What do you understand by sustainable development? In general sense, it means an inclusive development (economy, society and environment) in present without affecting future for worse. An important element which is often left out from the conversation is good governance.
Now understand this concept of sustainability with respect to tourism. While we blame chemical and fossil fuel industries for the damage, tourism is also a cause and an affected industry of this disturbed environment. Reason of why so much emphasis is given to Sustainable Tourism is because tourism itself forms 10% of Gross World Product and that’s a huge contribution to the global economy. Many countries which are blessed by nature but lack requirements of excelling in other industries rely majorly on tourism for their national growth and income, especially island countries like Seychelles, Maldives, Bahamas, etc.
To further break it down, if tourism adds so much to the GDP (Gross Domestic Product) and GNI (Gross National Income), it might as well be the major employment provider. Due to availability of cheap technology and resources, people are modifying their services for the pleasure and ease of tourists and potential tourists which further boosts the industry. Till now, it’s a fair play. So why am I talking about sustainability? What’s wrong if small countries or small cities of big countries are engaged heavily in tourism? The answer lies in the contribution of tourism industry in overall environmental degradation.
Tourism leads to movement of people from one place to another, there’s a lot of traffic, influx of thousands and thousands of people in the regions which may not have that holding capacity (though its a moving crowd but there is a continuous cycle), waste generated but not disposed rightly and hence, carbon footprint is on an alarming rise. Some examples are:
- Heavy use of transport run by fossil fuels; use of individual vehicles; poor quality automobiles; low quality oil used as fuels.
- Excessive motor rides in oceans and rivers pollute the water bodies and harm respective wildlife.
- No or lenient punishments for those who throw garbage on beaches, streets, trails, etc.
- Lack of infrastructure for waste disposal and human defecation, etc.
Unfortunately, most of the tourist places have informal and unregulated functioning. For the places which are naturally blessed, there is less investment and more return for service providers because all they have to do is provide food, transport, stay and assistance! Not much efforts are invested to revive beauty. The problem lies in the regulation and implementation of tourism policies. This is where governance fall short of. In the heat of accelerating the industry, government and economic leaders forgot to incorporate sustainability in their policies and now things are changing at such a fast pace that to bring solutions with an added purpose are difficult to accommodate.
As the definition of Sustainable Development suggests, Sustainable Tourism should adhere to its four pillars:
Economic: Sow the seed to reap fruits. Basic investment on infrastructure should be done to ensure that a tourist place yields equal or more economic benefit in future. Inflow of irresponsible travellers will surely destroy the destination and services with their unmindful acts, thus, a system should be in place to create awareness among local communities and tourists to ensure no or less economic damage. Tourism should generate maximum income and employment opportunities and add as much to the overall growth keeping in mind the limitation of natural resources and the pace of technological advancement.
Social: Tourism shouldn’t just be a source of employment but sustainable employment. Local communities are to be made aware and engaged in the use of sophisticated technology and practices which will help them keep up their services and products in longer run. Placing rewards and recognition for those who embrace better policies should encourage others to adapt such practices. Also, at implementation level public is the flag bearer and its wiser to educate them and incentivize them for the same.
Environment: It is the most important element of Sustainable Tourism. If present set of activities is degrading environment (pollution, climate change, loss of biodiversity, etc.) at an exponential rate then there is a need to replace this by activities which are environment friendly and are to be followed with diligence. As a matter of fact, the above two pillars are to be in alignment with the third one because on a broader term, we have this one planet with limited resources. We are doing what we are doing to get richer and have a lavish lifestyle but if we further deteriorate this, there is nowhere we are going to put that money and comfort to use.
I can explain this with a basic example – In 2013, main pilgrimages in Uttrakhand, India faced sudden cloudburst which caused flood and landslides in that area and claimed hundreds of lives.
- There are many chemical industries in the belt of Haryana – Delhi – Uttar Pradesh which are releasing greenhouse gases at an alarming rate and they are also known to cause acidic rains. This collective irresponsibility of so many years is already reflected in the season patterns of the country. There is a temperature rise, uneven rainfall and lesser cold winters. That sudden cloud burst was a sheer example of altered monsoon cycle caused due to climate change.
- There is heavy traffic of devotees in this area and there is no check on upper limit of people who can enter an ecological zone as sensitive as something in Himalayas. To cater to these tourists, there are various big and small constructed buildings and settings which were built without anticipating the holding capacity of land and weather conditions of the region. Thus, the pressure on land here is always way more than what it should ideally take, that makes it more prone to landslides.
- More people means more pollution. Such interior and rural pilgrimages have no infrastructure for waste management, hence, majority of the garbage is absorbed by land or thrown in rivers. This not only pollutes the land and water but in a scenario like flood, it clogs water and makes it difficult for water to move.
The loss borne by the government on evacuation missions, loss of property, regeneration of infrastructure and hampered tourism was about 12,000 crores while the state was estimated to earn 23,000 crores that year but could manage to earn roughly 6000 crores post floods. Year of 2014 had also faced a decline tourism because of this event.
Uttrakhand is a state where tourism contributes approximately 25% to its State’s GDP. Not only the state ran into loss in 2013 but also took a decline in 2014. If half or more of our hard earned money is being used to fix continuous disasters caused by our negligence, how can we accelerate our growth in an efficient manner? It is for situations like these we need better policy making and governance to ensure sustainable practices in tourism industry so that our graph is always going up.
This is 1 out of thousands of examples why we need a comprehensive plan to ensure economic, social and environmental progress in tourism industry with the help of wise policy making and good governance. Initiatives like Ecotourism, eco villages, solar plant installation, etc. are on rise and have been catering to the goal in an efficient manner. Yet there is a strong need to develop reasonable infrastructure to reduce and manage waste and carbon footprint generated by the tourism industry.