Too many tourists can ‘kill’ a destination and prevention is better than cure in this case
From one intrepid traveller to busloads of tourists—the distance between discovering a destination and overrunning it can be frightfully short. With the entire premise of responsible tourism hinging on showcasing and protecting local cultures, communities and ecology, success can be a slippery slope— threatening to irrevocably alter the idea of what is authentic both for the guests and the hosts.
With more tourists come more tourist dollars/rupees, along with more pressure on natural and manmade resources, more garbage, more money mindedness, more cultural damage. Hijacked by the requests of the most demanding tourists, often the traditional livelihood patterns change, and the local economy becomes completely dependent on tourism.
India is all about big numbers, and domestic tourism is no different. Is putting a cap on the number of tourists—domestic or otherwise—a practical, future-forward solution?
Should we rely on the local government alone to drive change? With so many private entrepreneurs making a living off tourism, it is only fair that they look for solutions together, create local pressure groups, and implement them as a matter of course.
The problem is not always obvious or one-dimensional.
The Ladakh Experience
Practitioners from Ladakh for instance, reported a steep rise in domestic tourism over the last few years, which also appear to have corresponded with the dip in the interest of inbound tourists. Some see it as a direct fallout of the arrival of “packs of noisy, unthinking Indian customers”. Others, including some international travellers, suspect it’s a reflection on the growing money-mindedness of the hosts as well. It’s probably a combination of both, and several other factors besides. A long-term awareness campaign for guests and hosts could be a good place to start reversing the damage. Experiments in a few Ladakhi villages, for instance—to protect the snow leopard, or to deal with litter/garbage by placing dustbins and educating locals, including children—have reportedly seen considerable success so far.
Power of One
Don’t discount the power of the individual. A practitioner from Maharashtra cited an example of a hotel owner in Dapoli, which is known for ‘majjaa tourism’—where groups of men/boys drive out from the nearest city for a weekend of binge drinking and noisy fun. The owner turned down all groups, except those with at least one woman in them—effectively only allowing families to board and lodge in his property. As word spread that his hotel was quieter than the rest, it began to do brisk business again. While his method may be considered somewhat radical, he led by example and inspired others to do so too. Not only does tourism often push the local community to transform their traditional livelihood patterns to become completely dependent on tourism, forces of commerce can also mutate the patterns of tourism. And practitioners can and must intervene.
What is to be done
Jost Krippendorf, who first came up with the concept of responsible tourism, pinned his hopes on “rebellious tourists and rebellious locals” to bring in change. Prohibitory or punitive measures/policies alone can’t be the antidote to overtourism. The communal voice of dissent must be amplified too.
As an industry, one must also eschew the promotion of popular destinations, or new tourism ‘hotspots’. Annual where-to-go lists of unexplored, virginal places—no matter how sustainable and authentic— defeat the very purpose of responsible tourism.
Micro-tourism, or exploring destinations within a short radius, or even neighbourhoods, could offer a rich experience—if only we’d look harder. Domestic and international tourists as well as the local population, which may have taken it for granted, or discounted it, merely because it is accessible, can enjoy these experiences equally.
(A version of this write-up appeared in IRTA 2017 report)