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A tour of changes

Susheela Nair Nov 5 2017, 0:55 IST
Responsible tourism is the way to go!

Responsible tourism is the way to go!

With global warming soaring, the time for a green turn has hopefully come. To meet visitors' growing ecological concerns, tourism operators are peddling green vacations, socially responsible holidays and community-based responsible tourism (RT) ventures. The preservation of the environment and the willingness to accommodate visitors interested in interacting more with local communities has become a significant trend. Since the time Costa Rica, an early pioneer, prioritised sustainable travel and conservation back in the early 1990s, many players have entered the fray. Committed to minimising the carbon footprint and adhering to sustainable principles of tourism, Ministry of Tourism has formulated guidelines in the comprehensive Sustainable Tourism Criteria for India (STCI), which is a heartening move. Here's a pick of some incredible RT destinations and initiatives across the globe offering you green vacations that focus on sustainable travel. Hence, travel with a purpose in the International Year of Sustainable Tourism and Development.

A venerable ecological utopia

If you want to experience a shining example of how tourism and conservation can work in unison, head to Kangaroo Island, off the coast of South Australia. You can set out on a koala-spotting expedition, watch the kangaroos hopping around, gaze at the sea-lions basking on snow-white beaches, fur seals frolicking beneath the Admirals Arch, or stop by at Remarkable Rocks, a bunch of surreal stones perched on a headland, traverse the rolling farm lands, untouched national parks, tiny country towns, fishing hamlets, deserted sandy coves, towering sand dunes, and spectacular landscapes in this diverse island.

The Island's commitment to sustainable tourism, its partnership with core government agencies responsible for managing the Island's resources, and adoption of the innovative Tourism Optimisation Management Model (which monitors the long-term health of Kangaroo Island as a tourism destination) ensures that the experience you have today will be the same as the experience enjoyed by generations to come. Kangaroo Island is protected through conservation zoning, wildlife
reserves and heritage listing.

Give waste a second chance

Tourists can join hands in giving waste a second chance for better oceans by participating in the clean-up effort which will not only transform the plastic debris found in the ocean into thread to make fabric, but also help preserve Thailand's crystal-clear sea and unspoilt coastal areas, especially in popular marine tourist attractions. As part of the development of sustainable tourism in the Kingdom of Thailand, the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) has kick-started the unique project of 'Upscaling of the Oceans' by collaborating with several partners like PTT Global Chemical (PTTGC), the local administration, communities, fishing villages, volunteers, divers and tourists.
The project reaffirms TAT's commitment to promoting RT and also driving green initiatives, bringing together over 100 divers and volunteers to remove trash from the seabed and along the beach on Ko Somet. The project will also ensure Ko Samet remains pristine, by providing the necessary infrastructure for trash collection, including special trash containers on the island.

Beyond the backwaters

Kumarakom is a live model of how tourism gives meaning to the lives of people by creating several lessons on people participation, grass-roots level leadership, women empowerment through myriad entrepreneurial innovations, sustainable livelihood, agricultural production and environmental preservation. The new mantra in the field of destination management in Kumarakom is that the 'quality of destination' has to be defined by the 'quality of life' of the local population. The Grama Panchayat, Department of Kerala Tourism, the Kudumbashree, tourist fraternity, local self-help groups, NGOs, and farmers are actively involved in the implementation of the RT initiatives. Interesting packages that offer tourists a chance to explore, observe and interact with the villagers have been devised to encourage bonding with the local people.

Kumarakom, a 'zero-waste destination', focuses on the ecosystem regeneration programme. Other commendable achievements of RT are conservation of natural and cultural heritage, protection of traditional livelihood, declaration of the bird sanctuary as a plastic-free zone, promotion of bicycle trips, organic farming, mangrove protection, control of backwater pollution, procurement of local produce from local communities by resorts, and the promotion of local cuisine. These innovative initiatives have won the Kumarakom RT project accolades and awards at national and international levels.

Interact with a tribe

In Taiwan, concern for the dwindling wetlands following the destruction and conversion of innumerable wetlands into industrial zones for economic development has forced government and private organsations to step in to protect the wetlands. Consequent to this, a growing number of farmers have turned entrepreneurs and reaped economic benefits from tourism. The luxuriant Matai'an Wetland Ecological Park, at the foot of Masi Mountain in Hualien County, is a laudable venture of the Council of Agriculture and the Hualien County Government. Tourists can interact with the traditional Ami tribes and imbibe lessons in farming and fishing using indigenous, traditional three-layered fish trap or palakaw, and watch the cooking session. It is low-impact and education-focused. It is an encouraging factor for the tourism industry as it has helped in employment and income generation, revitalising the agricultural sector through tourism, empowerment of Ami tribes, and an increase in tourist footfalls to the region.

More than a jeep ride

Sabi Sabi Private Game Reserve, which is ecologically integrated with the adjacent Kruger National Park in South Africa, has become a big hit with green travellers. Indisputably one of Africa's best safari destinations, the reserve is a classic example of the role the private sector can play in conservation and community development in South Africa. It is the essence of the link between sustainable ecotourism, conservation, and the community. If there was no tourism in Sabi Sabi, rhinos would have vanished already.

All environmentally concerned travellers contribute directly to the protection of the park and the maintenance of round-the-clock anti-poaching units. The income they provide additionally funds school outreach programmes for educating local communities about the significant contribution these animals, if kept alive, can make to the local economy. Sabi Sabi also supports the local communities through a wide range of projects including the sponsorship of a crèche, youth development through sports and environmental education, and the initiation of a rhino education drive within the local community. Conservation Contribution, an interesting initiative, has allocated funds for anti-poaching, general conservation and community measures within the reserve, security manpower, upgraded fences, updated gate controls, technology and surveillance, and the re-introduction of all indigenous flora and fauna species.

Experience the spirit of the land

If you want to nurture the earth by getting into the shoes of a plantation worker, join hands in picking coffee and pepper, or ride in a farm tractor, join the tribal dance, embark on forest safaris and bullock rides, head to the themed resorts promoted by Evolve Back in Coorg, Kabini and Hampi. With green consciousness catching up, travellers prefer these resorts which have excellent responsible tourism bona fides.

Steeped in local lore and legends, the group prides itself in its community-based activities and initiatives which include showcasing Kuruba tradition, school adoption, distribution of books and school bags, school teachers' training, cultural shows by local artistes etc.

They demonstrate that responsible tourism is not a one-way street. Right from native and eco-friendly architecture to locally inspired activities, to interaction with the ethnic communities, the entire experience is life-enriching, in keeping with the 'spirit of the land in luxury' philosophy.

The indigenous guides and staff are the faces of the resorts' claim to fame. These signature holidays which preserve the purity of nature and culture on the land have received due global recognition and prestigious awards. At the end of the stay, even a casual visitor will be converted into a sustainable tourism practitioner.

Mussel power

For a green vacation, head to the tranquil Thekkekadu Island in the Kasaragod district of Kerala. Here you can sit in the verandah and watch women diving for shell fish, farmers immersing themselves in the backwaters and collecting mussels, clams and oysters, fishermen hauling in the day's catch, seaweed farming, and drift along the placid Valiyaparambu backwaters, or visit the tiny islands and watch North Malabar's rich offering of theyyam and other folk arts.

Recipient of the national award for his innovative technology (mussel farming on coir), Gul Mohammed, a social entrepreneur, shared his technical expertise and honed the entrepreneurial skills of the local populace, transforming the lives of nearly 6,000 farmers. The project grew to become India's largest marine farming co-operative. He works with local farming communities to provide alternative sources of revenue through green mussel and oyster farming and tourism. His passion to enhance the livelihood of his fellow villagers culminated in the form of Oyster Opera, the first theme village.

Started as a social enterprise to help the unemployed local folk of the region, Oyster Opera is managed by in-house trained locals who play host during your stay. Women handle housekeeping and dish out mouthwatering authentic Malabar fare at this rustic-themed retreat.

Trails along the Nila

Be part of the myriad trails along River Nila (Bharatapuzha) which crisscrosses through the districts of Malappuram, Thrissur and Palakkad in Kerala. Passion to revive and regenerate the depleting river culminated in the setting up of Nila Foundation. To generate funds, Blue Yonder (TBY) was started. Since its inception, it has been awards galore for TBY for its innovative activities spread across the country and abroad.

Using tourism responsibly, TBY has worked with riverbank communities engaged in traditional occupations such as pottery, handlooms, puppetry, folk art forms, musical skills, craft traditions etc to understand their bond with the river. By incorporating their activities into its travel itineraries, TBY has given the art forms a larger lease of life and provided livelihood options for the otherwise marginalised artists, artisans, craftsmen, environmentalists and NGOs. Ruminating over the success of the project, Gopinath Parayil, founder, TBY, adds, "This ranges from showing alternative sources of income and new markets for farmers producing Climate Change Resistant-food like Pokkali (a unique variety of rice), to hand-holding families struggling to maintain their heritage properties by being part of the circuit. The awards instituted by Blue Yonder have given a fresh breath of air to many art forms by financially supporting the people and organisations involved."

Socially responsible tourism

Anegundi, a semi-rural town with its strong, agrarian and inherent crafts culture, is a successful example of how tourism can embrace vernacular heritage conservation, promote women's empowerment, and help share our rich cultural heritage with visitors.

From endogenous tourism it has metamorphosed to a role model in sustainable rural tourism by providing ample employment opportunities to the locals, enhancing their lives and enriching the visitor's experience.

With the active involvement of The Kishkinda Trust (TKT), restoration of vernacular architecture in traditional houses transformed into guest houses rented out to tourists and managed by locals opened up employment opportunities to the locals. This helped the tourism initiative become a reality for the village community, bringing them joy and a sense of pride, and an engaging exposure to the visitor. A natural-fibre cottage industry helps women of the village recycle banana plant waste and river grass, converting them to make attractive bags and curios.

By peddling their traditional handicrafts and tourism services to the tourists, women have become self-reliant and empowered. Other remarkable achievements of TKT are organic farming and education through the performing arts.

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