The global travel industry is on an upward trajectory. International tourist arrivals grew for the eighth consecutive year, a sequence of uninterrupted growth not seen since the 1960s, according to the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO).
With everything from the snow-capped mountains of the Himalayas to the beaches of Goa, ayurveda and yoga retreats of Kerala, the ancient city of Varanasi, Taj Mahal in Agra to the forts of Rajasthan, three dozen world heritage sites and over a 100 national parks, India stands to benefit. It will become the fourth largest travel and tourism economy behind China, the US, and Germany in the coming decade, according to a report by the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC).
While the number of global tourists to the country is on the rise, Indians are also travelling a lot more. Indians account for 90% of domestic travellers. Whereas, the numbers of those holidaying abroad is also likely to treble by 2025, a February 2018 report by the Centre for Aviation (CAPA) said.
However with tens of millions of people visiting tourist hot spots, overcrowding and the damage caused by swarming holiday makers is now a growing reality. Besides, tourists also cause a strain on local infrastructure and even on the pockets of residents thanks to the rise in rentals due to sites such as Airbnb Inc.
Earlier this month, the Himachal government said that it will look at restricting tourists to the ecologically fragile Lahaul-Spiti area. In January, the central government announced steps to cap the number of visitors at the Taj Mahal following a minor stampede that left five people injured at one of the entrance gates.
Worldwide, in April, Boracay, one of the top tourist islands in the Philippines , closed down for visitors for six months citing maintenance. A year-ago, Machu Picchu enforced rules like timed entry and limited tickets, to regulate large crowds.
Even enablers such as Airbnb, which made travelling easier and more affordable, are facing the ire of local residents. People in popular tourist destinations such as Venice, Barcelona and Amsterdam, are saying: “Enough tourists; we don’t want any more," UNWTO’s Taleb Rifai told The Economist in December.
Taking flights, a basic requirement for most international holidaymakers generates about 2% of global greenhouse gas emissions. And tourism’s share of worldwide greenhouse gas emissions was estimated at 5%. This is expected to grow in the coming years, The Economist’s December 2017 report titled ‘Sustainable Tourism Index: Enhancing the global travel environment’ said.
Yet, travelling is not all bad. On the plus side, the sector’s economic contribution is enormous. WTTC estimates that travel and tourism, including ancillary units, contributed 10% of the world’s gross domestic product (GDP) in 2016, and accounted for just under 10% of its total employment. For the subcontinent, tourism generated more than $230 billion in 2017, up from almost $209 billion in 2016, Bloomberg’s Adam Popescu wrote in a July report.
Given that we would like to travel, the only alternative is to do it in a sustainable and responsible manner. The very places we visit to admire and enjoy should remain relevant and intact even for our future generations.
The concept of sustainable tourism can be traced back to the 1970s. Swiss academician and researcher Jost Krippendorf wrote about the devastation caused by tourism on the pristine alpine landscape and the need for lifestyle and behavioural change in his two books, the first published in 1975, Die Landschaftsfresser (The Landscape Eaters), and the second, Die Ferienmenschen in 1984, which was translated into English, as The Holiday Makers: understanding the impact of leisure and travel in 1987, remains a standard text.
All the same, The Economist’s Sustainable Tourist Index finds that the world’s developed countries have done more at the national level than their emerging-world rivals to formulate policies and ensure protection of their cultural and historical assets.
India’s government, too, has been developing policies relating to sustainable tourism. However, there are no mechanisms for implementing them, Ahmad Mir Lateef, a research scholar at Vikram University told The Economist.
Yet, it was only in 2017, that the UN made sustainable tourism for development the theme for the year for the first time.
Encouraging signs are also being seen in African countries, including Botswana and Uganda. Eco-tourism contributes about 5-10% towards these countries’ GDP. These are encouraging signs. The future is full of hope.