India is now the number one responsible tourism destination in the world

It was in 2008 that in Cochin in Kerala on the 2n/a The International Conference on Responsible Tourism in Destinations was held. Kerala has embraced responsible tourism to address growing concerns, anger, about the impact of tourists arriving in remote villages in large numbers to stay in increasing numbers at resorts and lodges, but with no benefits for the local communities. There was a demonstration against the conference. NGOs and communities feared that responsible tourism was being used to spread this invasive tourism to even more villages and communities.

In Kerala, the state government working with panchayats, village councils, has focused on creating additional livelihood opportunities for communities, ensuring that they benefit from the large number of tourists arriving among them and reducing waste resulting from tourism in the backwaters for which Kerala is famous. Following a series of experimental initiatives in four villages, only that of Kumarakom was a great success, Kerala has continued to develop ways of creating additional livelihoods through tourism. The Minister of Tourism challenged us to prove that we were worthy of the communities and we responded by undertaking a census of villages in Kumarakom in 2015, which demonstrated a major positive impact at the household level. The overwhelming majority of households were getting additional income from tourism and the community was now very positive about the benefits of tourism in their village.

In 2017, Kerala established a Responsible Tourism Mission which rolled out the practices developed from Kumarakom across the state. At the heart of its strategy are Village Life Experiences and the producer groups I spoke about here recently. Kerala won four gold medals at the ICRT Awards presented in Bhopal in Madhya Pradesh last week. The innovative STREET (Sustainable, Tangible, Responsible, Experiential, Ethnic Tourism) project of the RT mission ensures that tourism in the community passes through the panchayats and produces great experiences for visitors. Experiential tourism popular with domestic and international visitors.

© Harold Goodwin
© Harold Goodwin

Kerala Responsible Tourism Mission demonstrated that tourism can protect water bodies with strong community involvement, and if the community can find a livelihood through the waterway, they will protect the water body. At Maravanthuruthu, a 3-4 km stretch of 18 canals, three rivers and a backwater body have all been rejuvenated. This initiative has refilled ponds and wells in the area and now the water can be used for drinking and food processing. Future plans include countryside boat tours, rowing and mechanized shikkara tours, houseboats, floating restaurants, floating Kootthambalam (theatres). Floating markets, traditional and modern fishing experiences and rescue teams.

It is fair to say that Kerala has established responsible tourism in India. Madhya Pradesh has learned from Kerala and adapted the principles of responsible tourism to meet local priorities in communities across the state. The Responsible Tourism Mission has based its work there on six fundamental values: community involvement, transparency, fair distribution of resources, equal opportunities for all, preservation of the environment and empowerment of women. One of the highlights of my participation was the presentation of their licenses and certificates for 12 women who are now qualified to drive with tourists in protected areas.

© Harold Goodwin

Madhya Pradesh is developing homestays, rural tourism, responsible souvenirs, solid and liquid waste management, disability access, job training and creating safer destinations for women.

One of Madhya Pradesh’s four gold awards was for Creating Safer Spaces for Women for an initiative which, in the words of the judges, “demonstrates what can be achieved when the Tourism Board, the Ministry of Tourism, Ministry of Women and Child Development, UN Women will work together to provide a gender-sensitive tourism environment in the state.This is the first tourism project sanctioned by the Ministry of Development of Women and Child Care, GOI, under the Nirbhaya Program The objectives of the project are to provide a safe and friendly environment for women in and around tourist destinations; to build the confidence of women to visit destinations without any fear for their safety; using spatial design to create female-friendly spaces; providing self-defense training for women and girls; and creating employment opportunities for women through through employment and self-employment activities in tourist destinations.

Yesterday, together with Manisha Pande from ICRT India Foundation, we met with Maharashtra Tourism Development in Mumbai and it is evident that responsible tourism is also taking root in this state. Responsible tourism works well because governments at state and panchayat levels work with communities and the private sector to both enrich the tourist experience and the local communities they come to visit. Today, in three states, tourism is improving, creating better places to live and better places to visit.

India has become the world’s leading destination for responsible tourism, demonstrating what can be achieved when communities, government and businesses work together to improve tourism for all stakeholders. In Kerala and Madhya Pradesh, responsible tourism missions report in detail on their efforts and impacts. These are no longer projects, they are programs supported and funded by the government’s time working with communities to bring about real change.

In 2021, India won four out of six global responsible tourism awards presented at the WTM, London. This year at the ICRT Awards for India, some very strong contenders emerged and were recognized. We’ll see who wins the Global Awards this year on November 7e .

Comments are closed.