Once upon a time, we looked forward to summer or winter vacations when our parents would take us to new places for travelling. The kind of places would differ among families, and for some, it would only be a day-travel destination.
However, in this millennium, travelling has changed into an interesting and enviable hobby to add to his/her portfolio. Travel bloggers are abundant, and some blogs are even giving out 10 quick points to help the lazy and impatient traveler to complete his bucket list of travel. Of course travel and tourism helps in the growth of the local economy of the destination, but is it always about money?
We all love to visit serene places, click that perfect Insta shot, and then immerse in the beauty the locations have to offer. What if these places no longer look the same after few years? What if they look dirty, and the place where you clicked that beautiful picture during your honeymoon, looks nothing more than a dump yard? Would you go back there again, or recommend any friends to go?
This is the case that has happened with many of our favourite places, which were once the to-go spots but now everyone frowns at the idea of going there. In India, places like Darjeeling and Shimla are nothing like they used to be even 20 years back. We, the tourists, have invaded these places, had our share of fun, and left the city with unfathomable amounts of waste that the locals have to deal with. And now, we are looking for more “off-beat” places to explore. Why? So that we can ruin them, too?
The Goa Story
Ask any millennial which is his favourite place for travelling in India, and most of them would say Goa. Prior to 1986, Goa used to be a 100 km long coastline, with idyllic beaches and the crystal blue Arabian Sea. Locals depended on fishing, toddy-tapping and paddy growing for their livelihood. Tourism was limited to few Indian tourists, backpackers and some foreigners. There were a few hotels, which were mostly owned by locals, and tourist visits in a year did not even reach a million.
And then happened the Big Bang- the first package holidays from Europe to Goa arrived in 1986. Given the beauty of the place, Goa gradually gained popularity and tourists flowed in. And thus increased the demand for Star category hotels, mostly operated by non-locals. Tourism spread to South Goa, and locals got concerned. Local festivals began filling with tourists. The locals held massive protests in 1987, but tourism was more overpowering. Tourist arrivals in Goa reached around 6.8 million a year in 2016.
Foreign tourists were even encouraged, mostly because their expenditures are almost twice as that of domestic tourists. The Government planned to build more communication links through airports, railway station to attract more tourists. Hotels now offer all-inclusive deals, which are attractive to tourists, but not beneficial to the local economy. Goa also earned its reputation as a haven for drugs and illicit trade, with increase in crime rates.
Keeping aside these socio-cultural impacts, Goa also witnessed negative impacts on its environment. Sand dunes and mangrove swamps were destroyed, more and more farmland gave way to build lavish hotels with state of the art facilities. While tourists crave for a poolside resort in Goa, water tables are depleting and water availability for the locals is decreasing. In 2016, several guest houses in Calangute-Baga refused to check-in tourists during the summer as there was acute water shortage and water became costlier. Such water problems have also affected tourism destinations like Bali (Indonesia) and Zanzibar (Tanzania).
Time to be a responsible traveller
Most of the time, we do not realise that our choices during travelling can have an impact on the destination and the locals. It is high time that we amend our travel styles and opt for travelling responsibly. But what is responsible tourism?
Responsible Tourism is about making better places for people to live in and better places for people to visit. – Cape Town Declaration
Responsible tourism can positively impact environment, social aspects of the place, local culture and the economy. With only a few little steps, we can go a long way into travelling responsibly and help make this planet a better place. Here are some pointers for you to start:
1. Look where you are throwing your wrappers
Municipalities are tired of saying “Do not litter”. In most tourist places, there are waste bins in public sight. Segregate your waste and throw into the bins. Some remote places/ “off-beat” places may not have the required infrastructure, so just carry a paper bag or bio-degradable packet and store your waste there. Once you get back to your hotel, throw it in the bin.
2. Plan your own travel or travel with local agencies
Do you know, that a study of Tourism Leakage in Thailand estimated that 70% of all money spent by tourists ended up leaving Thailand!! This is mostly via foreign-owned tour operators, international airlines, hotels, imported drinks and food, etc. Estimates for other countries range from 80% in the Caribbean to 40% in India.
Tourism leakage takes place when revenues from its economic activities are not available for reinvestment or consumption of goods and services within the same destination. As a result, economic resources are “leaked away,” which predominantly occurs when tourism companies are foreign owned and/or when they are based in another country. Large-scale leakage has been associated with mass tourism and high-end, luxury tourism(Scheyvens 2002), both of which tend to be externally controlled. (Source: Jönsson C. (2015) Leakage, economic tourism. In: Jafari J., Xiao H. (eds) Encyclopedia of Tourism. Springer, Cham) and high-end, luxury tourism(Scheyvens 2002), both of which tend to be externally controlled. (Source: Jönsson C. (2015) Leakage, economic tourism. In: Jafari J., Xiao H. (eds) Encyclopedia of Tourism. Springer, Cham)
But if you plan your own travel and directly use local agencies to arrange local sight-seeing or a sunset cruise, whatever money you spend directly goes into the local economy, without commissions for the foreign companies.
3. Engage locally
Remembering a trip to Bhutan, where we were greeted with a booklet at the airport, informing us of local workshops happening across the country. This included workshops on cooking, weaving, pottery or even knowing the flora and fauna of the country. This kind of initiative really helps in understanding the local culture, the efforts that go into making those beautiful handicrafts that we bargain for, and appreciating the original handicrafts. Try visiting local workshops and buy original handicrafts for the price they are worth. Remember, you already saved by not engaging foreign tour operators!
Eat local food and don’t be scared to use plates made from banana leaves or dried sal leaves in India. They are biodegradable, locally made and dirt cheap!
4. Use Public transport
The benefits of using public transport over personal vehicles are well known, and the best part is that you can make new friends on the way. Try cycling, or even walking to explore small towns or villages.
4. Travelling penniless is a myth
We often hear inspiring stories about people who travelled to places without spending any money. They slept in local homes and ate with the locals. Sometimes, the hospitable locals even go out of their way to provide food and shelter to a penniless traveler. But the truth is, every service comes with a cost associated to it. If the traveler isn’t paying it, somebody else is- sometimes even the locals themselves! So instead of contributing to the local economy for the happiness the place is providing to the traveler, they actually harm the economy.
You can be a budget traveler of course, but we need to pay for any service we use. And we have to earn the money to spend it. While some people may have a full time job and save money for travel, others may work part time at the travel destinations and earn their bit, or even exchange for a service. It is not wrong to accept help, but we should also know where to draw the line and act responsibly.
France, world’s top tourist destination as per UNWTO, is setting an example for us to learn in terms of responsible tourism. In fact, consumer demand (around 20%) is increasingly moving towards responsible and sustainable tourism in Europe, with local authorities also pushing forth the issues. For example, France, a biodiversity hotspot, has adopted the UNEP Green passport initiative, which aims to sensitize tourists on the impact of tourism on biodiversity and the environment. It highlights the biodiversity richness and the issues created due to tourism. Check out http://www.unep.fr/greenpassport/ for more ideas.
Back home in India, Kerala is going the sustainable way towards preserving local ethos, as in Kumarakom. While Governments are doing their part to promote responsible tourism, it is upon us to learn some lessons and become responsible in our own ways.
Tell us how you travelled responsibly!