By Dripto Mukhopadhyay
Tourism is undoubtedly a booming industry in India. Especially, since early years of the previous decade, India has become a better known destination to international tourists. Even number of domestic tourists have also increased significantly. Government statistics suggest that foreign exchange earnings have increased significantly, number of hotels have gone up tremendously, number of countries form where we receive inbound tourists also have increased promisingly. Along with these statistics, macro level studies such as Tourism Satellite Account (TSA) 2003 and 2009 showed large scale positive impact of tourism in terms of income and employment generation in the country.
While logic and numbers are in favour of suggesting that tourism is playing a significant positive role, lots of stories in social media also pave the idea towards believing that initiatives are taken at micro level to change tourism landscapes and structure. This is also true that in India now home stays are available, we find tour operators offering specific packages, a good network of tour operators with bigger companies such as Makemytrip.com, Yatra.com, and several similar ones. large companies have expanded their business from ticketing to tour packages, from flight booking to bus booking etc. These evidences does not leave any space that Indian tourism sector is growing with a faster pace and also moving towards more organized in nature which was previously completely an organized one.
However, none of these talks of the fact that whether we have been able to associate tourism activities with local level development. As such I did not come across any study that even investigated this issue at all. From sustainable tourism development point of view, it is of utmost importance that the link between local economic development and tourism is established while conserving local environment, both physical and cultural. Right in this particular blog, I do not intend to talk to talk of any numbers or statistics that justifies any view in favour or against the belief that tourism is gradually leaving an imbibed impact on local economic development. There are certain reasons behind, rather personal experiences, why I am raising this question. While travelling in tourist destinations, well known and lesser known, I do not see much involvement of locals in tourism related activities. If it is there, mostly at the petty worker level. I find the observations made by large number of research studies relating to developing world that tourism still does not play any role in redistribution of resources across population, are still true. Investments are still being made in the destinations either by local rich or people external to the place. Still earnings from the destination is not reinvested in local level development, rather being siphoned from the place where it is generated. But these can rarely be captured from macro-level numbers that most of us look into while trying to measure tourism impact.
Studies are needed to capture in a manner that clearly brings out correlation between tourism’s direct and indirect impact on local level development. This needs to be done with village level, town level, block level data rather than with all India figures or state level figures. It is also important to identify indirect impact of tourism development, in the sense, infrastructure development relating to tourism activities and its impact on local economic and social development. I will start with any particular destination, preferably well known, so capture this at the earliest. Working on correlating tourism activities with development parameters of the area, including peripheral geographical spaces should provide certain ideas how these two are linked at the micro-level.