India is known for its large ecosystems including the Himalayas and the Western Ghats. India has 661 protected areas with 100 national parks, 514 wildlife sanctuaries, 43 conservation reserves and four community reserves in different geographic zones, extending to nearly five per cent of the geographical area of the country (MoEF 2011).
Capitalising on these resources, ecotourism operations in India have substantially increased community participation, involvement of indigenous groups, forest dwelling communities and women, local level resource sharing with locally designed frameworks, and the use of indigenous technologies. The income generated is used to ensure quality tourism services as well as to improve the living standards of destination communities.
Based on Ecotourism Policy and Guidelines developed by the Indian Ministry of Tourism in 1998, the Ministry of Environment and Forest in June 2011, called on state governments to frame ecotourism policies to facilitate tourism programmes in protected areas of the country. In addition, the Indian Government’s National 12th Five Year Plan (2012-17) targets to increase the net benefit of tourism activities for the poor, emphasising also that the revenue generated from tourism operations should be utilised for protected area management (India Tourism 2011).
Opportunities and challenges: Trade opportunities and relevant employment options under ecotourism are broadly classified into two categories: ecotourism services and ecotourism enterprises. Ecotourism services include guiding and interpretation, sightseeing, destination cleaning forest protection and anti- poaching services. Ecotourism enterprises include honey processing, paper bag production, bamboo handicraft production, organic farming, indigenous medicine production and sales outlets (eco-shops).
Government action at both the national and local levels has enhanced ecotourism operations to ecologically sensitive areas where attention has been given to conservation and development with the support of the local community.
For instance, in 2007 at the Kumarakom bird sanctuary in Kerala, hotels established linkages to local communities for the supply of seven types of local products. By 2010, the number of items had increased to 45 including some Argo-based industrial products like coconut oil, souvenirs and handicrafts. The economic linkages encouraged partnerships between the community and the industry, thereby helping the community to develop a sustainable market with fair prices for the local produce and increased production.
The Parambikulam Tiger Reserve, another example, is the second largest tiger reserve in Kerala, India. Its activities include the elephant song trail, forest tramway trekking and eco-meditation. In order to ensure participative management of ecotourism resources, ecotourism programmes are operationalised through specific economic development committees. Of the committee members, 88 per cent belong to indigenous communities. Destination sustainability is maintained through community management of resources.
Emphasis is given to livelihood improvements, conservation of natural and cultural resources and reducing the dependency on forest-based, unsustainable resource consumption. These activities have helped to substantially increase the average number of visitors and revenue.
Though numerous opportunities exist, the sector is not without challenges. These include energy consumption for tourism services, usage of water, waste management issues, and loss of biodiversity as a result of outside interference and cultural erosion.
Additionally, there are a number of destination specific issues that hamper the sustainable use of resources. Service quality sectors like green production, ecological benchmarking, environmental management systems and voluntary standards like Green Leaf, Blue Flag, Green Globe would, with the required investments and labour, help generate income and trade opportunities in the local communities.
Adherence to sustainability standards in the operations of ecotourism in India can be initiated in protected areas, rural and village settings, forest areas and conservation areas of the country. Various innovative forms of ecotourism activities like rural ecotourism, farm and wetland tourism, mangrove tourism, coastal tourism, plantation tourism, horticulture activities, minor forest produce tourism, wilderness camps, eco-parks, caves exploration, bamboo raft cruise, and water based activities like regulated angling can be promoted. In this context, the Global Environment Facility (GEF) has supported India’s eco-development programme, where ecotourism has been identified as a means of livelihood for tribal and forest dwelling communities.
Source: Case study prepared by A. Vinodan, Nodal Officer, Indian Institute of Tourism and Travel Management, Andhra Pradesh, and James Manalel, Professor, School of Management Studies Cochin University of Science and Technology, Kerala, India