The world is a beautiful place. It is also extremely delicate and fragile. The majesty of the African plains or a Caribbean reef is no match for a team of engineers with a lucrative corporate contract. As technology advances and the farthest reaches of the planet become more accessible, our capacity to affect the delicate balance of the ecosystem becomes more pronounced.
Employing 260 million people and generating over 10% of the world’s GDP, the tourism industry is a global juggernaut. An industry of such magnitude inevitably leaves a significant footprint in its wake. More focussed planning and management is imperative to control the tourism industry, and more importantly, to protect the natural and cultural integrity of tourist destinations.
Principles of Eco-tourism
Eco-tourism is about conserving resources, valuing the local culture and contributing to the local economy.
It focuses on local traditions, wilderness conservation, volunteering, personal growth and discovering constructive ways to experience our fragile planet. Recycling, energy efficiency and the creation of economic opportunities for local communities are integral elements of eco-tourism. Its purpose is to make the development of tourism ecologically supportable and sustainable Eco-tourism however involves more than providing suitable vacations for the “tree-hugging” traveller. Its objective is to preserve the diversity of the world’s natural and cultural resources. The International Eco-tourism Society defines eco-tourism as “responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the welfare of local people.” It accommodates travellers in a way that limits their impact on the environment and cultural heritage while supporting the growth of local economies. Eco-tourism strives to maximize the economic, environmental and social benefits of tourism. According to the World Tourism Organization, eco-tourism is considered to be the fastest growing market in the tourism industry. .
Eco-tourism in India
In India, eco-tourism is still at a nascent stage but the potential is vast. India is a land of diverse geography and culture. Its topography boasts a varied range of flora and fauna. It is home to numerous rare and endangered species. There are currently about 80 national parks and 441 sanctuaries in India. Numerous botanical and zoological gardens are working towards the enhancement of the ecosystem. Poaching has been curbed to a large extent. There are severe punishments for poachers, hunters and illegal traders of flora and fauna. Several organisations work for the protection of the natural and cultural resources. Thenmala in Kerala was the first planned eco-tourism destination in India. There are also determined efforts to save the vulnerable Himalayan ecosystem as well as the heritage of its indigenous people. Resorts tucked deep within the jungles of Karnataka, the house-boats of Kerala and the varied wildlife of Assam all combine to make India one of the most diverse eco-tourism destinations on the planet.
PRINCIPLES OF ECO-TOURISM
- Regardless of your nationality, everyone is a stakeholder in this pursuit. Travelling could mean a long-haul flight to the opposite end of the world or hitchhiking across your state. As a traveller, you will undoubtedly have an impact on the people and environment of your destination. Here are some suggestions to make this impact more positive! Learn about your destination. Read guidebooks, travel articles, novels by local authors and pay particular attention to customs such as greetings, appropriate dress and eating behaviours. Being sensitive to these customs will increase local acceptance of you as a tourist and enrich your journey.
- Follow established guidelines. Ask your tour operator, guide or the local authorities what their guidelines are for limiting tourism’s impact on the environment and local culture.
- To minimize your impact in sensitive areas, stay on marked trails, properly dispose off waste material and remain set distances away from wildlife.
- Support locally-owned businesses. This ensures maximum benefit for the local community from your spending.
- Carry back all non-degradable waste such as empty bottles, tins and plastic bags. These must not litter the environment or be buried. These must be disposed of in municipal dustbins only.
- Observe the sanctity of holy sites, temples and local cultures. Respect local traditions.
- Reduce noise pollution. Do not blare aloud radios, tape recorders or other audio equipment in nature resorts, sanctuaries and wildlife parks.
- Respect people’s privacy while taking photographs. Ask for prior permission before taking a photograph.
- Do not remove flora and fauna in the forms of cuttings, seeds or roots. There are laws prohibiting this practice. Most ecosystems are extremely delicate and the protection of bio-diversity is imperative.
- Polythene and plastics are non-biodegradable and unhealthy for the environment. They must not be used.
- No littering. No exceptions.
- Do not use pollutants, such as detergent, in streams and springs while washing.
- Do not use wood as fuel to for cooking at campsites.
- Do not leave cigarettes butts or make open fires in the Forests.
- Do not tempt the locals, especially children by offering them foodstuff or sweets.