July 13, 2024

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What will it take to develop, grow, and maintain eco tourism in northern India? | Destination-of-the-week News

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From the snow-capped Himalayas to lush forests and winding rivers, northern India’s diverse landscapes hold immense potential for ecotourism. However, despite its natural beauty and rich biodiversity, sustainable or eco-tourism development in this area has lagged behind other parts of the country and the world. Many lessons can be learnt from the already successful projects in other parts of the country.

Successful models could have facilitated more eco-tourism sites, but apart from a few projects in forest areas, there aren’t enough examples,” said P A Mohammed Riyas, Kerala’s minister for public works and tourism. He added that lack of innovation, insufficient expertise, and haphazard development have hindered growth and led to negative effects.

Pooja Nataraj, co-founder of The ImPart Collective, cites a 2019 Ministry of Tourism report showing that only six per cent of India’s tourism investment goes towards ecotourism. “Additionally, balancing tourism growth with the preservation of natural habitats and biodiversity remains challenging, as seen with the increased human-wildlife conflicts in regions like Uttarakhand,” she told indianexpress.com.

Mridula Tangirala, head of tourism, Tata Trusts, believes that northern India, especially the Himalayan belt, is a paradoxical landscape. “It grapples with the dual dilemma of over-tourism straining its popular regions, while its hidden gems languish in the shadows of under-tourism,” she said.

Sustainable infrastructure development and the role of governments

To address challenges in ecotourism, crucial infrastructure improvements must minimise environmental impact and respect local communities. Amit Jaipuria, founder and CEO of Postcard Travel Club, suggests using green construction methods, locally sourced materials, and focusing on energy efficiency, waste management, and community engagement.

Festive offer

Riyas stresses the importance of scientific know-how and proper planning, highlighting a shortage of quality planners and developers. He advocates adhering to sustainable development principles, implementing Environmental Impact Assessments (EIA), and proper visitor management practices.

Understanding an area’s “carrying capacity”—the amount of tourism it can safely absorb—is essential, according to Tangirala. She believes tourism success should not be measured solely in economic terms but should also consider community and environmental empathy, education, and equity among stakeholders.

Concurring, Riyas says, “Eco-tourism projects should ensure equitable distribution of economic benefits to the local community by way of employment and small and medium scale entrepreneurship.”

eco-tourism By fostering a deep appreciation for the natural and cultural heritage of northern India among both visitors and locals, a foundation for responsible tourism practices can be built. (Source: Freepik)

Kerala’s Responsible Tourism initiative integrates local communities into the tourism value chain, promoting cultural exchanges and economic benefits while preserving natural resources. Examples include the Thenmala eco-tourism project and eco-tourism activities in Periyar Tiger Reserve, informed Riyas.

Kabini Resorts, the first eco-tourism venture by Jungle Lodges and Resorts Ltd., a joint venture between the Tourism and Forest Departments of the Government of Karnataka, has been a leading eco-tourism initiative for over two decades.

G S Rathore, founder of Jungle Camps India, emphasises that successful ecotourism relies on “active local community participation and support,” but pointed out there is often a lack of awareness about its economic benefits and insufficient training programs to empower locals.

Tangirala points to Dzüleke village in Nagaland as a model of sustainable development and inclusive rural growth. With support from the Trusts, the North East Initiative Development Agency (NEIDA), the village developed community-based eco-tourism, banning hunting and trapping, and training residents to become proficient guides, thereby preserving the region’s natural and cultural heritage while supporting the rural community.

Internationally, Costa Rica stands out as a prime example of successful eco-tourism development. Rathore says, “Costa Rica is renowned for its eco-tourism initiatives focused on biodiversity conservation. National parks, private reserves, and sustainable lodges offer experiences like wildlife watching, canopy tours, and sustainable agriculture visits.” Nataraj adds, “The country’s  eco-tourism framework generates $1.7 billion annually, emphasising biodiversity conservation and community benefits.”

Fostering awareness and appreciation

Raising awareness and appreciation for eco-tourism among potential visitors and local communities is essential for its success in northern India. This can be achieved through multi-faceted approaches.

Megh, founder of Narayan Eco Home Stay in Jibhi, Himachal Pradesh, emphasises educational outreach. “Launching impactful campaigns that underscore the manifold benefits of eco-tourism can significantly help.” He also advocates for workshops to equip locals with essential skills and educate tourists about sustainable practices.

Awareness creation should start before the planning stage and involve local people according to Riyas. He recommends using publicity and PR activities to enhance multi-stakeholder involvement in eco-tourism site development and management.

Tangirala introduces the concept of regenerative tourism, which revives ancient wisdom and knowledge in local communities through “review, re-engagement, and re-interpretation.” She says, “Fact-based yet compelling storytelling can change the understanding and attitudes of both visitors and locals.” This approach builds a strong foundation for responsible tourism by encouraging a deep appreciation for northern India’s natural and cultural heritage.


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