Tourism is the fastest growing industry across the globe. My teacher, Dr Riyaz Ahmad Qureshi, Professor at Department of Tourism, Leisure and Hospitality Studies, University of Kashmir, rightly says in class, “Tourism is like a sky and all the activities under this sky are directly or indirectly related to it”. The remarkable growth rate in tourist arrivals and tourism receipts are attributed to the technological, economic, social, cultural, ecological, institutional and political developments of the post-World War II era. As per the Bureau of Immigration, Government of India, almost 17.91 million international tourist arrivals were recorded in the year 2019.
There are many classifications of modern-day tourism, like Sustainable Tourism, Eco-Tourism, Responsible Tourism, Heritage Tourism, Cultural Tourism, and so on. In this article I am going to discuss Rural Tourism, because somewhere this type of tourism has been ignored so far. I will try to explain how Rural Tourism can be used as a tool to reduce unemployment, divert the attention of tourists from over-visited places to novel places, and to revive our lost culture.
The world’s population lives mainly in large cities that have a lot of concrete, asphalt, skyscrapers, cars, noise, polluted air, fast tempo of life, stress, etc. Tourists now increasingly look for new places, adventures and experiences. Places offering the real rest that tourists seek, they have found it in villages.
Rural tourism includes a series of activities, services and involvement of the rural population. Such facilities are developed mostly on family farms. They offer to the tourist the village environment: springs, rivers, lakes, hospitality, life values of the native population. It is the alternative to mass tourism because it attracts tourists interested in rural cultures and the environmental quality. Rural tourists watch trees, not skyscrapers; they walk through forests, not city streets; they breathe the scent of flowers instead of smog and listen to the chirping of birds instead of the squeaking of car brakes.
Rural tourism means any form of tourism that showcases the rural life, art, culture and heritage at rural locations, thereby benefiting the local community economically and socially as well, enabling interaction between tourists and locals for a more enriching travel experience. Rural Tourism is essentially an activity which takes place in the countryside. It is multi-faceted and may entail farm/ agricultural tourism, cultural tourism, nature tourism, adventure tourism, and eco-tourism. As against conventional tourism, rural tourism has certain typical characteristics, like: it is experience oriented, the locations are sparsely populated, it is mainly in a natural environment, it meshes with seasonality and local events and is based on preservation of culture, heritage and tradition.
Rural Tourism in India
Rural tourism is gaining importance in Indian tourism with its economic and social benefits. It is estimated that Rs 4300 crore additional revenue can be generated through rural tourism. It is going to play a vital role in bridging the gap between rural and urban India. The government, of late, has realized what rural India can offer to the world. The Tenth Five Year Plan (2002-2007) notified Tourism as one of the major sources for generating employment and promoting sustainable livelihoods. The Union ministry of tourism in collaboration with UNDP launched the Endogenous Tourism Project in the year 2004, linked to the existing rural tourism scheme of the government. The UNDP has committed $2.5 million for the project. UNDP will help in areas of capacity building, involvement of NGOs, local communities and artisans forging strong community-private and public sector partnerships. The government has decided to develop necessary infrastructure for facilitating rural tourism. The Ministry of Tourism has formulated a ‘Draft National Strategy and Roadmap for Development of Rural Tourism in India’, an initiative towards “Atmanirbhar Bharat.” It is driven by the spirit of ‘Vocal for Local’.
What Can Rural Tourism Contribute to Society?
Rural tourism, while still only a little tourism market, is making a valuable contribution to rural economies. Its contribution can be expressed not only in financial terms but also in terms of jobs, contributions towards funding conservation, encouragement to the adoption of new working practices, and the injection of a new vitality into sometimes weakened economies. Potentially, rural tourism promises some of the following benefits to rural development:
Job retention: Rural tourism cash flows can assist job retention in services such as retailing, transport, hospitality and medical care. It can also provide additional income for farmers, and, in some cases, for foresters and fishermen. Job retention is not as politically glamorous as job creation, but by helping the viability of small communities, it is critical to the survival of marginal areas.
Job creation typically occurs in the hotel and catering trades, but can also take place in transport, retailing, and in information/ heritage interpretation. Studies in Britain suggest that job creation varies by enterprise type. Farmhouse accommodation and bed-and-breakfast can create up to 23 jobs per $128370 of tourism revenue. Job creation effects are less marked in hotels and caravan/campsites, yielding approximately six jobs per $128370 of revenue.
New Business Opportunities
Tourism generates new opportunities for industry. Even rural businesses not directly involved in tourism can benefit from tourist activity through developing close relationships with tourist facilities where local foods can be used as part of the tourism offered in a small locality. Rural tourism facilitates expansion of complementary businesses such as service stations and new businesses are created to cater to tourist needs for hospitality services, recreational activities and arts/crafts.
Opportunities for Youth
The tourism industry is often promoted as an exciting and growing industry suited to the energies and enthusiasm of young people. Career options are enhanced with the opportunities for training and direct involvement in running tourism businesses, especially those within small communities.
Visitor information services can be provided by existing outlets, such as shops, thus increasing income flows if payment is made for acting as information outlets. Services can also benefit by the additional customers which visitors provide. Finally, tourism’s importance to national economies can strengthen the political case for subsidies to help retain services.
Community diversification is an important activity in many upland and climatically marginal regions. Forest regions have suffered serious socio-economic problems in recent years, partly because of the mechanization of tree felling and processing, and partly because of falling prices following reduced timber demand. Rural tourism can assist forestry by diversifying income sources for forest communities if the special qualities of the forest environment for recreational use are realized and developed.
Preservation of Rural Culture and Heritage
In rural tourism the sense of place is a fundamental element for both the tourists and the host community’s feelings of what makes the area attractive to visit and live in. This sense of place is maintained partly through rural museums which play a vital role in preserving heritage.
Boost Arts and Crafts
Arts and crafts have a special place in the cultural heritage of regions and nations. Many commentators have noted that tourism can assist arts and crafts, both by recognizing their importance and through the purchase of craft products. Income flows from these activities are well documented. Support between the arts and tourism can be a two-way process. Many communities now use arts and crafts festivals as a marketing mechanism to encourage visitors to come to their areas.
Environmental improvements such as village paving and traffic regulation schemes, sewage and litter disposal can be assisted by tourism revenues and political pressures from tourism authorities. This helps to develop pride of place, important in retaining existing population and businesses, and in attracting new enterprises and families.
Potential in Kashmir
There is no doubt that Kashmir has great potential for rural tourism. If a proper marketing plan is made for rural tourism, it could bring lots of benefits to our society. As we know, we live in a region where unemployment has touched the sky. It is a place where professionals are unemployed in a huge number. This type of tourism can bring some jobs to them with the support of the authorities. It could also be a sustainable revenue-generating project for the rural development of our government. It can help inflow resources from the urban to the rural economy. It can prevent the migration of rural people to urban areas. Environmental management, local involvement, sound legislation, sustainable marketing, and realistic planning are crucial for the development of rural tourism. Rural tourism will emerge as an important instrument for sustainable human development including poverty alleviation, employment generation, environmental regeneration and development of remote areas, and advancement of women and other disadvantaged groups, apart from promoting social integration and international understanding. Both short-term and long-term planning, implementation, and monitoring are vital in avoiding damage to our rural areas.
The writer is a student at Department of Tourism, Hospitality and Leisure Studies, University of Kashmir. [email protected]