New book documents potential of Indian rural tourism sectorMay 6th, 2009 - 4:07 pm ICT by IANS
New Delhi, May 6 (IANS) The growing rural tourism sector in the country has got a shot in the arm with the launch of “Explore Rural India”, a coffee table book compiled by the union tourism ministry that showcases villages as attractive holiday destinations.
“The book acknowledges the fact that apart from heritage, wellness and health tourism, the country also has a vast rural tourism potential,” said Sujit Banerjee, secretary at the tourism ministry.
“Explore Rural India” - an illustrated volume on the country’s rural heritage, arts, crafts and holiday destinations - was released here Tuesday by Cabinet Secretary K.M. Chandrasekhar.
Nearly 74 percent of the Indian population resides in its seven million villages, according to official statistics.
“In the 10th five year plan (2003-2007), the government planned to develop 39 rural tourism sites with the UNDP (United Nations Development Programme) under the Explore Rural India project. Now, the ministry supports 139 sites in 27 states,” said Banerjee.
The book captures the features of the rural communities covered by the project and their traditional ways of life.
“At the core of the concept is community participation to strengthen rural livelihoods, revive dying arts and crafts, generate more jobs and ensure sustainable development,” he added.
Named after the UNDP-tourism ministry project, the book lists facilities and interactive experiences for visitors. It also narrates the stories of people whose lives have been changed by the initiative.
Mayura Balasubramanian, editor of the book, said one of the trends it throws up is the revival of several dying arts and crafts after the implementation of the project.
“For instance, the ancient metal mirror work of Aramula Kannadi, a dying craft from Kerala practised by only seven families, is witnessing a revival because of the interest generated by tourists who visit Aranmula village on the banks of the Pamba river,” Balasubramanian said.
The government is trying to push the rural tourism sites by adding them to popular heritage and wellness itineraries.
“We tell the foreign visitors that at the end of the package holidays, we will take you to a rural tourism destination and serve you breakfast so that you come back to the country again,” explained Banerjee.
Recounting the success of the Explore Rural India project, Banerjee said nearly 1,000 visitors checked into the handcrafted Shaam-e-Sarhad ethnic stay facility in Hodka village of Gujarat’s Kachchh district between October 2006 and March 2008.
Another 1,844 “day visitors” experienced traditional Kachchhi hospitality, craft and music of the Rann. It benefited at least 70 families in Hodka village, including 160 women.
According to Dierdre Boyd, country director of UNDP, the project has allowed women in villages to try out new skills like manning homestays, acting as tour guides, and marketing local crafts and cuisine.
“It has been a major poverty alleviation and empowerment push,” Boyd said.
Chandrasekhar said the thrust was on “responsible tourism for inclusive growth”.
“All countries across the world are now being urged to incorporate principles of sustainable development in their national policies - and rural tourism is an important component for India because it connects visitors to traditional community units,” he added.
The fact that India recorded an all-time inbound tourism high of 5.37 million in 2008 despite the beginning of recession has made the tourism ministry confident of the project’s viability.
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Tags: arts and crafts, book documents, cabinet secretary, coffee table book, community participation, health tourism, heritage arts, india project, indian population, interactive experiences, metal mirror, ministry project, mirror work, official statistics, pamba river, rural tourism, tourism ministry, tourism sector, united nations development, united nations development programme