All stakeholders, including government, travel companies and communities, need to work together to ensure destinations thrive due to tourism and not suffer because of it
What will tourism look like in a few years? We can only speculate. But the future may not be all doom and gloom, after all, if the funds are distributed properly, policies are restructured and communities are encouraged to adopt them. Besides, if we don’t set aside money now to shore up resources at our national parks, beaches and monuments, for instance, how can we expect them to tackle the growing volumes of tourists? Is it the responsibility of the government alone to clean up the act? Can the communities and individuals in the business play a more significant role?
The big picture - pressure points and ideas
- The burden on local destinations — with combined domestic and international growth in tourism — has not been properly documented anywhere in the world. It’s obvious that the infrastructural gap — including power, water, waste, waste water and so on — will widen with the arrival of tourists. How does one close that gap?
- Destinations, which are for the most part publicly owned, haven’t worked in the costs of sustainability, for example, in terms of specific taxes or reinvestment in protected areas. Even if private players take responsibility of their own properties, these common costs need to be built in by the government to ease the management of each place.
- Despite the exponential growth of tourism, and the digital phenomena that is changing the rules of the business, it appears that not enough money is flowing back into the destinations globally. We need to ask if we’re striking the right balance: how much of the funds are directed towards marketing versus the protection of a destination? In some cases, up to 80% of tourism taxes/funds are diverted towards promotion!
- Local governments can support small businesses, and focus on creating volumes in terms of the number of farmstays, homestays, jungle trails, eco lodges, and so on, without trying to bring in busloads of tourists at any one destination or property.
- The priority should be communication, education and motivation; policies will eventually evolve from what the industry wants.
- Policies are often formulated with the inbound tourists in mind. Domestic tourists, despite their staggering numbers, get short shrift. That needs to be corrected, especially since the holiday experience remains the same no matter who the tourist is — if it’s subpar, it’s subpar for both domestic and foreign guests. Besides, policymakers here must also account for the Indian diaspora, the world’s largest; in other words, a large pool of potential travellers.
- Public-private partnerships, like the ‘Adopt a Heritage’ initiative by the Ministry of Tourism, Government of India, are definitely the next frontier.
- Digitisation has reduced overhead costs, for example, in terms of the supply chain. Booking engines are on top of that chain, claiming the lion’s share of the sum, but the benefits rarely trickle down to other stakeholders and to the destination itself. How can this be addressed and by whom?
The smaller picture - private concerns and alternatives
- At least at the conceptual level, we depend heavily on policy. But once it’s ready, few take ownership of it. Since the private sector accounts for nearly 85% of the tourism industry in India, this is a huge hurdle. How can we ensure people- and planet-friendly policies are implemented on ground?
- In Kerala, tourism gram sabhas are held at destinations to engage with the local stakeholders and to iron out last-mile problems of policy implementation. The government also works with tourism bodies or collectives of private players to aid the percolation of policies.
- We have to find a way to convey the simple message, down to the lowest common denominator, that the more you care for the environment, the longer your facility will survive.
- West Bengal is toying with the idea of using some of the government-owned properties for pilot projects. The aim is to demonstrate on ground for others, including private players, that it’s possible to achieve the responsible tourism ideal of a triple bottomline, or at least come within a whisker of it.
(This article first appeared in the IRTA 2018 report)