Sustainability is usually defined as "Meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of the future generations to meet their own needs. The sustainability in tourism sector is measured by the effects of its operations & its products on the natural environments.
- Tourism is resource intensive by nature. Three implements for success of Tourism are Water, Power & Attractions (Natural / Scenic)
- Common sense dictates that using less natural, materials, less energy and water, reducing the amount of waste generated will help lowering foot prints. No doubt, Good environment sense make a good business is the wisdom.
- While constructing accommodation in environmentally sensitive areas using a sustainable design methodology one can improve efficiency & effectively with minimal risk. Choice of material here should be the main consideration. Local material be filling and local design and local community involvement make sustainability part a success.
- As the global tourism grows which is estimated to reach one billion and industry to add about US$ Trillion to the GDP and employment crossing 260 million by 2014, it is posing a threat to many natural wonders and even destinations may become extinct on account of global warming.
- While travel & tourism have been viewed as among the high contributors to the phenomenon of global warming tourism industry has been consciously worming on reducing the impact and preserving the environment.
- Eco-tourism & Sustainable Tourisms have emerged as major segments globally and these segments are slowly making in roads to India also.
- With regard to India, Eco-tourism is gaining ground with Government and Private players already adressing the threat of global warming by adopting eco friendly steps to minimize the impact of tourism on the environment.
- Eco friendly hotels, airport, tour packages are slowly emerging in the country.
- Major tourism players are getting active on the eco-tourism front by focusing on "Social and Corporate Responsibility (S.C.R).
- Even State Tourism Boards are getting involved by drafting. Tourism Policies, creating eco-tourism destinations and products.
- Kerala, Karnataka, Himachal Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir are states that are active in promoting "Green Tourism" on the domestic and international travel.
- Most travelers are getting sensitized to environment issues. Travelers recognize that they need to minimize their Carbon Foot Print and many of them are willing to pay premium to keep the foot print low.
- They are savvy enough to know when an experience is being manufactured and when they are getting the real deal.
- Business & corporate are recognizing that unless impacts are minimized a destination can end up with in a short shelf life and some time as low as ten years.
- Local communities are bing vocal about the way they would like to engage with traditional development models in tourism. If all these facts are combinedly built up, tourism can develop in real sense Road blocks faced. With rising concerns for global warming promoter of adventure and eco-tourism have prepared the concept of "Green Tourism" in global term. The segment is still niche in India and industry players are facing numbers of challenges and hurdle to develop it. The biggest hurdle faced by Eco-tourism is the lack of understanding and awareness about the segment both among most industry stake holders as wellness travelers.
- There is an Eco-tourism Policy drafted by the Ministry of Tourism, Government of India but proper implementation is missing. The major challenge is to get the Government (centre and state) benefits & incentives to travel service providers of hospitality players who are currently working with eco-tourism system or under taking eco-friendly practices specially to spend money for training the staff on Eco-practices and implementation strategy.
- The other problem is the lack of a concrete plan to promote India as a eco-tourism destination. There is a need for eco-friendly initiatives & campaigns which can be linked with the successful. Incredible India campaign. Apart from spreading awareness and attracting the industry players there is a need for making end consumers aware of the attractions offered under Eco-tourism packages. In this, the government & private players of the industry should take steps to minimize the impact of tourism on global warming.
- One should also investment in training local people to reduce the antagonism that many rural communities have towards tourism projects in rural areas. Local people should also be made stake holders and benefits from such project must accrue to the locals.
- Getting the industry to change its perception and view eco-tourism as a niche segment which is highly lucrative is also a big challenge. There is a need for some non-governmental regulatory body to enforce advice, implement & monitor the progress of eco-tourism projects new initiatives. Self help groups to be formed and they should be watch dog on developmental activities locals are the best judge to know what the best is for them and best to preserve the environment.
- In India, Ministry of Tourism has devised an Indian sustainable tourism standard in conformity to the global sustainable tourism criteria and this issue has been taken in forward at the National level by the Ministry of Tourism has outlined new thrust areas of Rural Tourism. There is a thinking about the need to amend certain legislation to encourage sustainable practices, fiscal incentives and the vital role the media can play, even working on the training programme with the help of UNEP who had extended the help by providing training tool time to time.
- To conclude Sustainability includes not only economic & social development but also a commitment to the need of the poor and recognizing the physical limitations of the earth.
- On the Environment Day 5th June let us pledge to "Preserve the Environment to keep tourism growth continued.
The writer is the former Dy. Director General, Government of India, Ministry of Tourism and presently working as the Executive Director, Indian Association of Tour Operators (IATO)