Sustainable Tourism – Why we as travellers and tourists are direct influencers.

Sustainable tourism is a term used by many , understood by few and practised by none, well almost! Otherwise we wouldn’t be writing or reading this article!

So what is sustainable tourism and Why we as travellers and tourists are direct influencers of sustainable tourism. We will try to understand this in a simple tone and also attempt to lay down some simple dos and don’ts to be the positive change.

Sustainable tourism for Dummies

Sustainable/ Ecotourism– Responsible travel that conserves the environment and improves the well-being of local people.  Yes its that simple to understand and do our part individually hence creating a collective movement which can truly help the concept and people around it.

The Indian Context of Sustainable Tourism

Because of the nature of my work I constantly travel across the length and breadth of  India. This gives me a chance to observe and interact with the place, its visitors and residents alike. It is due to their feedback and challenges that this article finds its voice.

During one of my recent trips, I met this family of 4 who run a homestay in a corner of their serene village. A tiny piece of land spread across may be 40-45 acres of paddy fields, sun burnt grass and rocks shaping the landscape. The place is a photographers’/bird watchers’ delight. This village was once thriving with visitors who would on an average spend 2-3 days bringing in the much needed revenue apart from a lot of other goodies. Now they don’t spend a day even. So what changed i asked.. In a candid conversation he says in the local dialect “ Yahan pe local log aata hai aur bahut kachra kar ke jata hai, isliye jab doosra desh ka yatri atta hai woh rukta nahi”. Translation-“locals  come here and create a lot of nuisance, hence travellers’ from other countries don’t stay here, they just come for a day and leave.” His family of four sustain from the homestay and local tourism, both of which have seen a sharp decline in the number of visitors. If this continues he may have to shut the shop and find an alternate source of income. 

Thats brings us to an immediate mental rebuttal – How am i responsible? or What’s in it for me? or What do i get? Well to answer these questions lets look at another real time emerging  situation.. Ahoy to the North. Those of us who stay in the Northern part of India are well aware of Himachal Pradesh and its popular tagline- Unforgettable Himachal- it sure is unforgettable but, now, for different reasons. 

The popularisation of Parvati Valley, its surrounding areas and the overwhelming marketing of the area in the form of blogs and package tours has left the place in tatters.  Parvati Valley, Kangra Valley which were once serene, pleasant, and virgin, now share a not so friendly vibe between  the locals and the visitors/travellers.  Irresponsible and Excessive exposure has lead to environmental degradation hence causing change in the social interaction fabric and future prospects of the place. Visitors now are looked upon with suspicion and not so friendly gestures, that includes you and me! 

We  personally appeal to the blogger community (off which we are a part of) and the tour operators to take this seriously by being responsible about the places we write about and the destinations we sell. Ultimately it us who will loose out the most if the current practice continues. As people who directly facilitate these destinations we should  play a major role in providing information about sustainable tourism practice to our guests/customers/readers. Lets be  more accountable for the environment, it is after all our bread and butter.

A renowned  international news agency shared this 2017 article which says – Indian Travel boom is sending tourists home with Super Bugs. { http://tinyurl.com/l32rhy8- }. This is quite saddening  given that we as a country have the  best of what nature has to offer. India has the potential to become the super power in tourism by 2035, initiatives like Swachh Bharat will not have any meaning if citizens like you and me don’t take personal responsibility for our country’s environment.

While hope remains that we will pay heed and take personal responsibility for our travels lets look at a few simple practices which will help us achieve the much needed harmony. Do you Pride yourself for being a seasoned traveler? If so, please share these simple practices within your friends and social circle. Become the Initiative. 

                    Citizens Charter-Sustainable Tourism-Best Practices

-Be considerate – of the communities and environment you visit.
-Don’t litter. Try to carry your own shopping bag to avoid contributing to the plastic problem.
-Try to avoid excessive waste and the use of plastic bottles (in many countries there is no way of disposing these, therefore creating plastic mountains due to tourism) – bring your own and consider purifying your own water & remove all packaging before leaving home.
-Reduce energy consumption. Unplug your mobile phone charger, turn off the lights…
-Conserve water. Take shorter showers… the average hotel guest uses over 300 litres of water per night! In a luxury hotel it is approx. 1800 litres!
-Always ask before taking photographs. If someone says no, respect their wishes.
-Educate yourself about the place and the community you are visiting.
-Respect cultural differences – and learn from it! People in different places do things differently – don’t try to overrule them – enjoy them.
-Dress respectfully. Cover up away from the beach. Cover your head in religious places. —Notice local dress codes and adhere to them.
-Do not purchase or eat endangered species (e.g. turtle egg soup, crocodile handbags). Choose sustainable seafood
-Support the local economy. Buy local made souvenirs, eat at local restaurants – enjoy the local culture!
-Do not give pens, candy or other gifts to local children – it fosters a begging economy. If you wish to donate, contact a local school or tour operator who can ensure the gifts are distributed fairly and properly.
-Support a local charity that works towards this cause
-Support local organisations – either in the place you visit or wherever you live

These are pretty simple steps to ensure a clean, green and a harmonious environment. These aren’t difficult to upkeep as most of us follow these at our homes!

We hope the write up is informative and practical. As always please leave your suggestions and comments.

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