By Dripto Mukhopadhyay
When we talk of sustainable tourism, a crucial question comes to our mind that have we achieved any success till now? This question is crucial since in several countries sustainable tourism or ecotourism or other forms of tourism that generally talks of similar objectives stated almost for a couple of decades by now. However, evidences suggest that if for the time being we keep aside other components of sustainable tourism and focus on the environmental aspect of it, it is quite a controversial topic. The reason being total carbon emissions from tourism activities in absolute term have been increasing unabatedly though it has declined to some extent on per capita basis. The primary reason for the increase of carbon emissions from tourism activities is increase in number of tourists significantly. And, in that too international tourism has been increased significantly during the last decade or so. Aviation industry itself is responsible for more than 40% of carbon emission that can be attributed to tourism activities. About 25% can be attributed to other surface transport. Fortunately, since technology has improved tremendously and rate of emissions has been reduced in all segments involved with tourism activities, we have been able to reduce per capita emissions of carbon and other green house gases. But, the reduction rate is not enough to meet the targets set for the tourism sector. If we need to meet the target set for 2020 regarding reducing carbon foot print of tourism sector, per year reduction rate should be about 6% from now onwards which is not only difficult but impossible.
Till now, I have talked mostly negative about achieving sustainable tourism. However, that is not a complete picture. Several initiatives have been taken from all different stakeholders to adopt sustainability mode, especially in terms of environment. Lots of awareness generation activities, regulatory aspects, knowledge transfer, and sustainable business practices have been experienced by the tourism sector all over the world, particularly, in developed countries. The prime reason why I have raised this issue today is the importance of governance in driving sustainable tourism goals. Though there are positive governance shown in bits and pieces in some cases, in general the policies can be considered as a failure. To prove the governance as an “effective instrument” to reduce environmental impacts of sustainable tourism, “policy learning” is a must based on previous and new experiences. The major reason for failure of the policy makers is that most of them opt for some adjustments to existing policy instruments only. Though in some cases some strategic changes are incorporated, but profound shifts in the policy paradigm and goals are completely missing from the policy makers related to sustainable tourism. This requires conceptual learning which need acceptance amongst the policy-makers for developing an alternative sustainability paradigm that changes the current “state” of tourism itself. Since, the existence of the mankind is at stake, it is high time that the governments and policy makers develop regulations and other governance instruments that affect and control those undesirable factors related to tourism activities that contributes to climate change.