Leave no footprints

Educating yourself on the initiatives around to reduce your impact as a tourist on any region is important. Here are some things you can do, writes Ruth Dsouza Prabhu

Plogging is one of the latest trends in responsible tourism today.

The world is travelling more, of that, there is no doubt. In fact, the figures support it as well. According to the UN World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) — Tourism Highlights 2018, the highest growth in international tourist arrivals since 2010 took place in 2017 with 1,326 million international tourist arrivals worldwide. The growth rate is forecast at 3.8% per year, going up to 2020. Southeast Asia saw 323 million international visitors and this was largely driven by the strong performance of India, the sub-region’s largest destination and, from increasing demand from western source markets and its simpler visa procedures.

What a mess

Now considering such large numbers of people arriving at popular destinations, local environs tend to bear the brunt and may suffer from over-tourism. What is that? It’s basically when there are too many visitors to a place and it causes a strain on local resources, the beauty of the region, the quality of life for locals and more. Water shortage in Shimla, displacement of people for tourist corporate expansion across popular spots like Goa, Corbett, Mussoorie and even the Himalayan region are some effects of over-tourism. Waste management has become a huge issue, too. And all this is applicable to quite literally most tourist spots in India.

An environmentally aware and responsible tourist is still a rarity as is a hospitality unit that takes the trouble to educate their visitors on the local environment and how to preserve it. However, there are now several initiatives in place, working towards creating awareness and providing opportunities for tourists and establishments to take a more responsible approach to travelling. Take a look at some efforts in key areas:

Be responsible for your waste

Did you know that the average tourist generates around a kilogram of garbage a day? “A lack of sensitivity to the environment often sees this garbage being flung out of bus windows, dumped on roads or into rivers,” says Minakshi Pandey, executive committee member & program manager, Waste Warriors, Corbett.

Waste Warriors has, since its inception in 2009, worked on putting in systems for solid waste management in villages around Corbett, Dharmshala and Dehradun. The waste generated is a mix created by locals as well as the massive influx of tourists (2017 saw 5 lakh tourists arrive in the 7 months that the park was open). It has not been an easy task to educate people and is a work in progress.

“It needs to start at something as basic as being aware of segregating waste at the primary source,” says Pandey. “If a tourist establishment, especially in wildlife regions, educates their visitors on how to behave and how to dispose of things, it is a start. Even if a tourist educates himself on the region he is visiting, he will be doing the environment a good turn.”

Some of the things you can do as a traveller in the wildlife region — stop using plastic bottles and carry along a metal water bottle. It can be refilled anywhere. Stop eating chips. Tourist buses tend to dump so many of these along river banks, all left behind by tourists. Carry a bag along with you for all your waste and dump this in your hotel rooms. From there, it finds its way to designated dumpsites. Indulge in plogging — the latest environment-friendly fitness trend of jogging and picking up garbage along the way.

Tourist influx may be for several reasons. Anticipating the crowds and working towards sustainability in the light of these numbers is key. Case in point — “In 2017, over 10,000 headed to Meghalaya and Pune for the NH7 Weekender Music Festival and this number is only set to grow this year”, says Supreet Kaur, festival director. “Every year, with growing crowds, comes a responsibility to be as sustainable as we can. Hence the association with Skrap,” says Kaur. 

Skrap provides sustainable waste management solutions for events and organisations and the sustainability goal for NH7 Weekender this year is to be a ‘zero waste’ event. “We are acutely aware of the impact that large events have on the environment, especially in ecologically sensitive regions such as the venue in Meghalaya,” says Divya Ravichandran, founder, Skrap Waste Management.

“And hence, the event makes serious efforts to minimise the environmental impact. For Meghalaya, in November, especially, we followed a ‘Leave No Trace’ policy to ensure the venue is was left in pristine condition after the event.”

If you are attending the Pune edition in December, know about the comprehensive waste management system in place. To encourage and enable waste segregation, there will be two separate bins for food waste and recyclable waste. The bins will be strategically located, colour-coded and have clear signage. Waste will be sorted into paper, plastic, metal, glass, food scraps, compostable plates, etc. The recyclable waste will be forwarded to recycling units. And food waste will be composted on-site or sent to composting/ or biogas plants. Items having further utility are sent to local NGOs for reuse. The aim is to send as little waste as possible to the landfills. Fans take note of how you can be a responsible music tourist!

Commute smart

One of the best ways to see the local life of a city you travel to is to use public transport. Goa thrives on a private cab or rental vehicle services but air quality here has been in shambles. As per data released by the Goa Tourism Development Corporation, Goa sees an influx of approximately eight million visitors per annum (domestic as well as foreigners). The air quality across Goa has worsened over time.

Now trying to combat this is electric vehicle (EV) Tourism that is being brought to Goa by Arcis Clean Energy, a Goa-based start-up offering clean and sustainable energy solution in partnership with Goa Tourism Development Corporation. B:Live is providing a sustainable mobility solution to the country, beginning with Goa.

“Tourists can choose from a range of e-bikes — city e-bikes, adventure e-bikes and unisex e-bikes. B:LIVE offers multiple curated experiences on booking to travellers ranging from the discovery of Divar Island to the making of Panjim City, a cultural trail of Panjim as well as a trip down the lost city of old Goa. The cost of these experiences is in the range of Rs 1,500- 2,000 per head, which includes food and beverages as well,” explains Sandeep Mukherjee, director and co-founder, Arcis Clean Energy Pvt Ltd.

As travellers, we need to be more sensitised to the environments that we are visiting. Rather than be encouraged by convenience, we should be motivated to preserve the destinations we visit so that we leave the world a cleaner and better place.

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