The writer is the former Deputy Director General, Ministry of Tourism, Government of India and recently working as Executive Director with Indian Association of Tour Operators, New Delhi, views are his own.
Tourism - Linking Cultures:
UN World Tourism organization has announced this year's "World Tourism Day theme as "Tourism Linking Cultures" with the directives that each partner in the travel and tourism business should promote the activities on this theme.
Cultural tourism is one of the fastest growing global tourism markets. Infact, unique culture is increasingly being used to promote destinations and enhance their competitiveness. Many countries are now actively developing their Tangible and Intangible cultural assets as means of developing competitiveness in tourism and its unique cultural identity in the face of globalization.
To understand the cultural tourism, we must first understand what do we mean by cultural tourism and what are its components and then try to understand its linkages in tourism. Cultural tourism is the subset of tourism concerned with country or regions culture specifically the life style of the people in those geographical areas, the history of those people their art, architecture, traditions and customs, religious and such other components that directly or indirectly shape their way of life. Cultural tourism includes tourism in rural areas giving unique ethnic experience of local living style, cultural events, marriage, festivals, and foods handicrafts, local house designs, an rural life in particular. Similarly it also includes urban areas particularly historic cities, large cities and their cultural facilities - such as Museums, Theatres, Emporiums, Heritage Monuments, Shopping malls, Arts and crafts centres mainly showcasing the uniqueness of the destinations. Now, urban areas are more or less look wise very common. It is the rural areas showcasing the traditions of the indigenous cultural communities (i.e. festivals, rituals, food style) and their values and life style is the major attractions. Thus cultural tourism concept which emphasis people moving to cultural attractions away from their normal place of residence with the intention to experience unique culture and satisfy their cultural needs.
In the case of India, its tourism identity is its rich cultural heritage as depicted in its World Cultural Heritage monuments, Infact, since the time of Indus valley civilization and till this date, its cultural heritage, lifestyle and religious. Linkages (Hindu, Buddhist, Islamic, Jain, Christian, Jens, Sikh) remain as main attractions. It is so deep rooted that inspite of being one of the most scientifically and technologically advance countries, people always associate India with its rich cultural heritage and whatever be the purpose of visit, some part of cultural experience through Rural Tourism, Buddhist pilgrimage or Hindu pilgrimage or heritage monuments will be always there. Cultural link is the main stay of Indian tourism and will be always there.
Cultural Tourism has provided for economic opportunities for economic development. But there are management issues that are how to control tourism so that cultural amenities are not destroyed and local people should not feel antagonized with influx of tourist and violating their way of living or historical sites over used, coastal eco-system disturbed or natural areas crushed in the name of cultural tourism development. The need for control and policy for balanced development should be adopted so that cultural environment is not lost.
As there will be demand for cultural tourism and most of the unique cultural experiences are in eco-sensitive areas - rural areas, coastal areas, tribal areas, hill areas wildlife areas, development pressures will be there based on demand. But the planners must anticipate and set the minimum level based on carrying capacity, local design and local people interest, to conserve the area's resources and prevent the saturation of the destination as to not abuse the product and the resources correspondingly. The plan should incorporate the locals to its gain by training and employing them and in the process encourage them to participate to the travel business and be stakeholders. There should be awareness to tourists about the destination, do's and don'ts and should have the concern or how to help sustain its character while broadening their cultural experience.
No doubt, the theme for these years World Tourism Day is very appropriate and Cultural Tourism is mainly related to the local communities living in regions with tourism potential and it can prosper if the facilities are taken up with the local partnership. They should have a vision for type of tourism they want and how they come forward to provide the real cultural experience. Tourism can't be independent of the cultural linkages of the destination.