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Eco tours rapidly increasing popularity

Date Posted: 2002-08-23

According to travel agencies, so-called Eco tours are the hit among this year’s high season visitors to the prefecture. During the schools’ summer vacation period that continues through Aug 31, more families than ever are choosing to stay longer and participate in special forest hiking tours, beach combing, fishing trips with local fishermen, shell studies and farming excursions, they say. Another major impetus has been Okinawa’s emergence as the health and longevity hub of the world.

Not only tourists from elsewhere in Japan but many local groups are also participating. A 12-year-old Mika Miyagi of Itoman City said that she never through that there would be so much to see in Okinawa. “I had never walked in a forest before, and when I took the tour I was amazed how many interesting things there were to see and learn. It was a great experience,” she said.

Higashi Village on Okinawa’s east coast is best known for its annual Azalea Festival in March when thousands flock to see the village’s colorful flower park. But outside the one-month long festival, Higashi has not been able to offer visitors much to see.

To attract more visitors, village officials created “Azalea Eco Park” on the site and built wooden cottages for visitors to stay. Their “Project Adventure School” offers nature experience like hiking in near-by forests, fishing with local fishermen and gardening. The Adventure School has attracted 1640 reservations by the end of August making it a resounding success. “This proves that people living in urban areas crave for activities that take them near to the nature. We have children who study butterflies and flowers on hours on end, and completely ignore our playgrounds,” an official at the Azalea Eco Park says.

But there are problems. An official at JTA Tour Co. that arranges eco trips to Iriomote Island, says that they get much more inquiries than they are able to take on trips. “The biggest bottleneck is the lack of qualified tour guides. This problem will not go away until someone organizes a school that would train high quality tour guides that can take tourists on eco tours,” he said. He added that although graduates from existing tourism colleges seem to be well trained to teach tourists windsurfing and jet skiing, very few have good knowledge of the nature of Okinawa Prefecture.

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