Sustainable Tourism – a Tool for Development : by Prateek Hira
2017 is the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development declared by United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) and today 27th September 2017 is World Tourism Day. It is important to understand the concept of sustainability specially in tourism parlance.
Term ‘Sustainability’ is often related to only environment and climate change though its meaning goes beyond just that. It is actually an inclusive world that includes economic growth, social and cultural inclusiveness, decent employment opportunities, poverty reduction, heritage conservation and mutual understanding for peace and security.
India is fast growing as a popular international tourist destination and with increased economic capabilities, domestic tourists too in huge numbers are out to explore. With this increased movement we not only have ample opportunity but also responsibility towards a sustainable growth. Tourism per se has the capacity to positively impact environment, local economies and host communities in general, but then if it also can have negative bearing if growth is targeted without taking Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) into account.
India by and large has had aspects of sustainability in its culture and communities, while tourism in India is not dependant on new and modern structures such as the west. Our culture, communities, environs, heritage all are great tourism products in themselves. Be it the oldest living city of Varanasi, or the back waters of Kerela or for that matter the wondrous architecture of heritage monuments such as Taj Mahal or pristine beauty of the forest cover of Central India, all are great tourism products existing in India to be appreciated by tourists, though none of these were ever made with an intention to draw tourists. How lucky we are in the sense that our immense bounty of tourism products including each street or corner that may be a part of our daily lives and though seem not so important to the host, is an attraction for tourists and exists as a great tourism product.
New age tourism has become experiential and with this change not only destinations open up to tourists but also cultures and communities as a whole open up as a tourism product. Tourists today want to do what locals do, and this paradigm shift calls for responsible tourism from the guest community and a strong set of SDGs set by tourism planners at both micro and macro.
A detailed structured region wise study is now required to understand and appreciate Indian tourism products in present day and this study will bring us out of the notion that tourists are only coming to India for traditional heritage sightseeing tours, hereby helping us not only plan better, segment intelligently and target well but also to set SDGs for growth of tourism. While India is fast moving to join the coveted list of tourism economies, it becomes an issue of utmost importance to set our SDGs right. Indian cultures and customs are sustainable by virtue of being Indian, only its understanding and appreciation will help us set SDGs that are indigenous and best suited for each region.
By Prateek Hira (Author is the President & CEO of Tornos and a tourism researcher himself)