By Dripto Mukhopadhyay
Since the time I developed my interests in sustainable tourism development, about a decade by now, one small but million dollar question often bothers me that how exactly an intricate mechanism can be framed so that sustainable tourism development can happen in true sense. It does not only involve a few policy perspectives, but actually much beyond it. Policy prescriptions are not enough for his since it requires deliberate and concerted efforts from each of the stakeholders that include tourists, hoteliers, government mechanisms, local population and anyone else who may have some role to play in tourism activities. We see some of the activities (I am talking in terms of Indian context) on part of the central government as well as state governments where attempts are made to aware people regarding tourists attractions at various locations in the country. But, many of them are targeted towards foreign tourists rather than domestic tourists. Amongst these the prominent ones are taking part in fairs and other events in various countries to promote incredible India as one of the dream destinations. Similar efforts are mostly missing in the domestic market. The government mechanisms, tour operators, others in the hospitality sector only focus on increasing number of tourists to the locations of their interests. Hardly any Do’s and Dont’s and the reasons behind the same are conveyed to the potential customers. The only visible impact normally seen in some of the places of interests are imposition of an extra fee for those who intend to visit the place. As expected as a consequence of imposing a higher than usual fee is expression of annoyance towards paying such fees. Perhaps this may be avoided completely if the tourists are also made aware of how that fee would be used for preservation and maintenance purpose of the place and why some other restrictions are also imposed. Awareness generation about the need of a participatory tourism rather than being a mere visitor to the place can play a crucial role towards this. This also raises the question that who should be the priority target for such awareness generation and why.
The simple answer to the question is that the priority should be decided based on the extent of impact on the tourism sector. The following visual (Fig 1) presents the number of domestic tourist visits and foreign tourist visits to all places in India. It also presents the ratio between these two indicators.
The graph clearly depicts a crucial factor for Indian tourism sector. Throughout the years, the domestic tourist visits are significantly higher than foreign tourist visits and its increasing with time. The ratio between these two variables shows that till 2002 it increased continuously and reached the peak when the visits by domestic tourists were 52 times of that of the foreign visits. However, it gradually tapered down to about 40 times for some years and again in 2009 it was about 47 times. Of course the higher ratio for 2009 is an outcome of economic recessions which may be ignored as an exception year of the trend. But, still the domestic visits are at such a higher level compared to the international visits that one can easily conclude that the impact from the former will be much above that from the later. Apart from that, awareness levels of the foreign tourists are in general higher compared to the domestic tourists. Thus efforts in increasing awareness of the domestic tourists towards sustainable tourism development through tourism fairs, advertisements, online materials and other media could prove effective in eradicating several problems that are created by the tourists themselves. However, apart from the tourists, other stakeholders such as hoteliers, tour operators etc. along with local people are also needed to be made aware of their important role for sustainable tourism development. Hope at some point of time, everyone in the loop will understand the importance of the same and will change their attitudes proactively in a positive direction which ultimately will benefit all of them.