The impact of eco-tourism on the environment and on rural communities has been a debate among conservationists and rural development practitioners. Realis Development S.A.L is about to implement a Touristic Project located in Qurnat al-Sawda, North of Lebanon. The location was chosen as it is an area elevated at 3,000 meters above sea level with a view that overlooks the Mediterranean Sea. It is 27 km away from Tripoli and 72 Km away from Rafic Hariri International Airport. Qurnat al-Sawda was chosen as it is believed to be a location that can be utilized for all sorts of touristic activities or plans that range from Ski Resort, Hotels, Villa's, and all kind of Outdoor activities (Realis Development SAL, 2017). This project without a doubt has generated different reactions among Lebanese inhabitants as the location is one of the few intact virgin lands in Lebanon. Based on extensive research pertaining to the Al-Kumma project, the following positive/negative claims were deduced. According to Patrick Ghanem, CEO and partner of Realis Development (Daily Star, 2017): - The project is eco-friendly as it will use solar energy, utilize wood and imported material and they will follow American and European standards. - Project is not on in Qornert Esawda rather, it is on Jabbal 40 - The project will put Lebanon’s nature back on the map through the attraction of foreigners. - The Project will be the highest resort in the MEA On the other hand, one cannot deny the negative outcomes that might generate from this project and, will range from: - The destruction of the Hiking Trail, an attraction for tourists and nature lovers. - The destruction one of nature’s last sanctuaries, especially that green spaces are continuously diminishing. - The possibility of decreasing the number of cedar trees, increase deforestation and disturbing the ecosystem. - The possibility of threatening water resources since the mountain nourishes rivers to the east such as the Orontes and to the west such as Qadisha.
- The project is planned to be constructed in a remote area lacking appropriate infrastructure hence, decreasing the feasibility of the project (J. Abou Arraj, 2017, personal interview). - No EIA has taken place till now to assess the potential impacts on the environment (M. Abi Said, 2017, personal interview).
It is important to mention that Lebanon’s location at the far eastern end of the Mediterranean Sea, its topography, altitudinal diversity, geomorphology, and microclimate render it rich in its ecosystem diversity. It is estimated to have at least 9 119 species of fauna and flora (MoA/UNEP 1996) of which many are endemic. A hundred years ago, 70% of Lebanon’s surface area was covered with forests; however, in the past 20 years, the forest area has decreased reaching 13% of the country’s area (Sattout & Zahreddine 2013). The rich biodiversity and the diverse ecosystems have been threatened by the conversion of natural habitats to urban, industrial and agricultural areas; increasing population growth and urbanization; unsustainable agricultural practices; overexploitation of forests; private ownership of public properties; quarrying leading to deforestation; water and air pollution; and mismanagement of eco-tourism that has been a growing trend in rural areas (USAID/Lebanon & ECODIT 2002). Serious conservation measures are needed in such country. Jabal Makmel, on which Qornet el Sawda resides, and on which the project will be implemented, is an important biodiversity region, with 200 plant species of which 6 are endemic to Lebanon and, Syria and Turkey, 36 endemic to Lebanon and Syria, and 25 endemic to Lebanon (Radford et al. 2011). Therefore, this mountain is considered a priority area for conservation. In addition, Qornet El Sawda, which is 6-7km away from the project location is among the natural wild habitats left not destructed by humans in Lebanon. These wild areas are on the decrease; it is very important to conserve what is left from Lebanons’ wild ecosystems. The planned resort might have many positive impacts including the enhancement of tourism hence providing economic services and improving local infrastructure in remote areas. However, the launching of construction in such wild area might lead to further construction invading the whole mountain and even reaching the Qornet el Sawda peak. In addition, the increased tourism and increased human activities in such wild regions will highly influence the distribution and existence of many wild species in natural habitats (Abi-Said and Amr 2012).