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Changing mindsets for Responsible Tourism

Even though a smokeless industry, tourism has environmental implications. Not just heavy industrial areas but even big tourism destinations pose a serious threat to life on earth. North America, Western Europe, Yugoslavia’s Adriatic coast, Seychelles and some parts of Asia bear a mute testimony to the havoc wrought by uncontrolled development in tourism. Many of the world’s finest resorts have become ugly. In India, sea beaches of Mumbai are controlled from overcrowding and new laws ban smoking in all restaurants, cinema theatres, public transportation and hospitals and on the beaches. Uncontrolled growth of industries, shops and also slums near tourist spots create problems of environmental pollution. The measures taken by governments to control the unplanned constructions and overuse of natural resources are often insufficient.

The environmental resources ‘exploited’ for tourism attract tourists because of their outstanding beauty, recreational possibilities or educational and cultural interest. But they are taken for granted. Preservation of their quality has only recently begun to concern tourism development planners. Quality of the tourism product depends upon a high quality natural environment. An example has been set in India at Matheran which has been declared the only ‘pedalling’ tourist destination in Asia.

If we take some right steps, the degradation can be checked to a considerable extent. Governments are increasingly aware that future growth of the industry will necessitate careful management and avoiding overdevelopment of regions of natural beauty. Moreover, saturation in principal destination areas will require a more active policy diversification and redistribution of tourist flows.

Understanding sustainable tourism development

Developing countries are attempting to cash in on tourism in an attempt to boost foreign investment and financial reserves. While conceding that the uncontrolled growth of this industry can result in serious environmental and social problems, the United Nations contends that such negative effects can be controlled and reduced. Sustainability is linked closely to carrying capacity. Both are related to the concept of maintaining a level of tourism which does not cause irreversible damage but sustains tourism.

The World Tourism Organisation (WTO) observes, “The underlying approach now applied to tourism planning as well as to other types of development, is that of achieving sustainable development. The sustainable development approach implies that the natural, cultural and other resources of tourism are conserved for continuous use in the future, while still bringing benefits to the present society. The sustainable development approach to planning tourism is acutely important because most tourism development depends on attractions and activities related to the natural environment, historic heritage and cultural patterns of areas. If these resources are degraded or destroyed, then the tourism areas cannot attract tourists and tourism will not be successful.”

Education for Sustainable Development (ESD)

ESD is a vision that seeks to empower people to assume responsibility for creating a sustainable future. Central to ESD is the concept of culture. There is no “single route” to sustainable development. Understandings of, and visions for, sustainability will be different for each of us and we will need to work together to negotiate the process of achieving sustainability.

Sustainable development in components of tourism through education

People around the world recognise that current economic development trends are not sustainable and that public awareness, education, and training are keys to moving society toward sustainability.

1. Attraction – Marketing

The first component of tourism – “Attraction” is a motivation for travel which is encashed by marketing institutions in creating zeal for tourism. As tourism has the potential to actively engage with a large number of visitors, it is ideally placed to encourage them to act in a more sustainable way. Corporate level training for all sectors – including business, industry, higher education, governments, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and community organization is encouraged to train their leaders in environmental management and to provide training to their workers.

As applied to service industry like tourism, the most important function of marketing is to bring about an awareness of the product and its benefits in the minds of both current as well as potential customers. A green business can have a marketing edge over non-green competitors as it can enhance the image of a business and lead to more bookings. It can also be run more cost effectively if resource consumption is reduced. It is not just the facilities, but the concept of Responsible Tourism as well that need to be marketed well.

2. Accommodation, Accessibility – Ownership

If destinations and nations hope to identify sustainability goals and work toward them, they must focus on skills, values, and perspectives that encourage and support public participation and community decision making. To achieve this, basic education must be reoriented to address sustainability and expanded to include critical-thinking skills, skills to organize and interpret data and information, skills to formulate questions, and the ability to analyze issues that confront communities.

3. Accessibility – Guidance

Accessibility is a boon to tourism industry, reaching destination is impossible without its presence. But environment conservation is often neglected in this regard. Education for people involved in this sector can be guiding factor in sustainable development. National level tourism educational programme can be a boon in standardization of tourism services.

4. Amenities – Hospitality Management Services

The fourth component is that of ensuring that the accommodation provided to visitors, the travel arrangements, ease in booking, etc. meets uniform levels of comfort and efficiency while keeping in mind the tenets of Responsible Tourism. The accommodation could be in home stays or in specially built “resorts”. Efficient management, hygiene, support from the hospitality industry, local cuisine prepared and served hygienically, support services like travel arrangements, guide services, communication facilities, etc are the keywords here.

For a tourist destination, implementing sustainable development programme is a huge task. Fortunately, formal education does not carry this educational responsibility alone. The non – formal educational sector (e.g., nature centers, nongovernmental organizations, public health educators, and agricultural extension agents) and the informal educational sector (e.g., local television, newspaper, and radio) of the educational community must cooperate with the formal educational sector for the education of people in all generations and walks of life.

Local & Tourist education level

Sustainability requires a population that is aware of the goals of sustainable tourism and has the knowledge and skills to contribute to those goals. The need for an informed tourist becomes ever more important with the increase in the number of tourist arrivals. An informed tourist, who engages in tourism related activities, can be a support to environmental conservation & establishing ecological balance.

The Unique Selling Proposition (USP) of this whole concept is that it is Responsible Tourism – a form of Tourism where the rules of engagement are defined by the community and the tourists do minimal “damage” to the natural and cultural heritage of a community. The idea of this kind of tourism is to ensure that the visitors come not just to see another way of life, like visiting a zoo, but are able to interact with another way of life and take back a new perspective about destination with them.

LS Nigam, Director-ITHM, Pt Ravishankar Shukl University, Raipur
Nikita Swarnkar, Faculty-ITHM

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