Ecotourism’s footprint in India

Credits: World Wildlife Fund

The adverse impacts of mass tourism have compelled people to look for an alternative

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With the Centre coming up with a list of 90 potential ecotourism sites in the country, ecotourism is increasingly being preferred by travellers.

Enhancing the experience of travellers by offering greater understanding and appreciation for nature, local society and culture is the least that ecotourism does.

For example, Green Global Travel says that in Rwanda former poachers are employed as tour guides, capitalising on their knowledge of the habitat.

Dr. Sejal Wohra, conservationist at Jabarkhet Nature Reserve believes in utilising the forest while also preserving it. She says that by preserving the biodiversity one also gets economic benefits.

Conservation, communities and interpretation are essentially the foundational elements of ecotourism.

By increasing local capacity building and employment opportunities, ecotourism is an effective vehicle for empowering local communities around the world to fight against poverty and to achieve sustainable development.

Ecotourism Explained

Mass tourism and its adverse effects

The concept of mass tourism is defined as a large number of people visiting a particular destination at once. Be it visiting the Taj Mahal in Agra, or trekking in the Himalayas, taking a sunbath on the beaches in Goa or relishing the lush green Western Ghats.

This kind of tourism employs local people and offers inexpensive ways of traveling the world.

Although, mass tourism is preferred globally by governments and people largely for economic reasons and it has a major negative impact on the environment.

Air travel is one of the major causes of air pollution- carbon emission is about 2.4% as per Environmental Protection Agency reports of 2018.

Traditional landscapes are ravaged by developments. Farming and forest land are often lost and used for building spas and resorts that lie ‘close to nature’.

Apart from these, natural resources, especially fresh water, depletes at a faster rate to meet the demands of a tourist-dependent economy thriving on hotels, swimming pools and golf resorts.

Excessive solid waste and littering is also an important consequence of mass tourism. The water bodies are facing the brunt for years.

On an average a passenger on a cruise ship accounts for 3.5 kg of garbage in a day compared to 0.8 kg of waste by the less-privileged folk on shore.

Indian states and ecotourism

Karnataka

Karnataka Chief Minister B.S. Yediyurappa has implemented a framework for the state’s tourism policy 2020-25 to overcome the ongoing difficulties and adapt to the “new normal”.

The policy encourages sustainable development in the tourism sector- aiming to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals for the state.

The state has an abundance of flora and fauna with five National Parks –and more than 30 Wildlife Sanctuaries and Tiger Reserves. It is also a home to more than 550 species of birds and over 100 species of mammals.

Uttarakhand

Tourism is one of the biggest industries in Uttarakhand, mainly due to the mountain state’s natural beauty (Valley of Flowers is the first place that comes to mind) and religious spots like the Kedarnath and Badrinath shrines.

It is quite natural, in this case, that the tourism sector has received a lot of attention in policy-making. Since the state was first formed in 2000, various policies have been drafted to promote tourism in the state. What’s interesting is that the government has given equal importance to encourage eco-tourism over the years.

One reason for this is that the state faces a severe crisis of out-migration. The state governments over the years have felt that if eco-tourism is promoted, especially in remote hilly areas, the process of migration could be slowed down, and even reverse migration could happen.

In December 2021, Chief Minister Pushkar Singh Dhami inaugurated the Surai Ecotourism Zone in Khatima, his constituency. July 2020 saw a draft ecotourism policy introduced by the government— it’s the latest in a long series of similar policies that have come out earlier.

The state also has an Ecotourism Development Corporation, which was established in 2017.

Jammu and Kashmir

The lack of a robust tourism policy framework- more specifically an ecotourism policy in the state has led to the haphazard tourism development with uncontrolled consequences on the environment and the local communities.

A study conducted to analyse the present state of ecotourism policy in India, and it proposes a sustainable ecotourism policy framework. 

The study also uses a benchmarking approach to analyse ecotourism and the best practices within the country and from selected countries around the world. The proposed policy framework provides an insight to the tourism policy makers in the state. And towards establishing a robust and sustainable ecotourism policy.

Odisha

The Forest and Environment department’s wildlife wing has collaborated with Odisha Tourism to train community members so as to open up ecotourism sites in the state. The Odisha government is looking at the future post COVID-19, and looking at ways to make tourism safer during this pandemic.

The state of Odisha had a promising run in the 2020, in terms of ecotourism.

The three important thrust areas for ecotourism in the state have been Simlipal, Satkosia and Bhitarkanika. These are planned and developed for the tourists from within and outside the state.

The tourist accommodations in the peripheral locations outside the Protected Areas and Forests are to be developed by the Tourism Department.

The strategies implemented by the Forest and Environment Department, Government of Odisha and the Nodal Department are to promote ecotourism in the state.