Thursday, 10 May 2012

Stepping up Sustainability...


It’s been a few decades now since Kerala adopted the ‘Gods Own Country’ slogan to improve tourism by highlighting the Green natural beauty and cultural collage of the State. No doubt this has been a resounding success and, thanks to the Tourism department’s thought leadership, Kerala has become a permanent fixture as a top travel destination in India.

No doubt the rapid growth in Tourism has provided a boost to the economy, helping improve local employment and putting Kerala on the Global Travel map. But this growth also raises several key questions around the Sustainability of the Tourism Industry, and the Strategy to retain and grow the business. 

For example:
  • Can this rate of Tourism be sustained? 
  • What is the Human, Cultural and Environmental impact of increased Tourism? 
  • What measures is Kerala taking to make Tourism sustainable?
I think these questions are even more relevant for Kerala because the ecotourism narrative is based on the ‘Green’ story. Though Tourism can contribute to economic development and popularity, if not controlled and monitored it could have serious negative socio-cultural and environmental impacts. Since Eco-tourism depends on quality of the Natural environment and resources, the promotion of these is usually characterized by fast short term development which generally tends to damage the same assets which it tries to promote!

Why Sustainability?

One definition of Sustainability is ‘capable of being sustained’. It encompasses a thought philosophy where the method of operation pays attention to protection and betterment of ecology, society and economy.

Sustainability today be seen as an opportunity or threat. Since Kerala is hinging on the Green tourist, it needs to see Sustainable operations as an opportunity to differentiate and actively lead this initiative. This means putting mechanisms in place to promote Tourism which is economically viable, but does not destroy the Natural resources on which it depends, notably the beauty and integrity of the Physical environment and social structure of local community. 

Adopting Sustainability principles encourages the understanding of Natural Human, Cultural and Environmental impact. The goal should be to make sure the stress on Tourism is balanced with load carrying capacity of the ecosystem.

Approaches to Sustainability

Sustainability principles can be applied to a broad variety of areas. There is also no scientific way of choosing and building processes to benchmark and function. So its best left to the stakeholders to define, measure and improve a prioritized set of operational goals. There are some general roadmaps that can help structure the approach.

Start with recognizing the opportunity, get a survey done and quantify the various areas that are of interest. Form a Core team involving representatives from Government, NGO’s and Host representatives to prioritize research and choose the best ideas. Once this is done, setup a Tourism sustainability organization with a mission to reinforce the value at the operational level and help train and empower the service providers. Continuous improvements are possible using feedback from the Visitors by having online surveys etc. A Sustainable Tourism management strategy should be put in place for every destination in the State. Training programs for Tourism employees, Tourism dependent workers and Quality control schemes should be introduced as part of everyday management.

A key success factor to Sustainable operation and improvement is the ability to monitor and improve. Tools like Sustainability Green Scorecard and Responsibility Metrics can be used to actively track and publish the results of the efforts. Kerala should also actively seek innovative ideas which have local content. For example, adopt vernacular architecture like that of Laurie Baker, encourage local organic produce in Restaurants, include a small environmental fee as part of visitor tickets, etc are some examples.

For Kerala, the tipping point for promoting sustainable practices may be precisely where opportunity and necessity to protect the land intersect. The driver has to be the self interest of the State rather than waiting for a National Government order or Regulation policy that it is forced to comply. That type of enforcement results in inefficient Organization and poorly implemented controls since there is no one size fits all Sustainability approach. 

A responsible Sustainability and Environmental Protection initiative should influence all policy making initiatives which has impact Environment and Cultural Tourism. Such an initiative will also enable Kerala based companies to make new investments in facilities and personnel necessary to legitimize and grow the industry and position Kerala as a Sustainability leader in other Indian markets. This will attract further investment and Capital inflow for developmental projects to help increase the Tourism capacity of the State.

- Mahinth Gokul
@Mahinth on Twitter

The Writer is an Artist and a Sustainability Consultant Advisor for  companies on Environmental initiatives from Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala. 


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