Incredible India wants ‘responsible’ tourists


Ahmedabad – Discovering India is surely enlightening. Henceforth, it would be challenging. With tourism taking a toll on the flora, fauna and cultural identity of exotic India, local populace across tourism pockets of the country is extending the onus of sustainability of the destinations on visiting tourists through responsible tourism.

This means that the next time you litter, waste food or try chasing a wild beast during one of your visits to these destinations, there are chances you end up being rebuffed and even pay penalty for messing around.

Taking a leaf out of ecotourism and rural tourism, where tourism is made sustainable with participation of stakeholders, responsible tourism is bringing into its fold tourists to ensure longevity of the essence of the region.

While Matheran, the hill station near Mumbai, banned entry of motor vehicles more than a decade back to check pollution, hotel owners in water-scarce town of Darjeeling, West Bengal are asking tourists to keep a check on water usage. In the North East and Himachal Pradesh, villagers have teamed up to check poaching of wildlife while doubling up as tourist guides. Not just self-help groups, but also state governments have become proactive to promote responsible tourism.

God’s Own Country, for instance, has identified Kumarakam, Kovalam, Thekkady and Wayanad as responsible tourism destinations. Kerala hosted the Second International Conference on Responsible Tourism in Destinations in March 2008 with the adoption of the Kerala Declaration that put forth a call for action to all the stakeholders in tourism.

Director of Kerala Tourism, M Sivasankar, points out, “We have already begun implementing the concept in Kumarakam and Kovalam where stake holders — village panchayat, self-help groups, traders, property holders, and even tour operators — are sensitised about the gist of responsible tourism.” He adds that speedboats, which would “mob through” country boats or houseboats in backwaters disturbing their movement and that of the ecosystem, for instance, have been slow ever since this was brought to their notice.

Meanwhile, on World Environment Day on June 5, majority hotels of Chandigarh will ask its guests to go easy on water, food and electricity. “As part of the Chandigarh Tourism Action Plan 2008, we have adopted Responsible Tourism as a policy,” says director of Chandigarh Tourism Vivek Atray.

“Although responsible tourism is in its nascent stage, there has been a growing realisation among policymakers that until stakeholders are made accountable in the process, tourism would not survive for long,” adds Amitabh Ghosh of the Jamshedpur-based Kalamandir — the Celluloid Chapter Art Foundation.

In Siliguri, West Bengal, Help Tourism, a social enterprise by locals, has given a boost to tourism. Says one of the founder members of Help Tourism , Raj Basu, “We have experimented with responsible tourism across 32 sites of all north-eastern states. In Manas Tiger Reserve, Assam, for instance, we have created an army of 1,000 volunteers (once branded terrorists and poachers) from neighbouring villages who check poaching and act as tourist guides.”

The exercise has brought the local community out of isolation and made them value their culture and their natural resources. Help Tourism shells out 80% of its earnings through tourism to promote responsible tourism in the region. “The hand-holding needs about seven years; by then one generation has completely understood the concept to pass it on to the next generation,” he says.

In remote locales of Himachal Pradesh, the Muse Creative Initiatives for Sustainable Development, have made six Himalayan villages embrace responsible tourism. “We realised that not every one in the village was benefiting from home stay of tourists and unless all of them are made stakeholders of tourism, not everyone could be made accountable for the developments happening in the region,” says Muse co-founder Ishita Khanna.