Fostering rural development is one of the greatest recent challenges for development policy. Rural areas have long been threatened by environmental pollutions and degradation, absence of adequate employment opportunities and adequate wages to sustain villagers’ livelihood and social cohesion. Urgency to their present condition provided the basis for the rural tourism development programme in 2006. The programme is strategically designed to provide investment in economic and social infrastructure through means of tourism. Nonetheless, more research is warranted to further the development of rural touristic communities beyond physical context. The present study examines the role of ecotourism and community-based sustainable development by a descriptive-analytical method. The following questions are raised for research analysis: What are the principles of ecotourism and ecotouristic village development? How these principles could be contributed to ecotouristic villages? How will the village of Verdij could be regenerated through the ecotourism village principles?
To answer these questions, a comprehensive model is required to ensure a sustainable ecotourism community. Ecotourism has been long used as a strategy for environmental conservation and sustaining the well-being of the local population. Its principles- to name a few- are; education, conservation, benefits for locals, low impact, non-consumptive, ethical and responsible and etc. However, the application of ecotourism must be maintained through models of sustainable settlements at the village level. Based on OECD 1994 (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) rural tourism and development should lean towards rural areas, built upon the rural world’s special features, rural in scale, traditional in character, growing slowly and organically, sustainable, representing the complex pattern of rural environment, economy, and history.
The Ecovillage concept, using recent sustainable community development approaches, share similar principles to that of ecotourism - and plays a key role in ensuring that development is sustainable, both in terms of environment and the welfare of local communities. Its principles were combined with ecotourism to achieve the ultimate objective of this paper: Compiling a conceptual framework of ecotourism village development. According to the framework, four major goals are identified: ecological, social, economic, cultural-governance.
Application of the model is illustrated in Verdij village, in the vicinity of district 22 of Tehran, Iran. This village has many values such as biological diversity, geomorphological specifications, and most importantly Tafoni rocks; called “Stone dolls” by the villagers. These dolls are small cave-like features with rounded entrances and smooth concave walls, which attract many tourists to the village. In spite of this exceptional natural resource and heritage, the village has difficulties taking advantage of tourism development. Therefore, a comprehensive framework is essential if tourism is to play an effective role in rural development
In order to translate the model’s goals into spatial-physical output in Verdij Village, three design scenarios were compiled with the idea of creating a tourism trail. The analytic network process (ANP), was used for selecting the best scenario. This plan includes a collection of policies and design principles where the spatial reflection is prepared in a two-dimensional vision (diagrammatic plan). Policies, such as energy efficiency, livelihood, green buildings, community building, support in local economies, reconnecting with nature and the health of the locals was then considered for the village. Findings also established that nature conservation, implementing sound ecological design, protecting scenic views and vistas, development of local economies, and environmental education were important factors for its community to thrive.
Verdij design principles were also expanded to specify principles that could be applied to other similar development projects. The benefits resulting from the conceptual framework is to create opportunities for comprehensive planning beyond the mere physical context, to one which serves both the needs of conservation and generates revenue for the local community. Moreover, factors such as leadership, education, training and lack of suitable tourism infrastructure need to be overcome in order for rural tourism development to thrive in Iran.