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Ecotourism Society of India (ESOI) Offers Workshop on Tourism and Natural Heritage Preservation
By Sayoni Bhaduri
In a series of workshops organised by the Ecotourism Society of India, the effort has been to create awareness and preserve the fast vanishing natural heritage that the country has. The 11th ESOI workshop, held at Aurangabad, Maharashtra brought together the fraternity from the town and surrounding areas to discuss issues, challenges and the way forward.
Aligning natural heritage with tourism
Ecotourism Society of India (ESOI) workshops have been designed to bring together different stake-holders who are working intrinsically in areas of eco-tourism. And the 11th edition of the workshop held in Aurangabad, Maharashtra brought to life issues and challenges as well as showcased case studies of success. In the introductory session, Rakesh Mathur, director and principal advisor Zinc InVision Hospitality as well as honorary VP and founding member of ESOI expressed that in the last 10 years there has been a quantum jump in domestic tourism and with that huge concerns have also arisen. He considers these workshops to be small steps towards a big vision of giving something back to the environments and eco-system.
Tourism has great role to play in an economy, both at macro and micro level. As stake-holders need to consider that the most important stakeholders – the local communities – are important. Seema Bhatt, independent consultant for climate, conservationad ecotourism said, "Of every US$100 spent only US$5 stays within the local economy." This is apart from other challenges that tourism has brought in, like vulnerability of children, health challenges, drug trafficking. Also the environment itself, code of conduct and ethics, degradation, pollution, carrying capacity is subjects that need to be first understood and then discussed to bring in reforms.
While there are serious challenges, it is also tourism which has the solutions as well. Homestays for instance said Bhatt allow locals to have additional source of income. In places like Manas in Assam, extremists and infiltrators are now the ones protecting the park and its animals. Similarly in Periyar, the forest department is working with people who were earlier cinnamon bark poachers to be guides for people coming in. These positive stories were achieved by paying attention to things like training and capacity building, education and awareness, feedback and cross site visits.
Of the success stories within India, Vinay Luthra, additional principal chief conservator of forests, government of Karnataka elucidated on the Jungle Lodges and Resorts. He brought to light that jungles are not just about the big mammals but also the flora and fauna.
"There have to be trained nature guides and naturalists who are able to interpret the nature in a way that interests and enthuse the tourists coming," he added. Activities make eco-tourism more interesting, there have to be experiences that a tourist can take back. For all of this local communities have to be closely involved as no one knows the forest better than them. Infrastructure should be deisgned and built in such a way that it is not a misfit in the surroundings, best would be use locally available resources to develop this. Lastly, casual tourists need to be discouraged; sensitive areas like forests need quality tourists and not just quantities, especially since carrying capacity is a challenge.
The caves of Ajanta, have also undergone restoration and conservation from funding received from JBRC and AEDP. The conservation included no unplanned growth around the caves, no cars zone and no pollution zone. "We are also looking at completing a four kilometres long bicycle track made with a total investment of four crore," said, Chandrashekhar Jaiswal, senior regional manager, MTDC, Aurangabad.
Non-tourism related private sector companies also have a vision towards conservation. Hyder Ali from Kinetic Engineering gave a demonstration as to how battery operated vehicles provide an opportunity to reduce pollution to sensitive environmental zones. Some of these vehicles can be customised to ferry tourists from point-to-point.