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Ecotourism: Points to ponder

@ S.Kumar, 9.4.2009

In July 1983, Hector Ceballos-Lascurain, a Mexican environmentalist and international tourism consultant, coined the word- Ecotourism. He defined 'ecotourism' as: . travelling to relatively undisturbed or uncontaminated natural areas with the specific objective of studying, admiring, and enjoying the scenery and its wild plants and animals, as well as any existing cultural manifestations (both past and present) found in these areas. Since then the concept has been refined by various practitioners and stakeholders; today the most accepted definition comes from International Ecotourism Society(TIES), The Ecotourism Society gives a slightly fuller definition : Ecotourism is responsible travel to natural areas which conserves the environment and improves the wellbeing of local people. (TIES, 1990) Then, in 1993, he came up with another definition endorsed by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN), : "environmentally responsible travel and visitation to relatively undisturbed natural areas, in order to enjoy and appreciate nature (and any accompanying cultural features both past and present) that promotes conservation, has low visitor impact and provides the beneficially active socioeconomic involvement of local populations.(Ceballos-Lascurain, 1993). Obviously, ecotourism seeks to combine conservation, communities, and sustainable travel into one workable whole. This happens when those who wish to implement and participate in ecotourism activities adhere to the following ecotourism principles:

minimize negative impacts of tourism linked development and activities of visitors on the environment, ecology and local cultures build awareness and respect for environment and culture ensure that both visitors and hosts receive positive experiences develop methods and mechanisms to direct sustainable financial benefits to local people and local economy provide financial benefits for conservation of natural resources on which tourism depends. raise sensitivity to host countries' political, environmental, and social climate

Ecotourism is considered the most rapidly expanding sectors of the travel industry. And it is being promoted by many as a way to achieve environmental conservation objectives and a tool for sustainable development of remotely situated host communities. A strategy paper, issued in 2008, by Environmental Grant Maker Association New York concludes that despite the promise that the ecotourism principles display, and the interest that it has generated among governments, private sector and donor agencies and resources that are being pumped into in its development over the last few decades, the results are not very encouraging. The problem apparently emanates from multiple sources including: Misconceptions resulting from a lack of clear or universally accepted standards and definitions

False marketing, including greenwashing, whereby operations falsely bill themselves as ecotourism to capture market-share or ecotourism lite, which amount to very little environmental or socioeconomic consciousness ( Honey, M. 2002) Flawed implementation and site-based interventions; The culminating perceived risk profile that inhibits new capital inflow. The implementation of ecotourism principles by governments, communities and private sector remains constrained as all stakeholders still perceive it from their own sectoral perspective - we have seen or heard very little about success stories from India. Models of some successful community ventures and partnerships and private sectors role in community development through their social agenda have been reported from Nepal, Indonesia, South Africa and some central and south American countries, stories of unregulated , high impact tourism in fragile natural areas are replete. Wells feels that many governments see nature-based tourism as an important tool for economic development but unfortunately, most have not invested sufficiently in staff training, infrastructure or park resources that are needed to support nature tourism. This exposes sensitive sites to tourismcaused degradation (Wells, 1997).

Kumarao,1996, argues that one definition of ecotourism is the practice of low-impact, educational, ecologically and culturally sensitive travel that benefits local communities and host countries (Honey, 1999). Many of the ecotourism projects in South Africa, though earning significant economic benefits, are not meeting these standards despite execution of some guidelines; the local communities still confront negative impacts. South including physical displacement of persons, gross violation of fundamental rights, and environmental hazards - far out weigh the medium-term economic benefits. But the merit of this concept is undeniable as its rests on the principles of sustainable development and can be a potent tool in the hands of natural resource managers. In India, the last decade has seen a huge acceptance of this concept among the governments, especially the forest and tourism departments (though there are several examples showing that the term Ecotourism has been used by organizations and businesses as a marketing tool only). Foresters in India find this concept as a potential tool in their hands as it fits very well within the framework of their mandate, that are i. ii. iii. protection and enhancement of forest and wildlife resource, Creation of awareness to elicit support for conservation Possibility of local participation and flow of benefits to forest dependent people.

Taking a noteworthy initiative, on 26 June 1997, the Central government organised a workshop of states officials, environmentalists and NGOs to formulate a National Ecotourism Policy

acceptable to the states; the draft that emerged from deliberations was again discussed in a conference of Tourism Ministers from participating states. The Policy was approved on 27 June1997 and finally issued by the Ministry of Tourism, GoI, as a comprehensive document titled: ECOTOURISM IN INDIA: POLICY & GUIDELINES, 1998 . It appears that this document, which lucidly enunciates the concepts and principles of ecotourism though without much emphasis on mechanisms for community involvement and flow of benefits to forest-side communities- remained unnoticed for long and meanwhile the states began their own initiatives to formulate Ecotourism Policies. Himachal Pradesh, Rajasthan, Tripura, Maharashtra (Draft), Gujarat, Kerala are some of the states pioneering in this direction but it is not known whether these documents are draft documents still awaiting approval of the government or fullfledged policy documents. Karnataka has its Wilderness Tourism Policy and Madhya Pradesh has the Eco-Adventure Tourism Policy, a draft of the proposed Eco-tourism policy for Sikkim that includes creation of an autonomous regulatory Sikkim Eco-tourism Council, has been prepared by Ecotourism Conservation Society of Sikkim (ECOSS). Sikkim has several models of community NGO, Community research Institution partnerships. From these policy documents one could discern that while the concept and principles of Ecotourism are well enshrined in the objectives of these policies one or the other operational issues remain unattended. And therefore, the initiatives of the states in creating sustainable ecotourism ventures have not yielded desired results Going back to the basic characteristics of Ecotourism protection of environment and the resource on which tourism thrives minimizing negative impacts and maximizing positive ones, creation of conservation awareness among visitors and ensuring flow of benefits to local people while safeguarding their cultural integrity as well as social structure, mechanism for collaboration and benefit sharing, are key areas for which clear and practical guidelines must be included in the policy. In some cases supportive legislation may be necessary. Unfortunately, this is not the case. The Legal issues: Forests other than protected areas Ecotourism may happen in any natural area irrespective of its legal status, but here we would focus on the forestlands and the protected areas. Any tourism venture entails development of accommodation, roads- culverts, bridges, electric and water supply, eateries, information and interpretation centres, hides, watch-towers and so on. Such development that requires breaking up of forest land attracts the provisions of the Forest Conservation Act, 1980. This legal requirement is seen as a serious malfunction in the way of ecotourism development by many especially those who wish to attract private sector to establish ecotourism operations in forest lands. This perceived malfunction results from undefined priorities; if the goal is to pursue ecotourism then the Environmental Impact assessment or Social Impact assessment should be a part of the project hence nobody should grudge EIA (some ecotourism practitioners are so disheartened with that they wish that they wish to remove the word Ecotourism from the name of their oragnisation and put the word Nature there). A debate is going on to convince the central government to consider Ecotourism as a Forestry activity so that the hassles of EIA are over. Good for every one, only if the ecotourism is a small scale, locally run venture which doesnt envisage building of luxury lodges, helipad, tarred roads

and all the other adjuncts like casinos, golf course and so on - in the later case the use of forest land would be for building less impacting small lodges and unobtrusive trekking routes, nature trails, hides, watch towers, interpretation centres, toilets, eateries, camping sites. One can argue forcefully to include ecotourism as a forestry activity only if its development is planned according to the principles of this useful concept. Big development ventures may become a part of Ecotourism and may come up on forest land but only after obtaining mandatory clearance under FCA. In fact such mega projects must be subjected to both EIA and SIA and forced to ensure their contribution to the protection of environment, local culture and local economy. Those who would like to wish away EIA often quote examples from South Africa where concessioners are allowed to build lodges within the national parks and nature reserves, probably ignore the fact that such projects are subjected to rigorous EIA before being sanctioned. Legal Issues: Ecotourism in Protected areas The only policy guidelines that exist about tourism in protected areas may be found in the National Wildlife Action Plan. The policy favours Ecotourism development with the basic aim of educating visitors and eliciting their support for conservation; it also emphasizes that the benefits of ecotourism should reach the local communities. The law governing tourism can be found in Section 28 which permits entry into PAs for the purpose of tourism. Section 33 (a) of the Wildlife (P) Act empower CWLW to carry out any construction work which is necessary for the PA except commercial tourist hotels, lodges, safari, zoos. These too may be constructed after obtaining prior approval of the National Board. But the recent directions of the Supreme court makes it mandatory that any intervention for management of PAs must flow from the approved management plan and those activities that are prima facie detrimental to wildlife cannot be permitted even if they are included in the management plan and approved by competent authority (CWLW of the state).Still, the protected areas managers do not face the same constraints as faced by their counterparts managing other forest lands as besides acceptance of tourism in PAs as a legitimate objective of management traditionally the private sector has created and are still creating accommodations outside famous PAs on private lands. In protected areas, some other issues are more pertinent than the issue of developing infrastructure for tourism. Among PAs, the Tiger reserves are the favourite destinations for tourists - the hoteliers, tour operators and visitors love them to death. Let us see howOur tiger reserves and other categories of protected areas are very small in size compared to the protected areas of Africa and Americas that are large enough or contiguous with other protected areas so that ecological boundaries of long ranging species largely fall within a protected area or landscape. In India owing to their small size many of the tiger reserves have already reached the threshold population that such small areas can hold. The buffer areas of tiger reserves that are supposed to cushion the core areas from outside threats are still not under the management of tiger reserves and are managed for production of commercial timber. In exceptional cases, where the tiger reserves control the buffer zones, confusion still continues about prescriptions of management for these areas -. the reason being these reserves do not have appropriate management plans aimed at attaining the objective of buffer zones. The

concept of buffer zone envisages management of buffer area for achieving two basic objectives first for sustainable production of those forest produce that are essentially needed by the adjoining communities to meet their energy, agricultural and house building and second for creating suitable habitats for wild animals dispersing from the core area. Unfortunately in some tiger reserves that manage buffer also, the buffer is either ignored or given the same management inputs as given to the core. This anomaly has led to serious conflicts with the local people who have turned into active foes of these reserves and wildlife. Their hostile acts include deliberate setting of fire, electrocution of wild animals, poisoning tigers and leopards and sheltering and helping the well organised poachers who set traps for poaching tigers and other threatened species. A long-ranging species like tiger precariously depends on genetic exchange with other tiger populations for its long-term survival. Indias conservation strategy of linking smaller Protected Areas through viable forested corridors is the only answer to achieve this vital biological requirement, unfortunately this concept couldnt be implemented so far owing to absence of political will as well as availability of a huge financial input that is required to restock fragmented forests and provide alternatives to those natural resources for which the local people depend on these forests. The dependence on forests and forest land is ever increasing besides the forests are getting more and more fragmented owing to their diversion for roads, buildings and other huge development projects. In recent time another serious threat has emerged proliferation of hotels and dhabas outside tiger reserves which threatens further degradation of buffer forests. Numerous hotels are already operating and several new hotels are in the pipeline. The lands on which these hotels are built mostly belong to the poor forest side tribal people, who attracted by lure of money sell these lands and become landless labourers. In such transaction of land belonging to tribal people rules are circumvented and benami (in the name of fictitious persons) or dishonest transactions are executed through connivance and deceit by bending existing rules that are supposed to protect the land of the tribal people. The tiger reserves or the forest department has no regulatory control, under any Act, over the revenue and private land included in the buffer, and therefore finds itself helpless in arresting this onslaught. The hotels have made a fairy ring around the dispersal areas and corridors and continue to physically and ecologically degrade the buffer forests as they heavily depend on buffer forests for firewood to meet their energy needs for operating wood-based boilers, camp fires and to some extent for cooking. The roadside eateries operating in shanties have generated a huge demand for firewood and the poor villagers find a ready market for the head-load that they surreptitiously cut from the buffer forests. More and more hotels are coming up, consequently the competition is fierce. The most common strategy employed by hoteliers is to lure the tourists by promising guaranteed tiger sighting and a sojourn in the placid, tranquil jungle. This means the vested interests would leave no stone unturned to ensure tiger sighting within the tiger reserve and those who want to build new lodges would seek a piece of land right in the dispersal area or the corridors. They would be least bothered about the impacts of such their mindless act on the ecology and behaviour of tiger. A Pregnant female who wanders about to find a safe and secure haven to litter, very young imprintable cubs and mating tigers - all are subjected to excited pursuit of a horde of gawking tourists safely perched on elephants and vehicles. Intro: Tourism in well-know Protected areas has a history older than the evolution of concepts like sustainable tourism and ecotourism, therefore, most PAs suffer from the ills of traditional tourism

that hardly cares for the environment, ecology or the interests of local people. The way things are today, only implementation of ecotourism in its true spirit can save these precious areas from a certain doom. Conclusion The state governments are yet to promulgate a legislation to regulate land use in the surrounds of tiger reserves. In response to a petition which highlighted the unsustainable land use outside PA and the likely fate of tiger because of this, about a year back Honble Supreme Court of India has issued an order directing states to identify and declare Ecosensitive Zones outside Tiger Reserves, under the Environment Protection Act. Yet, even after lapse of about a year no such regulatory law is visible. It would be a great service to the silent denizens of the Indian wilderness including the tribal people (whose lands are being cunningly diverted through the lure of money and shady transactions) if such a law, that regulates land-use and lays down norms for type and design of construction, disposal of solid and green waste, harvesting and recycling of water, and use of alternative sources of energy for every one (including the government agencies) desirous of constructing a tourist facility around Protected Areas, is enacted without delay. It would also be of immense worth if the hoteliers operating around PAs voluntarily part with small portion of their profit to ensure sustainable development of local people who have been making sacrifices since very long to help make conservation of wildlife possible. This is quite logical as the tourism in and around PAs thrives on a public resource that belongs first to the people of that area and then to public at large. Local people are already sharing their precious resources such as ground water, buffer forests, and electric supply with these hoteliers and also suffering intrusions into their economy which has not really gained but lost as prices of land and commodities are soaring up in these parts. As the nature of tourism business is such that 90% of the expenditure by a tourist is actually made before arriving at the destination, and at the destination rest of the expenditure is siphoned off at the hotel manned by outsiders and sustained on food and beverages brought from distant markets. Considering all the above, it may not be a bad idea for the government to formulate some mechanism for flow of benefits from hoteliers to local people and also to the PAs which is the sole reason for the existence of tourism in these areas. This may be achieved through a tripartite agreement among the hoteliers, local gramsabhas / Ecodevelopment committees and protected area manger. Besides providing both non-skilled and skilled employment to local people, these hotels should be bound by law to first procure the locally produced grains, pulses, poultry, dairy and fishery products, local transportation on a regular basis and only in case where local producers fail to honour the demand, the hoteliers should go to other markets. Training, skill development and soft loans to local entrepreneur should be facilitated both by the hoteliers and PA managers. Restrictions on unregulated growth of hotels and eateries in crucial dispersal areas and corridors and enforceable guidelines for selection of sites for buildings, building designs, water harvesting and recycling, use of ground water, recycling and safe disposal of solid wastes, mandatory use of alternative energy, must be in place through appropriate legislations.

The lacunae in the policies and the absence of facilitative legislations throw off several important questions: How have we fared so far in following Ecotourism principles in our current tourism operations? Could Ecotourism be a Forestry activity and one of the objectives of Forest working plans? If yes what may be its function revenue generation through high end tourism, Community based tourism or a combination of both, How big an ecotourism venture should be? Can Ecotourism succeed at 'any' natural location? Is Ecotourism only for high end tourists? Is high value tourism really low impact? What are those mechanisms that ensure environmental and ecological sustainability in a tourism venture that depends on fragile natural areas? Could ecotourism with its lofty principles become a sustainable economic venture? Are we interested in catering to enlightened foreign ecotourists only or our own desi tourists who are the immediate receivers of bad or good impacts that would emanate from conservation or degradation of natural resources, or both?? Should ecotourism projects be run by the local Communities or by the private sector or by the Government or jointly by preceding any two or all three through bi-partite or tripartite agreements? What models or mechanisms of participation among govt., Pvt. Sector, NGO and local people are possible? Can one model be replicated at all the sites? Or each venture should have a site specific management plan?

Should there be mandatory EIA and SIA of all such ecotourism project that envisage use of forest land for big hotels and lodges? What may be the sources of funding government resources, recycled funds, bank loans, donor agency, private investment?

Could carrying capacity ( in terms of number of vehicle or tourists) help mitigate adverse impacts on environment, ecology and local culture without a sound management system and monitoring mechanism on the ground?

What safeguards should be in place to ensure cultural and social integrity of local people? How local people's participation is perceived in Ecotourism? Will it be fine if local community receives only minor employment and some funds originating from tourism ? How and how much local participation might be possible? Will it suffice if funds are generated only to protect the natural resource without safeguarding it against adverse impacts of unsustainable use? How do we define community? Should private sector that benefits from the public resource contribute to natural resource enhancement and community development?

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