Why the World Needs Sustainable Tourism: Spotlight on Kerala’s Responsible Tourism Initiative

On October 20, 2017, Chief Minister of Kerala Pinarayi Vijayan launched the Responsible Tourism initiative, a statewide program aimed at “making better places for people to visit and better places for people to live in” (Naguran, 2017). The Responsible Tourism initiative operates within the “triple bottom line” model often utilized by companies pursuing sustainability. The triple bottom line refers to responsibility and conservation in the economic, social, and environmental spheres. The project has existed on a smaller scale in Kerala since 2007, when it was implemented in Kovalam, Kumarakom, Thekkady, and Vythiri (News18, 2017). These pilot programs proved successful, earning the state the National Tourism Award of India (News18, 2017). In 2012, the program was implemented in three additional destinations. Kerala won two additional National Tourism Awards, this time for civic management and rural tourism development. In 2013, Kerala’s Responsible Tourism program was recognized on an even wider scale when it was conferred the United Nations World Tourism Organization’s Ulysses Award for Excellence and Innovation in Tourism (News18, 2017). Kerala was the first Indian destination to receive this award.

Now in its twelfth year, the Responsible Tourism initiative administers a number of programs including marketing village programs, a live directory of skilled artisans in each Keralite destination, and its acclaimed Village Life Experience package (Nair, 2017). This tour package focuses on bringing tourists to the rural parts of Kerala and allowing them to engage with cultural and natural wonders. The tours are curated and customizable, meaning that each tourist will have a unique experience. The Village Life Experience tour is a model for sustainable tourism in that it creates authentic, variable experiences. Tour activities include canoeing, rope-making, handloom, and earthenware design. The revenues from the tour flow directly to villagers and help maintain the traditional handicrafts and art forms of rural Kerala. The majority of activities are led by women, in accordance with the tourism initiative’s goal of women’s empowerment (Naguran, 2017).

The Responsible Tourism initiative has also begun to focus on waste management and the cleanliness of its destinations. Saddled with the influx of foreigners and tourists, trash and litter have increasingly become a problem across the state (Naguran, 2017). Chief Minister Vijayan has stated Kerala’s dedication to the development of programs to manage this and other “side effects” of tourism. As the program grows, Kerala Tourism hopes to deliver vocational training to 50,000 agricultural workers, industrial laborers, and marginalized villagers across twenty different village destinations. The ultimate goal of the Responsible Tourism initiative is to create 150,000 tourism-related jobs by 2022 (Nair, 2017).

Programs like Kerala’s Responsible Tourism are crucial to the sustainable tourism effort worldwide. As discussed in the first installment of Why the World Needs Sustainable Tourism, mass tourism is a sort of postcolonial reenactment of the pillaging of developing areas by the West. The repatriation of tourism operations and infrastructure in postcolonial areas such as India is the much-needed counterbalance to overtourism. Best of all, the Keralite model is relatively simple and can be recreated in developing destinations across the world. Its blueprint of working with local governing bodies and service providers as well as streamlining previously disparate marketing efforts into one channel can serve as a guide for other sustainable tourism initiatives. The Responsible Tourism initiative is proof of tourism’s ability to empower and uplift developing communities; as such, it is nothing short of a beacon of hope.

References:

News18. All You Need to Know About Kerala Tourism’s Responsible Tourism. (2017, February 09). Retrieved April 10, 2019, from https://www.news18.com/news/lifestyle/travel-all-you-need-to-know-about-kerala-tourisms-responsible-tourism-1346843.html

Hagan, M. (2017, March 06). Responsible Tourism in Kerala. Retrieved April 10, 2019, from https://www.travelmag.com/articles/responsible-tourism-kerala/

Naguran, M. (2017, November 16). Kerala Launches State-Wide Responsible Tourism Initiative. Retrieved April 10, 2019, from https://www.gaiadiscovery.com/latest-places/kerala-responsible-tourism-initiative

Nair, J. (2017, October 19). Kerala to launch Responsible Tourism Mission – Times of India. Retrieved April 10, 2019, from https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/kochi/kerala-to-launch-responsible-tourism-mission/articleshow/61142266.cms

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