By Dripto Mukhopadhyay
My writing blogs on sustainable tourism development does not necessarily indicate that I love travelling; but to speak frankly, I can very well be considered as a travel freak. Since my childhood, I travelled to several tourist destinations every year. Of course, most my travel experience is mostly in Indian soil only. One of the major reasons for my growing interest in tourism research, especially regarding promoting sustainable tourism, is my own experience of watching beautiful tourist resorts to convert in merely crowded towns with flocks of tourists pouring into them from all directions. It’s really painful to watch beautiful serene green spots to change into dirty, crowded concrete jungles loosing all its past charms. Coupled with this, it is also agonizing to see that the entire economy of the place has shifted into the hands of the outsiders and the locales have either been detached from tourism economy or at the most engaged only in petty jobs.
This situation does not serve any purpose for anyone except the ones who look for earning short term profits and put the money somewhere else when the place is completely destroyed from tourism point of view. We can, perhaps, save several places which have all potentials to develop as strong tourism destinations, but not yet been explored. The tour-operators, seeking to establish themselves for long-term business ventures, can play a crucial role in promoting and saving these places.
The villages nearby most of the well-known tourist destinations are some time as good and beautiful as the destinations themselves. But none of them are, in general, are at all related to the ongoing tourism activities in its nearby destinations. At the same time, these are the places that offer actual essence of the area, in terms of art and culture, anthropology, life style, local food and several others. These villagers are the people who are well versed about the history of the place. They know the geographic and other attributes of the area like the lines on their palms. At the same time in most cases, at least in Indian context, these people suffer from abject poverty since they solely depend on primary activities or migrate to some cities or towns looking for some petty job.
On the other hand, a sizable proportion of the tourists travel to distant areas spending a significant portion of their savings to enjoy the experience that are linked to the grass roots. In many times, their utility level remains much below the expected one simply because of the reason that their experience remains restricted within the physical attributes of the area and starved of the humane aspects of the region. The simple solution may be provided by the proactive and innovative tour-operators who also care for the mother earth as well as its people. These villages can be converted in base areas of the nearby destination. Households can be selected for home-stays and can be trained in ways to cater the needs of the guests with the touch of local culture and life-style. The youths can be trained as guides to take the visitors around and for sure they can be the best ones since they know every nook and corner of the region. They are the best people to guide the tourists to enjoy every bit of the location. This will allow the tourists to enjoy an authentic experience of mingling with local people, local art, local food as well as being in areas which otherwise would have been unknown to them. The tour-operators are also on the winning side since larger part of their responsibilities will be shared by the villagers and it will remain restricted more in organising the services rather than providing them.
This sort of model will be a win-win solution for everyone and have immense potential to promote sustainable tourism which will take care of its physical and cultural environment, involve the community participation in promoting tourism as well as will play a crucial role for poverty reduction. The tourists will also obtain the maximum utility of the visit in terms of their spending and satisfaction. The tour operators will also be at a beneficial position since they will have a competitive edge over many others who follow the conventional practices.