Thursday, August 9, 2018

Time for Sustainable Tourism in One State Many Worlds!

Pic source internet

Tourism brings cultures, cuisines and countries together, a recent newspaper clip caught the attention of many, when the locals of Shimla were pleading the Tourist not to visit Shimla!

Depleting resources, excess commercialization, increase in waste output, impact on environment are serious concerns in most of the Tourist spots across India. Tourism is not necessarily a fully organized industry in India, but for many states biggest source of revenue and job creating comes from Tourism, and foreign tourist influx brings in much needed foreign exchange, of course we forget the fact that local tourists are indeed greater volume when it comes to religious tourism, and hill stations that are high on honeymoon tourism. With accessibility and added economic power local tourists indeed outnumber the foreign tourists.

The lopsided tourism policies are focused on creating tourism infrastructure and seldom focus on developing the industry to make tourism more sustainable. These lopsided policies eventually are crumbling under their own weight, as tourist spots are becoming more and more crowded and in turn giving rise to serious environmental and sustainability issues. Be it untreated sewage let into the Ganga from the hotels in Gangotri or the garbage being thrown on the top of Khardung-La or the eateries cleaning meat at Balmuri falls or hours of traffic jams due to large number of visitors to Shivanasamudra, all tell the same story of bad policy decisions and even worst implementation.

Recently Karnataka Forest department took a decision to restrict the number of Trekkers, as the popular Trekking routes like Kudremukh, Skandagiri, Kumaraparvatha were reeling under heaps of trash and witnessed serious threat to the Flora and Fauna, but is that enough? The Forest department and Tourism department work in silos, thereby leading to more policy lapses and failure to create a holistic tourism policy.

Karnataka can offer 365 days tourism option and is blessed with a variety of options, Beaches, Wildlife, Cycling, Eco-Tourism, Safaris, Trekking, Rafting, Temples, Rock Climbing, Kayaking, Scuba Diving, Sky Diving, Forts, Monuments, Hill Stations, Waterfalls etc. With high connectivity and accessibility, the IT State lives up its tourism tagline ‘One State Many Worlds’, Tourism department’s enthusiasm to emulate states like Kerala or Goa or Rajasthan it is committing the same mistakes where the policies are devoid of sustainability. Today over 30-40 % of Karnataka tourist spots have reached the danger mark in the scale of impact on environment and sustainability.

Even though Karnataka was one of the 1st State to ban all kinds of single use plastic items fully, most tourist spots are an eyesore with plastic items littered around unmanaged, once in a while these spots are cleaned and the waste along with plastic and disposables gets dumped into nearby drain or burnt. Waste water is let into the streams and rivers without any thought on the impact it has in the long term. With excess foot falls in some of the tourist spots, there is an alarming impact on environment and resources.

Does Karnataka Tourism policy talk about waste management or treating of waste water or low emission transport, does the state have a policy on making tourism more sustainable? Answer in NO! Any tourist spot that has an average of 100 tourists per day has to be considered at a high inflow spot where the infrastructure like hotels, toilets, eateries, souvenir stores, facilities needs to be regulated and made fully complaint under the ‘Sustainable Tourism Guidelines’, and also create a community-based tourism where the beneficiaries are the local communities and not the Tourism department.

Tourism department has to play the role of a facilitator, incubator and regulator and not that of an operator, thereby making tourism more community based, this can create direct employment for local communities and increase accountability on Sustainable Tourism with checks and balances.

There is an argument that focus on Sustainable Tourism could lead to lesser inflow of tourists, which in reality invalid argument, as in the long-term there are more gains then loss, and also it is an opportunity to identify and develop more tourist spots. If the objective is to ensure that a foreigner should be able to spend one extra day in Karnataka, then it is a strong reason enough to offer more options rather than more days with fewer options.

So, what are the suggestions for Karnataka Tourism, here are some options, 1. Redraft tourism policy making it Sustainability centric 2. Shift from the role of an Operator to Facilitator, Incubator and Regulator 3. Promote Responsible Tourism via Community and Operators 4. Invest in resource development, low emission transport and not merely in infrastructure buildings 5. Focus on maintenance, cleanliness and branding of the tourist spots 6. Market tourist spots not facilities 7. Incubate operators and encourage operators to create circuits based on season 8. Prohibit tourist spots for at least 100 days in a year, to ensure re-cope and reduce exploitation 9. Stay committed to Environment friendly Sustainable Tourism. 

Sustainable Tourism has to be the only way forward, foot falls cannot be the scale to measure success of tourism policy, scale of sustainability is far more important as we are constantly challenged by resource constraints and environmental impact.   

Kavitha Reddy
Director, Basecamp Adventures (Karnataka’s only Adventure Tour Operator Approved & Recognized by Ministry of Tourism, Govt of India)

Published in Deccan Herald, 3rd Sept 2018