May 23, 2012

Communities, Livelihoods and Tourism

Tourism has come to be recognized as one of the most important civil industry employing the largest number of people both directly and indirectly, nearly 200 million jobs. Tourism contributes 10% of the Global GDP and 11.4% of all consumer spending.

Tourism has proved to be an engine of growth in many economies in the world. It provides for the generation of income, wealth and employment, and helps in the sustainable development of remote areas. In India, tourism provides direct employment to nine million people and indirect employment to another 13 million people, thus providing a livelihood to 22 million persons. It contributes an estimated 2.4% of the gross national product. Its contribution to the economies of states like Rajasthan, Goa, Madhya Pradesh, Kerala etc are significant and the maximum benefits has been felt to have dissipated to local communities.

Communities worldwide have benefited tremendously from tourism ventures. Tourism enables a community to earn their livelihoods without having to forego their traditional territory and at the same time, ensures a sustainable source of income from the natural and cultural heritage of their lands.

With increase in disposable incomes, more individuals get the opportunity to travel and spend a limited amount of their earnings in leisure, thus enabling communities to garner a larger chunk of this business transaction.

However, tourism is a double edged sword with an equal number of admirers and critics. Tourism if not organised properly can have several negative effects. Improper tourism can cause damage to the ecology of a local region. Tourism without ethics can have negative social repercussions including an increase in alcoholism amongst local populations. It becomes necessary that tourism in whichever form, reduces pressures upon local communities while add at the same time, increase their livelihood options.

Communities often dissent when they are left out in the rush towards tourism gratification while they are neglected. This increases a feeling of disinterest and in extreme cases, a sense of anger towards heritage areas, leading to an unhealthy tussle between them.

The biggest challenge for practitioners of tourism as is in the case of Jungle Lodges and Resorts is to build bridges with communities while resorting to enhancement of their lifestyles and in cooperation with the best future interests of these communities. As the bridge is crossed, tourism can be expected to provide wider benefits to societies in the long term.

A case in point is Coorg district. Kodagu is one of the most fragile ecosystems in the country. A critical part of the Western Ghats ecosystem, the district includes large segments of deciduous forests and places of cultural importance. Whether it be the world famous source of the Cauvery river at Telecauvery or the flourishing monastery at Bylakupe, or the elephants at Dubare, the district has much to offer. Infact, there has been an explosive growth of tourist inflows into the district over the past few years, lured by the beautiful grasslands and hills that abound in the district. The administration has taken active role in promoting the attractions of the region by involving more local populations as compared to other similar tourist regions. When the tourism boom began, there had been an acute shortfall of beds in the region. However with active encouragement, local coffee planters began opening their homes and welcomed tourists leading to a growth of homestays. Presently, Coorg is famous as the home stay capital of the country with an astounding number of people visiting the place. Local have actively benefited from this novel idea leading to Coorg emerging as the top five tourist destinations of the state of Karnataka. The main strength of Indian Tourism at present is its cultural attraction, particularly monuments and archaeological diversity. Heritage is a non renewable resource and all efforts should be taken to ensure that active protection of these resources is undertaken at all times. Communities if provided a stake into the conservation of these resources will be the bets managers at the local level. This will broaden the scope of economic and social enhancements from tourism activities.

A larger benefit from tourism would be the added income from new infrastructure development and the utilisation of communities in these works. Besides, on job training will build up the professional capacity of communities, offering them a greater chance to receive higher pay from tourism activities.

In the case of JLR, we follow a strict policy of involving local people. Most resorts have more than 90 percent of the staff from within the nearest villages. The effects are there to be seen over the last 30 years. Increase in incomes has led to a greater disposable income and subsequent benefits. The second generation of these villagers are now educated and free to choose their vocation, including farming, working at JLR, working at the numerous new resorts that have sprouted in the past few years or staking out entirely new professions. The practice, though initially thought of as ill conceived, has led to greater protection of resources and in the case of JLR, of invaluable forest resources trough reduction of poaching and prevention of damage to the natural heritage. The Cauvery example stands out.

Cauvery Fishing Camp- A case study

A fishing holiday destination offered by Jungle Lodges & Resorts Ltd. can be sighted to explain how the three aspects are integrated to give Sustainable Tourism a real meaning. Jungle Lodges and Resorts Ltd. has taken many initiatives towards development of community based ecotourism. In fact all of its resorts are excellent examples of practicing ecotourism. However, some of these need special mention.

Cauvery Fishing Camp is one such resort. Together, these three camps are the richest habitat of the world’s finest game fish, the Mahseer.

The local community employed in this resort also comprise of poachers who now enjoy guiding tourists to their favourite fishing spots. A tourist learns from the tour experience that the valuable and beautiful resources he/she is enjoying are not inexhaustible, but are in fact under severe pressure from human use. The tourist observes that the tour package she is paying for is in itself the realization of a fishing community's effort to promote conservation by engaging in a non-extractive form of enterprise while promoting environmental understanding to visitors. He/she learns that community members help monitor the river, and boat and dive operators pay user fees and observe user guidelines. He/she then realizes that these local efforts are paying off in terms of better regulation of human activities, generation of tourism revenues, and improved regeneration of marine life. The experience imbues him/her with a feeling of connection with Nature, a grounded awareness of the realities that threaten it, and a new resolve to care for the environment and its people.

Involvement of local communities has several facets to it. Whether it be employing local populations or encouraging sale of local produce such as handicrafts and forest produce as honey or ensuring their active role in management, benefits can be accrued in various manners and as a group, I suggest that we come up with suitable ideas in the long run.