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Maldives’ Wetlands Help Fight Climate Change

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Photo: World Bank

The lighthouse stands guard over the wetlands. Perched at one end of Koattey, it was built by the British who had a military base on the nearby island of Gan during World War II. Scattered across this area are other points of historical interest including the remains of an old fort. However, while tourists may pause to appreciate the ruins, it’s not what they’ve come to see.

Hithadhoo, the capital of Addu city in the Maldives is home not only to the Koattey Protected Area, but also to Eydhigali Kilhi, one of the largest wetlands in the country. This area, lush and beautiful, is famous for its birds. The eastern grey Heron, the Maldivian pond heron, little egret and white tern can be spotted throughout the year. The white tern or dhondheeni, also seen here, is considered a symbol of Addu. This is just one of an estimated 41 islands in the Maldives that boast wetlands.The lighthouse stands guard over the wetlands. Perched at one end of Koattey, it was built by the British who had a military base on the nearby island of Gan during World War II. Scattered across this area are other points of historical interest including the remains of an old fort. However, while tourists may pause to appreciate the ruins, it’s not what they’ve come to see.

Wetlands are the new tourist attractions in the Maldives

33-year-old Aishath Farhath Ali has been working in conservation for 11 years. The Wetlands Component Coordinator for Climate Change Adaptation Project (CCAP) at the Maldivian Ministry of Environment and Energy, Aishath is passionate about preserving the island nation’s wetlands.

“Maldives is a developing country,” she says, explaining that that can mean the budget tends to prioritise infrastructure and utility services. “However, due to our fragile nature, biodiversity conservation is a priority for our government…Through this project we will establish the first terrestrial park in this country,” she says. She hopes it will give tourists another reason to visit a country famous for its beaches and coral reefs.

Nature-based tourism is the engine of economic growth in this island nation, accounting directly for about 28 percent of the country’s GDP. About 800,000 tourists visit the country annually, but as coral reefs are degraded, the Maldives has to look for ways to support the tourism sector.

To make the wetlands more attractive to visitors, new facilities including visitor centres, bird observatories, interpretive signage and changing rooms are being built under CCAP in Hithadhoo. Visitors can hire boats and canoes to explore, go bird-watching or hiking, or simply wander along scenic boardwalks in both wetlands. While foreigners are expected to turn up in numbers, it is the locals that are likely to really enjoy these facilities.

CCAP is funded by the European Union and the Government of Australia. It is administered by the World Bank and implemented by Ministry of Environment and Energy. Through interventions in wetland management and solid waste management in the Addu and Gnaviyani atolls, the project will benefit more than 4,800 households.

A ‘primary defense’ against climate change

Tourists aside, for an island nation like the Maldives, which is grappling with climate-change related risks — including sea-level rise, ocean acidification, increasing air and sea surface temperatures, and changing rainfall patterns — wetlands offer essential protection.

Fuvahmulah city on the Gnaviyani atoll – another designated protected area falling under CCAP – sees heavy rainfall. Its wetland catchments play an indispensable role in flood management explains Mohammed Hamdhaan, an environment and social safeguards officer for the CCAP.

The Maldives comprises some 26 atolls and 1,190 islands – all of which are low lying with an average elevation of only 1.5m. Wetlands, which can store several tens of million cubic meters of water, act as barriers against rising sea levels and flooding caused by extreme weather events. 

Wetlands contribute to waste water management, groundwater recharge, freshwater storage, and purify water that flows through their systems. Plants found here are critical in controlling erosion – erosion of the shoreline is already a severe issue in 64 percent of the Maldivian islands.

As their importance to climate change adaptation efforts has become better known, steps are being taken to preserve these ecologically sensitive areas. Introducing solid waste management programs has been key to protecting wetlands from illegal dumping, says Mohammed. Mainstreaming climate change adaptation into island development planning has also been promoted through other components of the CCAP project, for instance through a program on strengthening local government capacity.

“All these components are linked,” says Mohammed. “Wetlands and coral reefs are the primary defence that a small island nation like the Maldives has against climate change.”

Promoting community participation by boosting eco-tourism

Recruiting community support is integral to ensuring these conservation efforts are sustainable. Outsiders have entered the wetlands to find firewood but illegal cutting down of trees is being curtailed with the community’s intervention.

The wetlands remain a source of food and livelihoods for these people. Aishath explains that taro reeds growing in and around the wetlands are used to weave mats and baskets but that with the advent of plastic this craft is now threatened. However, training is now being given to locals to help revive this lost art. These and other traditional Maldivian handicrafts, including embroidery work, will be sold in small store attached to eco-tourism facilities in the wetland parks.

Beyond livelihoods, taro also has a role to play in food security. Islanders remember how during World War II a famine gripped these parts, and this humble reed was the only source of nourishment. It is still a staple food today. The wetlands are a rich source of not only taro and other foods, they can support subsistence fishing and are a source of medicinal herbs.

“The community around these wetlands are very much dependent on them,” explains Aishath, adding that over time villagers living on the fringes of the wetlands have become protective of these wild spaces. “There is an awareness now that wasn’t there before.”

World Bank

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Travel & Leisure

10 Reasons to Fall in Love with Athens

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Athens has hit a new stride thanks to a glorious revival in art, food and architecture that has been underway for the last decade. Here, the concierge team at Four Seasons Astir Palace Hotel Athens offers ten reasons to fall in love with this flourishing metropolis.

1. An Epic Heritage: The Parthenon is visible from almost every street corner in central Athens and must be seen up close to appreciate just how imposing these famous and majestic columns are. Fast forward a few millennia and you will find yourself at the Panathenaic Stadium, also made entirely of marble and the site of the first modern Olympic Games in 1896.

2. A City by the Sea: Bon vivants know that you can experience almost everything the Greek islands have to offer in Athens. With some of the most beautiful beaches found along a 31 mile (50 kilometre) coastline, you can enjoy life just as the ancients did, with fresh seafood all year round, while swimming in the crystal blue waters of the Aegean Sea for the majority of the year.

3. Music and Theatre Beneath the Acropolis: From majestic ballets and arias to ancient Greek tragedies, witnessing a performance at the Odeon of Herodes Atticus (June–October) is something you’ll unlikely forget. Despite being nearly 2,000 years old, the theatre is heralded for its exemplary acoustics.

4. Temple of Poseidon: Erected in the middle of the 5th century BC and located at the end of the Sounion peninsula, this ancient temple was built to honour Poseidon, god of the sea. A sunset here is one of the most magical in Greece, blanketed by vivid reds and oranges.

5. Evzones: Rain, hail or shine, the Greek Presidential Guards or Evzones march towards Hellenic Parliament every Sunday morning in a spectacular ceremonial parade that has become synonymous with Athens.

6. Wines of Athens: As a city surrounded by small historical vineyards, Attica is the largest wine region in Greece, touting talented winemakers who are producing award-winning wines using the indigenous savatiano grape.

7. An Athenian Way of Life: The weekly farmers markets or laiki agora are an inherent part of Athenian society. Setting up in neighbourhoods all around the city, these food markets allow locals to stock up on fresh produce while socialising within their community. The largest, known as the Varvakeios Markets in downtown Athens, operates daily and offers seasonal harvests and local delicacies.

8. Byzantine Churches: For anyone that appreciates beauty, the churches in Athens are among the most special in Greece, hailing from the Byzantine era and defined by their tall domes with arched windows. The Church of Panagia Kapnikarea is one of the oldest in Athens, built around 1050 AD. All are welcome to enter and appreciate the rare frescos and beautiful iconography inside.

9. Art and Culture go hand in hand in Athens beginning with the Acropolis Museum. With floor to ceiling windows overlooking the ancient city, thousands of sculptures and artefacts found around the Acropolis are displayed and bathed in natural light. At the Museum of Cycladic Art, a stunning collection of Cycladic figurines and ceramics from the 3rd millennium BC can be seen. Over at the National Archaeological Museum, a treasure trove of antiquities await including the gold mask of Agamemnon and the Antikythera Mechanism.

10.  Athens’ New Agora: Athenians received a contemporary agora at the newly opened Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center. The Agora, emblematic of the central gathering spaces in ancient Greece, upholds this tradition with regular events held throughout the year. The entire building is a significant addition to modern day Athens and an architectural feat by architect Renzo Piano.

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Best Restaurants and Bars of Downtown Calgary

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Located on the prairies, Calgary receives the most sunlight of all of Canada’s major cities. Summers can be hot and humid, while winters are generally mild especially in contrast to the rest of Canada. The city receives so much sunshine throughout the year, even during the winter months, that living there is a desirable option for many looking to relocate.

Although this expanding metropolis is wealthy, living expenditures in Calgary are lower than in its coastal neighbor Vancouver. Calgary Homes for Sale are selling at an all-time high, with individuals migrating from townhouses and condominiums to single-family homes, and those who already own a home are choosing to upgrade.

Calgary has achieved significant progress in the culinary business during the last decade. The city is presently thriving with a rich restaurant culture that rivals that of any other big metropolis. Below are some of the best restaurants and bars of downtown Calgary.

Ten Foot Henry

Healthy eaters typically develop a big craving for Ten Foot Henry. They provide a fresh veggie menu and family-style eating, and they’re open until 11 p.m. every day to accommodate those who might have a late-night yearning for really tasty (and healthy) cuisine. Also, if you’re in a hurry, you can stop by the Little Henry café for a quick bite.

Holy Grill

Holy Grill is a must-visit if you’re in the downtown area and searching for a decent lunch spot. They understand that your lunch break is limited with work or personal obligations, but that you don’t want to trade outstanding taste for convenience. Customers can order hot meals from the grill, which are cooked using fresh ingredients. Meals are carefully prepared and the service is generally quick so you can return to work or get back to touring Calgary’s streets as soon as possible.

Betty Lou’s Library

Betty Lou’s Library is considered Calgary’s best kept local secret because discovering the library’s entrance is half the pleasure. You’ll need to remember the password given to you while making a reservation to get through the concealed doorway. Once inside, you’ll be transported to the Prohibition Era of the 1920s, where you’ll be able to relax on classic furniture while sipping cocktails named after notable 20s-era icons such as Zelda Fitzgerald. When you’re here, you can snack on little dishes of wonderful cuisine while reading The Great Gatsby, or enjoy stimulating conversation with members of your party.

Taste

Taste Restaurant serves tapas and specialty cocktails in a trendy and modern setting. The cozy and low-lit atmosphere is ideal for a date night. Visitors have the opportunity to observe their cuisine being prepared in the open kitchen. The tiny plates of food are designed to be shared and are brought to the table on a regular basis throughout the night. Taste’s menu changes seasonally to reflect the availability of local and seasonal products, ensuring that you always receive something new every time you visit.

The Lake House

The Lake House is a beautiful restaurant perched above Lake Bonavista with large glass windows lining the building’s façade, providing panoramic views of the lake and surrounding landscape. The menu features distinct rocky mountain cuisine, reflecting Western Canada’s regional tastes that are so flavorful that you’ll certainly return for seconds. 

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The future of travel – an all-hands-on-deck effort

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The COVID-19 pandemic has undoubtedly shaken up the world, with travel and tourism, a major global growth driver accounting for 10 per cent of the world’s economy, one of the hardest-hit industries. The outbreak has in its wake created severe domino effects in the ecosystem; not only the major airlines or chain hotels affected, but also the 80% of the tourism sector made up of smaller accommodation providers plus the peripheral services associated with tourism, including food and beverage, cleaning service providers, local tour guides and transportation. With World Travel and Tourism Council’s latest forecast that up to 75 million jobs will be at risk, it begets the question: Is the industry going to recover?

The answer is yes, but it will take all hands on deck, and a strong collaboration among all parties.

Government support is crucial

The travel industry supports one in 10 jobs within the global workforce in Asia Pacific, the Americas and Europe, and rising to 13.3% of total employment in Southeast Asia. Governments can and are playing a critical role in supporting the industry to protect individuals’ livelihoods and in turn lead to economic recovery. Several governments have already announced stimulus packages to cushion the impact of the outbreak. This funding is proving crucial for the travel industry to maintain business continuity in the short term, but further to that, collaboration and cooperation with key industry players is important to help drive sustainable recovery within this sector. And the industry has not waited for smoke to clear to commence such conversations. For example, governments have already started working with key players and SMEs to develop and promote new, transparent safety and hygiene standards across tourism-related businesses, which will be crucial in driving traveler confidence again. Tourism ministries and destination marketing organizations (DMOs) can partner with online travel agents (OTAs) to inspire desire to travel and attract travelers to destinations right across their markets in a sustainable way, which supports communities outside of key tourist destinations that were also impacted by COVID-19. These digital travel platforms, with their expansive reach and marketing tools, act as a bridge to help DMOs reach domestic and international travel audiences, while DMOs can encourage future travel planning by funding traveler incentives, while properties offer flexible cancellations.

 Role of industry players

Agile travel players can take the opportunity to improve their offering and build new capabilities, preparing for when travel picks up again. In fact, the recent guidelines from the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) to help the global tourism sector re-open smoothly and safely, emphasised the importance of innovation and technology in building the industry’s resilience. Accommodation providers, airlines and tour operators need to be attuned to changing travelers’ expectations, which may look quite different post-pandemic. Innovation to anticipate these evolving needs is essential and identifying solutions that prioritize safety and flexibility now during travel downtime, will go a long way to rebuilding confidence.

Research from Agoda.com shows that travelers expect more from their travel experience in the 2020s with advances in technology improving the efficiency and ease of booking and traveling. In fact, aside from improving payment options and booking processes, one in two South East Asians anticipate that mobile app check-in will become the norm at hotels or holiday accommodation this decade. This desire may be even more prevalent for travel post-COVID, as people may demand contactless processes as far as possible.

In addition, hoteliers and airlines for example, are reviewing and updating their cancellation policies and procedures to align with travelers’ new expectations. These updates will likely to include more flexible booking options, making use of data analytics to better review occupancy levels and pricing strategies according to demand, as well as working with different distribution channels to reach travelers with their accommodation offers or flight deals. Other players, such as credit card networks and banks, have a role to play as well and can support by promoting safe travel campaigns.

Most importantly, across the travel ecosystem, all parties should work in tandem to not only align the conditions for such new policies and strategies, but also coordinate on campaign themes and periods, making it easier and more attractive for travelers to plan and book their travel. OTAs are well positioned and equipped to connect these players, from DMOs, hotels, airlines, activity providers, and other supporting partners, to a wider consumer audience.

Travelers also have a part to play

Last but not least, travelers fuel the sector. People will want to travel again, to explore the beauty of the world on their doorstep and further afield, though we expect the pace of travel industry recovery will differ across the world. However, without the collective understanding for responsible travel once governments begin to lift travel restrictions, the recovery process will be a slow and arduous one.

Agoda’s Next Decade Survey found that more than 25% of people want to make more eco-friendly travel choices in the next decade.  The pandemic may make us reflect even more on sustainable travel; travelers may become more aware of the impact of their decisions and habits, which may lead to seeking out more environmentally friendly hotels, or picking destinations in less visited secondary cities to help spread tourism dollars and rebuild local communities.

Travel was one of the fastest-growing industries and over the years we have seen that the industry is resilient in bouncing back from crises. People’s desire to travel will not be quelled. However, bringing back tourists and re-building confidence in travel is going to take new approaches and collaboration. Like the story of the bundle of sticks, where a single stick can be easily broken but not when held in a bundle, it will take a collaborative effort from all players to pull through this together and reinvigorate the travel sector in a safe and sustainable manner.

Agoda.com

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