World tourism is stepping up to new expectations. World tourism has slowly started to recover from the disasters created by the Covid 19 pandemic. It is in this context that this year’s World Tourism Day is celebrated.
The Covid pandemic has made us realize that tourism is the most vulnerable business in the world, from being the largest employer and prestigious business in the world. That is why UNWTO thought of a new slogan – Rethinking Tourism – for the World Tourism Day 2022 in order to make it a more sustainable, inclusive and resilient business sector that places importance on land and people.
This, of course, demands moving together by governments, industry and local communities around an integrated vision.
The core of this integrated approach is building a sector based on the ethos of sustainable and responsible tourism development process.
That is the position that Kerala has been taking for ages.
Experts have already commented that the projects and ideas put forward by Kerala in this field are innovative and exemplary. A few weeks ago, Kerala received 4 Gold Awards for its Responsible Tourism Mission activities at the Indian Subcontinent Awards, part of the International Center for Responsible Tourism.
Small and large entrepreneurs need to have attitudes that can give them confidence when tourism has to travel with Covid. In that regard, the revolving fund scheme implemented by the Kerala government through the Responsible Tourism Mission has been a relief to the entrepreneurs to some extent.
When the world is debating about the modernization of the tourism sector, the model developed by Kerala and the activities of the Responsible Tourism Mission Kerala towards participatory tourism becomes an interesting case study.
Emergence of experiential tourism: Experiential tourism has gained great importance all over the world. In that regard, the special village experiences packages introduced by the Responsible Tourism Mission have evoked great appreciation from experts. One and a half million families now derive employment and income from the tourism sector through 24,000 Responsible Tourism Mission Units that connect local people with tourism. It is particularly significant that out of the total revenue of INR 57 crore so far, INR 14 crore is post-Covid.
We were able to provide various vocational training to 5800 people during the same period. Indigenous tourism and rural tourism have now gained great importance. Taking advantage of this, activities of responsible tourism mission are being carried out in 118 local self-government bodies in Kerala.
Product diversification: When activities of the tourism sector are subjected to re-thinking and audit, we cannot ignore product diversification. Kerala has already made great strides in product diversification.
A new farm tourism program called Kerala Agri Tourism Network is a major intervention led by the State government’s Responsible Tourism Mission to link agricultural activities with tourism without any disruption to agriculture. This scheme came into existence at a time when we were hit hard by Covid19. 1350 farmers were trained as part of the project. 540 units, big and small, have already started functioning. It is particularly noteworthy that a total of 75000 local tourists visited these units delivering an additional income of INR 2 crore to these farms.
In addition to packages like Village Life Experience and Cultural Experience, tourists are using culinary experience packages where they can enjoy a variety of food. It is also worth mentioning that responsible tourism classification for hotels and resorts has been implemented in our state for the first time in the country.
Caravan tourism is a notable government intervention for product diversification during this period.
Decentralized tourism: Kerala is the first state which successfully demonstrated decentralized planning to the world. But it was only during the 25th anniversary celebration of ‘Janakeeya Asoothranam’ (People’s Planning programme) last year that we were able to make tourism the main development agenda in the local self-government bodies.
The ‘Destination Challenge Scheme’ announced by the State Tourism Department is a historic intervention in this field. Local self-governing bodies become a key stakeholder and employer in the tourism sector and at the same time they can collaborate with the destination challenge by using plan funds. Through this scheme, the unknown and unexplored tourism centers of Kerala are being discovered by the masses.
Beypore and Maravanthuruthu – New models of participatory tourism development: While UNWTO calls for integrated action models of local community, governments, entrepreneurs and local self-government bodies, Kerala has created two excellent models for the whole world to see. The comprehensive responsible tourism project in Beypore and the STREET (Sustainable, Tangible, Responsible, Experiential, Ethnic, Tourism) project in Maravanthuruthu are the latest examples of Kerala’s participatory tourism development.
Since the initial discussions of the responsible tourism project in Beypore, there has been tremendous participation of thousands of people in it. The popular tourism resource directory and tour packages and the popular Beypore Water Fest are examples of that.
On the other hand, 18 canals and rivers that became garbage carriers in Maravanthuruthu have been deepened and protected as Water Streets under the leadership of the panchayat with the participation of the Responsible Tourism Development Committee. Local tourism activities including kayaking have started there.
The jury of the ICRT Award itself noted that Maravanthuruthu Water Street is an example of how water conservation can be achieved through tourism. The history of the country has become pictures on the walls as a popular movement in the streets of Maravanthuru.
The world is in the process of redefining and restructuring tourism. At this junction it is important that tourism promoters remember that only those activities which are built around the local flora and fauna, the culture, folklores of a place and integrated with the life of the local people can only sustain in the new normal. Kerala Tourism and its Responsible Tourism Mission can take pride in the fact that the state has been able to travel a long way in this direction already!
The author is State Responsible Tourism Mission Coordinator, Kerala