|The ecotourism diagram|
One of the headlines in a recent piece in the Times of India talks about how Ecotourism is ruining the flora and fauna in Nagarhole and Bandipur. Upon a quick read I discovered that the reporter had completely missed the point about ecotourism. This is alarming since such articles dilute the meaning of the term for readers. But this reporter is not alone in making this egregious error.
I checked some websites, too, and discovered that the term ‘Ecotourism’ is being used freely to describe any sojourn to a wildlife sanctuary or jungle resort. These include both government agencies and private businesses that run lodges and safaris in the wilderness. This is merely re-dressing plain old-fashioned tourism in the garb of a neo-fad called ecotourism.
In essence there are hardly any real ecotourism programmes in the area which can be given the status of one. A quick glance at what the meaning of ecotourism is, as defined by The international Ecotourism Society (www.ecotourism.org) is the following:
“Ecotourism is about uniting conservation, communities, and sustainable travel. This means that those who implement and participate in ecotourism activities should follow the following ecotourism principles:
- Minimize impact of tourism activities..
- Build environmental and cultural awareness and respect.
- Provide positive experiences for both visitors and hosts.
- Provide direct financial benefits for conservation.
- Provide financial benefits and empowerment for local people.
- Raise sensitivity to host countries' (or regions') political, environmental, and social climate.”
|Ecotourism- a comprehensive and sustainable development model|
While it is imperative that our tourism departments concentrate on, first, understanding what ecotourism is, and second, what initiatives to launch or support in which areas, we cannot blindly describe any trek to the forest to be an ecotourism exercise. What is happening to the Bandipur and Nagarhole, and certainly in other forest reserves as well, should not be condoned or tolerated even, but we first need the government to set up a proper framework for both government and private agencies (resorts, expedition companies, etc.) to come up with programmes that are truly core-ecotourism. In the absence of such a framework, no amount of complaining against businesses that merely comprehend the language of commerce; at least, more than they do of sensitivity to nature, or even ecotourism, will provide any solution for the long term.
Another point to note is that an ecotourism programme can be launched in non-forest destinations as well: e.g. temple tourism, arts and crafts, or agri-based village commerce resuscitation, or a visit to the Taj or other national treasures. The point is that a well-rounded programme is imperative beyond the cause of commerce alone.