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 You are in: Under Secretary for Democracy and Global Affairs > Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs > Releases > Remarks > 2003

The Role of Ecotourism: The Potential, The Opportunities, and The Gaps

Soleman Idd, Founder, Investor's Gateway Development
Remarks at Ecotourism Symposium
Rosslyn, Virginia
February 21, 2003

The topics that we are addressing today are so important to me and I have a lot to say about them. Having just ten minutes, I will try to go straight to the point. However, the full version of my comments are available for you to read if you so desire.

No doubt, the potential is there and remains untapped. The real question is how to transform that potential into attractive business opportunities for venture capitalists and get the attention of the decision makers and players? How soon can we do that? I would suggest the sooner the better. In any case we should do it before the resources are tempered or spoiled and while the people are still receptive to new ideas and peaceful.

I can summarize the questions raised today by the speakers as follows:

  • Is there any satisfactory solution for conservation problems?
  • Will this continue to be a bottomless pit, with no adequate return on investment?
  • Will this remain a domain of conflict of interests between social classes, protectionists and greedy enterprises?
  • Will there always be conflict between the conservation scientists and people pushed by poverty and forced to disregard natural limits?
  • Where will all this lead us? Disaster? What kind of a legacy are we leaving for our children and grand children?
  • Are we faced by a catalog of environmental and consequent social problems which will spell disaster for future generations?
  • Is it too late to act and react or are we still on time to save the rest?

With a business vision, we can add the following questions:

  • Can we transform everyday environmental and social problems into opportunities?
  • Can we invest in conservation and get a good return on investment?
  • Can we add value to the nature and natural resources and get revalorization and be remunerated?
  • Can we fund the research, patent the findings, service the nature activities and still make money?
  • Can we integrate, reconcile and synergize all parties concerned and interested? In a transparent win-win businesslike profit sharing?
  • Can we plan a future where real consideration is given to our environment interest of our children? And still set-up sustainable trade-offs, encourage the positive decisions, remunerate courageous acts?

I am a libertarian and free trade oriented businessman who is willing to participate actively in this conservation and seek economic alternative development. (Iíve been involved since 1995). Let me share with you my vision, approach and methodology.

Gabon will be my choice as it not only provides good locations which are accessible, safe and secure, but Gabon has all the Congo Basin has to offer. The Gabon National Parks network, the political will and vision behind the need for alternative economic development based on substantial resources and activities will be my target today. What can we do with 30,000 Km2?

My methodology will be the salesman approach. A salesman knows his customers priorities and needs. He gives them his best offer using their language. Here, by customer, I mean all Interested and Concerned Parties (ICP). Then, we need to reconcile our priorities with theirs in a salesmanís pragmatic way. It is tough for developing country leaders engaged in economic reform to deprive themselves. They desperately need government revenues and employment creating industries, even coming from environmentally destructive activities. They are confronted with large budget deficits, high rural unemployment and explosive social instability. So what we need are fair substantial trade-offs, taking into account their worries and offering honorable win-win solutions.

Adding value to Land, Resource, and People

I will build my case on the land (real estate) you call planet earth for conservation purposes. I will use the land (real estate) for sales purposes you call ecosystem. I will call the people the residents. You will speak Latin, I will speak slang. You cannot develop people without developing their land and vice versa. If we canít make the land attractive for business, no human activity will be attractive for business either.

Examples of bad decisions and human behavior that reduced the value of the land and some good decisions and quality of life that made the land attractive.

  • Real estate in Wall Street, Bannkroff Strasse, Champs Elysees, Hawaii, etc.
  • Chechnya, Mogadishu, Afghan Bora Bora mountains
  • Farm in Bordeaux and Orange County or Chernobyl and Mashonland in Zimbabwe

Gabon Natural Parks are good pieces of real estate, thanks to the vision of the leadership of the country, the country itself, its stability, and its resources. The interest of UNESCO in the Gabonese National Parks and trans-border parks has already given more value to the property.

I would like to build my model on trade:

  • I believe in trade, not in aid alone.
  • A good trade can aid. Without trade, aid is not sustainable.
  • We can trade-off aid for good practice and friendly business environment. This sounds like a trade.

According to the World Bank:

  • AID to the poorest countries has failed to improve conditions.
  • Writing off developing countries debt can only bring temporary relief.

Free-trade, right business climate, transparency, good governance are the right ingredients to attract capital investment.

The second opportunity that also needs policy makersí decision is Education. Education on environmental issues, learning about ecosystems, human impact, long term consequences, and model of good behavior. The most important part of environmental knowledge is the on site practical learning, sensitization, indoctrination of our present and future decision makers and roles players.

I want to make my case with the help of all the people sitting here. The idea is to promote the Gabon National Parks in the short term and all the Congo Basin in the future. Establishment of a chain of practical education centers for the developed countriesí students (high school, graduate, post graduate), with activities directly or indirectly linked to the environment.

The centers can be used also by policy makers, ecotourism industry and all other interested and concerned parties for ethics, behavior impacts, and so on. This will bring from the United States, Canada, European Union, Japan, millions of visitors, for educational purpose, They will learn about vital matters for their security, health, well-being, survivalÖThis is easier to sell and promote.

Do Gabon Parks present a complete complementary ecosystem in my eye? Yes, indeed. We have the science to prove it.

Can we see in Gabon all human activity impacts on the ecosystem: Yes.

  • Oil industry impact: Exploration, drilling, off-shore platforms, oil spilling, pipe lines, gas torch
  • Logging impacts and indirect consequences, poaching
  • Over fishing, mining, non-timber activities pressure on the forest
  • Non environmentally friendly agriculture

We need a success story. We have to deliver on time one visible success, a show case. There is no short-cut for that.

The ingredients for success:

  • A better understanding of political, social, economic, diplomatic, humanitarian and cultural issues as a basic starting point.
  • Taking into account the priorities of the host country, the socials and economic pressures, the instability factors for the ruling groups (like unemployment, insecurity, social unrest due to economic reform) in our objective, which sets up a natural alliance.
  • Avoiding strategic sectors of conflict and matters causing an embarrassment to the ruling group.
    Including all interested and concerned parties in a transparent, readable way in all the process, demonstrating the better trade-offs, creating a win-win situation is another success factor.
  • Using private business, local and international community force, capital, methods, tools, terminology to sell the deals is another recipe for success.
  • Starting from a very advantageous position, best geographical condition, best location, competitive edge, natural gifts, united force of interested and concerned parties, early and right time to begin. Yes, success is guaranteed.
  • Partnering with the best for capital investment, technology transfer, right NGOs, best skills and servicing group. Also, why not include the potential losers.

Mr. Idd presented information on the Libreville Waterfront Tourist Gateway Project. For more information on the project, please request by Fax +27-21-418-8161 or email lorraine@waterfront.co.za

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