Responsible tourism

Published : Jan 27, 2012 00:00 IST

A Samrudhi RT shop in Kumarakom.-BY SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT

A Samrudhi RT shop in Kumarakom.-BY SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT

It is a new model for tourism development that has been successfully tried in Kerala's prime destinations.

KERALA'S success story as a popular tourist destination in the country is well known. The Tourism Department in the State has now come up with an initiative called Responsible Tourism (RT), which is about creating better places for people to live in, and better places for people to visit. The aim is to develop tourism in a manner in which it benefits the local community directly and has minimal social and environmental impact. The RT initiative was launched in February 2007 and field-based interventions started six months later on a pilot basis at Kumarakom, Kovalam, Thekkady and Wayanad. It succeeded in developing a replicable model, based mainly on the initiative undertaken at Kumarakom.

The most important outcome of the RT initiative is that it has created a healthy and positive relationship between the tourism industry and the local community. There is now a growing awareness in the local community that tourism can be a tool for socio-economic development. As for the industry partners, they have understood the value to involve the local community in the tourism plan for the sustenance of the destination and their business.

The project was led by the local panchayat with the active participation of the community and supported by the tourism industry. In Kumarakom, almost all major hotels and resorts participated actively in the RT initiative by procuring local produce, providing employment opportunities to the local people, promoting local enterprise, assisting in environment upgradation programmes and promoting village life experience tour packages. Recognition for the venture came quickly, in the form of the Grand Award from the Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA) and an award from the Ministry of Tourism, Government of India.

The RT programme utilises all opportunities to link the community with tourism and this has seen Kumarakom emerge as a model tourist destination.

Social acceptance of the initiative is a driving factor at Kumarakom. The supply (of vegetables, and so on) to hotels is led by the local units of Kudumbashree, or self-help group, for women from disadvantaged sections. The cooperation of homestead farms and local farmer groups has helped sustain the supply. RT also promotes local cuisines.

The dynamic leadership of the panchayat and the continued support of the tourism industry has helped in streamlining the process. Fifteen of the 18 major hotels in Kumarakom procured local goods for their daily use from the local community. Initial fears regarding uninterrupted supply, quality and price were addressed by developing institutional mechanisms.

More than 2,000 people have benefited directly from the Kumarakom RT initiative in the past three years. They include 650 women from 28 Kudumbashree units, 450 farmers , 500 homestead farmers, 75 artistes, 21 people involved in the production and sale of souvenirs and about 100 persons roped in for the village-life experience packages.

The Kumarakom initiative also identified irritants relating to the development of tourism in the area. These included the pollution of backwaters and canals and public places, the displacement of local people, the use of agricultural land for non-agricultural purposes, the encroachment of backwater shores and denial of access to backwaters by tourism properties, tourism-related immoral activities, and the increasing consumption of alcohol and drugs. Efforts were made to address these issues with the help of the panchayat.

As a result of the RT movement, the Kumarakom bird sanctuary was declared a plastic-free zone and residents of the town now guard against immoral activities. The RT movement also has contributed to the development of infrastructure, including a drinking water scheme and lighting on most of the streets.

Some of the environmental interventions initiated at the destinations as part of the RT initiative include promotion of eco-friendly products, campaigning for green practices in the hospitality sector, taking up waste management issues, and community initiatives in conservation.

The Tourism Department is in the process of taking the initiative forward to other destinations with the help of the Kerala Institute of Tourism and Travel Studies (KITTS), which is the nodal agency for this. The KITTS will provide training and help build capacity in the local panchayats and among other partners through the RT School that will be established under it. A framework of RT practices has also been developed for tourism enterprises that would want to participate in this initiative.

A separate classification system has also been developed. By adopting such practices, tourism entrepreneurs can develop their businesses even as they provide social and economic benefits to local communities, respect the environment, and thereby create better places for the local people and tourists alike.

The new mantra in the field of destination development is that the quality of a destination has to be defined by the quality of life of the local population. RT will go a long way in improving the latter and thereby the former.

U.V. Jose is Director, Kerala Institute of Tourism and Travel Studies, and Planning Officer, Department of Tourism, Kerala.

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