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats (SWOT) technique (Aghajani, 2014; Moosavi, Safania, & Gholami, 2013; Sayyed et al., 2013). Similarly, Samadzadeh, Bigdeli, and Fathi (2010) analyzed the potential ecotourism areas in Hashtjin using SWOT technique. They concluded that the area has high potential for tourism development and with designing proper plans for tourism development of the region, the area would not only conserve from threats, but also improve the region's economic condition. Badri, Rahmani, Sjasy Kedari, and Hassanpour (2011) emphasized that a variety of strategies and policies need to be considered for ecotourism sustainable development (ESD). According to the studies conducted by Taghvaei, Taghizadeh, and Kiomarsi (2011) and Ebrahimzadeh and Agassizadeh (2009), using geographic information system (GIS) and SWOT models can help us to address an appropriate strategy for ESD. Moosavi, Safania, and Gholami (2013) showed that there is a scope for the improvement of the SWOT analysis in identifying more options for strategic manage- ment of sustainable ecotourism. Because of having the dry desert areas, great mountainous and natural landscapes, many people were attracted to visit natural landscapes (such as wetlands) in different provinces of Iran (such as South Khorasan). South Khorasan is one of the three provinces created after the division of Khorasan province in 2004. While at the beginning, the newly created “South Khorasan” included only Birjand county and some new counties detached from that county (i.e., Nehbandan, Darmian and Sarbisheh), in subsequent years all northern and western cities and territories of the old Quhistan (such as Qaen, Ferdows and Tabas) have been annexed into the South Khorasan. South Khorasan, with a wide range of tourism attractions, is like a jewel in desert. South Khorasan has many historical and natural attractions including Kaji Namakzar Wetland (KNW). A few researches have focused on KNW (Ramsar Convention, 2005). However, despite the importance of this region with regard to its ecotourism potentials, no effort has been made to present its current situation and to analyze ESD strategy and Quantitative Strategic Planning Matrix (QSPM) analysis in KNW. There- fore, this study focuses on the strengths and weaknesses (internal factors) as well as opportunities and threats (external factors) in this wetland using SWOT and QSPM analysis. Achieving sustainable tourism, defined as the one that is ecologically benign, economically feasible and socially acceptable, is thus contingent on environmental protection and reconciling tourism activities with local socio-economical values (Brown, Turner, Hameed, & Bateman, 1997). Therefore, herewith the implementation of sustainable tourism was examined through questionnaire and interviews with experts, eco-tourists, local visitors and people. Accordingly, the following section provides the methodolo- gy of the paper. The analysis method focuses on the strengths and weaknesses (internal factors) as well as the opportunities and threats (external factors) in the study of wetland regarding sustainable tourism. Afterwards, the results are explained, following with a discussion on the research findings. Finally, a conclusion is drawn with regard to the main findings of this study. 2. Materials and methods 2.1. Study site KNW is located in the north of the city of Nehbandan at a distance of 75 km. It is 1315 m below sea level and has an area of 22,765 ha. Its geo- graphical coordinates are 59° 50′W to 60° 00′E and 31° 54′S to 31° 54′N (Fig. 1). KNW is a broad salt marsh and due to its low altitude compared to other surrounding regions, it has become a gathering point for the area's drainage. Since the soil salinity is high, Kaji Namakzar has become a salt lake. In the seasons of fall and winter, the level of water increases and the place becomes a sanctuary for waterfowl migratory birds. Indeed, it hosts a large number of migratory birds every year. Annually, over 5000 migratory birds land in this wetland. KNW lures a large num- ber of tourists and this white salty lake is thriving in spite of consecutive drought conditions. Since the wetland has water, it is a secure place for waterfowls. The other strong points are the beauty of the landscape, great diversity of environments in a large territory, existence of valuable natural areas that may be further enhanced in terms of enjoyment in KNW (Ghorbani, Raufirad, & Jafarian, 2013).
Tourism ManagementDr Amir Ghorbani, PhD
Tourism Management Perspectives