Best Practices: Center for Ecotourism of Kerala Institute of Tourism and Travel Studies (KITTS) - ‘Uniting Communities – Creating Sustainability’

Best Practices: Center for Ecotourism of Kerala Institute of Tourism and Travel Studies (KITTS) - ‘Uniting Communities – Creating Sustainability’

 

By: Dr. Rajashree Ajith*

       Babu Rengaraj**

 

Kerala – the ‘God’s Own Country’ is the model destination for the global tourists entered into the international tourism market after announcing tourism as an industry in 1986 and 

Inaugural function of Naturalist Course by Sri. A.P. Anil Kumar, Hon. Minister for Tourism, Government of Kerala

thereafter, the state has witnessed commendable growth and produced sustainable models by taking the benefit of tourism into communities and involving them in conservational activities. Ecotourism initiatives of Government of Kerala is one of the aspiring step aiming to ensure community well-being and conservation of the natural resources of the state especially in an around the protected and other reserved forest areas. Western Ghats, one of the 18 biodiversity hotspots in the world, is home for the existence of wide varieties of endemic and endangered species which forms unique biological resources in the State of Kerala. In order to protect the biological diversity, the Government of Kerala has established 21 Protected Areas (16 wildlife sanctuary and 5 national parks) spread over 1736.88 sq.km provides a platform for promoting ecotourism in the state.

 

Realizing the importance of conserving these resources and to provide an opportunity to Inaugural function of Regional Workshop on Ecotourism by Sri. A.P. Anil Kumar, Hon. Minister for Tourism, Government of Keralavisitors to understand and experience the biological values in a sustainable manner, the Government of Kerala adopted ecotourism as a strategy for promoting sustainable tourism practices in the state. As a result, the ecotourism initiatives of Kerala begun with the launch of India’s first planned ecotourism model at Thenmala of Kollam district on the foot hills of Western Ghats in the year 2001. Moreover, ecotourism was launched in Periyar Tiger Reserve (PTR), Thekkady of Idukki district emphasizing community participation in the ecotourism management as part of the Indian Eco Development Project in the year 1996. The outcomes of ecotourism initiatives in Thenmala and Thekkady inspired the policy makers to extend the same in other potential areas of Kerala. Moreover, the Department of Tourism, Government of Kerala has established a separate Directorate for Ecotourism in 1999 to implement and monitor the initiatives of ecotourism in the state.  

 

Today, the Directorate of Ecotourism is implementing ecotourism programmes incorporating the local dependent community members especially involving the indigenous people in 64 identified places and in addition to this, 105 places have also been identified as ecotourism potential places by the Directorate of Ecotourism, Government of Kerala. In order to promote community participation in ecotourism management, the Directorate of Ecotourism has formulated an innovative participatory approach called Eco Development Committees (EDCs) in Protected Areas and Vana Samrakshna Samithi (VSS) in the reserved forest areas of the state.

 

Ecotourism and Community Livelihood in Kerala

 

Since all ecotourism destinations of Kerala are located in the rural areas where people are living Below Poverty Line (BPL) such as Scheduled Tribes (SC), Scheduled Castes (SC) and Participants in preparation of Micro Reports on Ecotourism Product Development held at MarayoorOther Backward Communities (OBC), the Ecotourism initiatives in Kerala basically aims to maximize the grass root benefits to community members while participating them into conservational activities. Today, ecotourism is being implemented in 21 protected areas of the state as well as identified reserved forest areas where local dependent community members both males and females belong to indigenous and other backward community are involved in various ecotourism management practices. In addition to this, the Directorate of Ecotourism has identified 56 spots for further development of ecotourism in the state. The details of families who are involved in ecotourism management in Kerala are given in the following table to highlight the importance of ecotourism as a livelihood benefits for poor people;

 

Table 1

Details of VSS and Families involving in Ecotourism Management

 

    Sl.No

   Name of Districts

No of VSS

No of Families

SC

ST

Others

Total

1

Trivandrum

20

394

1045

855

2294

2

Kollam

32

848

910

1810

3568

3

Pathanamthitta

53

807

1145

3739

5691

4

Idukki

64

1043

2867

3653

7563

5

Ernakulam

17

208

820

629

1657

6

Trissur

41

1020

588

4626

6234

7

Palakkad

41

1206

1631

4809

7646

8

Malappuram

44

628

1531

5344

7503

9

Wayanad

35

79

2574

3358

6011

10

Calicut

17

310

95

2215

2620

11

Kannur

34

519

2019

5760

8358

 

Grand Total

398

7062

15225

36798

59085

% of Families

11.95

25.77

62.28

100.00

 

Source: Department of Forest, Government of Kerala (May 2013)

Note: SC – Scheduled Caste, ST – Scheduled Tribes (they are economically backward communities)

 

 

Table 2

Details of EDC and Families involving in Ecotourism Management

 

Sl.No

   Name of Districts

No  of   EDC

No. of families

SC

ST

Others

Total

1

Trivandrum

31

972

843

470

2285

2

Kollam

9

207

Nil

346

553

3

Idukki

106

2053

1054

3460

6567

4

Trissur

12

178

171

487

836

5

Palakkad

14

34

461

255

750

6

Wayanad

15

18

716

70

804

7

Kannur

3

Nil

623

Nil

623

 

Grand Total

190

3462

3868

5088

12418

% of Families

27.88

31.15

40.97

100.00

Source: Department of Forest, Government of Kerala (May 2013)

Note: SC – Scheduled Caste, ST – Scheduled Tribes

 

 

At present, there are 190 EDC and 398 VSS established in the 21 protected areas as well as other reserved forest areas consisting of 71503 families across the state. All ecotourism sites are located in the remote areas and the people involved in ecotourism management belong to economically backward communities such as Scheduled Tribes (indigenous people), Scheduled Castes and other marginalized people. The people incorporated in VSS and EDC are engaged various activities such as forest protection, station management and ecotourism management. Each EDC and VSS is consisting of both women and men and accordingly they have been assigned to undertake various ecotourism related activities. Out of the total families, 11.95% of families belong to Scheduled Caste (SC) are involving in VSS programme whereas 27.88% of the same category are taking part in EDC programmes. In the case of indigenous community, it is found that 25.77% of them are involved in VSS while 31.15% are the members in EDCs. Regarding the other marginalized people, 62.28% take part in VSS programme and 40.97% of other community are the members in EDC. The details of the families taking part in EDC and VSS programmes are given in the following table;

 

 

Table 3

Proportion of EDC / VSS Population in Ecotourism Management

 

Types

Nos

SC

%

ST

%

Others

%

Total

VSS

398

7062

11.95

15225

25.77

36798

62.28

59085

EDC

190

3462

27.88

3868

31.15

5088

40.97

12418

Total

588

10524

14.72

19093

26.70

41886

58.58

71503

 

Source: Department of Forest, Government of Kerala (May 2013)

 

 

Though about 71503 families are depending on EDC and VSS, the level of income to the members of EDC and VSS varying from place to place based on tourist arrival and other economic activities. The experience shows that the level of income to the members at popular ecotourism destinations are comparatively higher than that of the members of lesser known ecotourism destinations. It is also noticed that the average monthly income of a member belong to either VSS or EDC in the ecotourism areas is ranging from Rs.3000 and above and their income varies based on the number of tourist arrivals and income generated.

 

KITTS and Ecotourism Development in Kerala

 

Kerala Institute of Tourism and Travel Studies (KITTS) established in 1988 under the Ministry of Participants in preparation of Micro Reports on Ecotourism Product Development held at MarayoorTourism, Government of Kerala is located at the heart of the capital city of Kerala - Trivandrum which is a pioneer institute in providing quality education in travel, tourism and hospitality sector in the country. This institute is an affiliate member of UNWTO and member in the Knowledge Network of UNWTO. KITTS is also the Vice President of Affiliate Members of UNWTO in Asia Pacific Region. The two years full time MBA Travel and Tourism approved by All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) and affiliated to University of Kerala is a flagship programme of KITTS. KITTS is also the nodal agency for implementing various projects / programmes of Ministry of Tourism, Government of India as well as Department of Tourism, Government of Kerala.

 

The institute has been extending its core service to ecotourism development in Kerala by undertaking various research studies and organizing training / capacity building programmes to the members of Eco Development Committee (EDC) and Vana Samrakshna Samithi (VSS) and conducting regional workshops for them at frequent intervals. Realizing the key role of KITTS in promoting ecotourism in the state, the institute is in the process of launching Center for Ecotourism (CET) at KITTS main campus as a specialized wing to promote ecotourism in the protected area networks of the state of Kerala as well as other parts of the county. The vision of Center for Ecotourism (CET) is to promote the goals of sustainable development of ecotourism through a continuous learning process ensuring sustainable ecotourism practices and projects focusing on community livelihood and conservation of resources.

 

The Naturalist Course of CET of KITTS

 

Realizing the demand for professionals in ecotourism management practices, particularly for promoting education and creating awareness among tourists on local specific flora and fauna, Participants in preparation of Ecotourism Resource Mapping held at Marayoorthe Center for Ecotourism of KITTS has launched a flagship programme of Two Months Certificate Course in Naturalist for the members of EDC and VSS in association with Directorate of Ecotourism, Government of Kerala.  The aim of this course is to train the community members involved in ecotourism destinations on various aspects of ecotourism management practices and to strengthen their knowhow on local specific geographical features. Ecotourism practices, visitor management strategies and techniques, communication skills, manners and etiquettes, resource management, nature guiding skills, first aid practices and product development etc are the core subjects of the course.

 

KITTS has already trained 30 members of EDC and VSS in the first batch whom were sponsored by Directorate of Ecotourism, Government of Kerala from important ecotourism destinations of the state. Case studies, preparation of micro reports and resource mapping analysis were also discussed during the course. During the end of the programme a field visit to Peechi – Vazhani Wildlife Sanctuary of Thrissur district was conducted for the participants to examine their knowledge gained through the course by an external specialist. The Center for Ecotourism of KITTS has received great appreciation from the authority of ecotourism destinations of the state for the conduct of Naturalist Course as the course has inspired and enhanced the participants to extend quality services to visitors and contribute to the conservation of resources.

 

The Way Ahead

Participants in preparation of Ecotourism Resource Mapping held at Marayoor

 

With the great support from the Ministry of Tourism, Government of Kerala, the indust

ry partners and communities along with the inspiring leadership of KITTS, the Center for Ecotourism is in the voyage to make ecotourism resurrect in the Asia Pacific Regions and across the globe. The Center for Ecotourism is in the process of evaluating all ecotourism destinations in the State of Kerala and taking efforts to carry out the same in other state of India also. The core areas, apart from the research, consultancy, training and development, in the pipeline of Center for Ecotourism are as follows;

 

·         Evaluation of Ecotourism Destinations

·         Developing unique and theme based Ecotourism Villages (The Ecotourism Corridor)

·         Creating Community Lead Ecotourism Practices and Enterprises

·         Ecotourism Learning Programme for Professionals and Community Members

·         Developing GIS enabled Integrated Ecotourism Destinations Management

·         Eco Certifications and Fixing Standards for Ecodestinations

 

Efforts are being taken by the Center for Ecotourism of KITTS to develop model ecotourism villages in the State of Kerala and integrate them under Kerala Ecotourism Corridor and extend the same in other parts of India as well as Asia Pacific Regions. Center for Ecotourism is also in the process of bringing innovations for transforming the concept of Community Based Ecotourism into Community Lead Ecotourism which ensure long term financial assistance for conservation and economic benefits to community members involved in ecotourism activities. Thus, the Center for Ecotourism of KITTS has commenced its voyage to Unite Communities for Creating Sustainability to produce meaningful outcomes in ecotourism destinations to achieve the goals of sustainable development.

 

 

 

 
   

 



*Director, Kerala Institute of Tourism & Travel Studies (KITTS), Thycaud, Trivandrum, Kerala, India – Pin 695 014. Email: drrajashreeajith@gmail.com, director@kittsedu.org website: www.kittsedu.org

 

**Assistant Professor, Kerala Institute of Tourism & Travel Studies (KITTS), Thycaud, Trivandrum, Kerala, India – Pin 695 014. Email: tourbabu@gmail.com, babu@kittsedu.org website: www.kittsedu.org

 

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