Responsible tourism: Kerala involves local communities (With Image)September 8th, 2010 - 10:36 am ICT by IANS
By Madhusree Chatterjee
New Delhi, Sep 8 (IANS) It’s called responsible tourism. The travel trade in Kerala is beginning to rope in local communities and the environment to cater to a growing number of visitors with sensitivity.
Tourism vendors and stakeholders in four destinations - the beach retreat of Kovalam, the backwaters of Kumarakom, the hills of Kumily and the forests of Wayanad - have brought on board farmers, craftsmen, fisherfolk, women and unskilled labour force and are providing them sustainable livelihoods.
A declaration to make tourism more responsible was adopted at the Responible Tourism Conference in Cochin three years ago. And the benefits are beginning to show.
Every morning the kitchen crew at the sprawling Kumarakom Lake Resort, spread across 25 lush acres on the bank of the Vembanad lake in Kottayam, procure their vegetables, coconuts, fish, milk and rice from local farmers and fishermen.
The heritage resort, owned by the Paul Group of Hotels, is one of the 10 hotels in the Kumarakom backwater region that has implemented the Responsible Tourism Programme. Having bagged several global tourism awards, it is eco-friendly with minimum waste stipulation and recycling facilities.
“We need around 150 coconuts and several kilos of karimeen (a sought-after local variety of fish), scambi (lake water prawns) and milk in the kitchen every day. We pay the growers and fishermen much more than the market procurement price which makes the transactions much more lucrative for them,” Joseph Garcia, general manager of the hotel, told IANS.
“The stocks are supplied by local women’s self-help groups known as Kudumbasree, which procures the meat, milk, cereals and vegetables from the growers.”
Launched by the Kerala government in 1998, Kudumbasree is one of the biggest women’s empowerment projects in the country aimed at eradicating poverty at the grassroots. It has more than 3.7 million members and covers nearly 50 percent of the rural households in the state, cites a government estimate.
The heritage architecture at the Kumarakom Lake Resort and dining areas has been sourced from 106 historical homes across the state dating back to the 18th and 19th century - and transposed on the bank of the lake to create a period ambience that gels with the fragile eco-system surrounding the vast water body.
“Nearly 450 farmers, 900 women and 612 homesteads have benefited from the responsible tourism programme in Kumarakom alone. When we implemented the responsible tourism programme in the area in 2007, no farmer volunteered to participate in the project,” Rupesh Kumar, the state coordinator for the Responsible Tourism Programme, told IANS.
“But in three years, the number of volunteers has multiplied. Farmers here have small land holdings of 10-12 cents on an average.”
Besides controlling the community food trade, women’s self-help groups also manufacture ethnic crafts-based accessories like cloth bags, woven dining linen and coir ropes for ornamental thatch roofs for the luxury resorts in the area, Kumar said.
“The women host backwaters village tours to allow the guests to experience village life. Members of Kudumbasree even man the ferries that transport tourists through the network of canals fanning out from the Vembanad lake and double as tourist guides,” the state coordinator for the Responsible Tourism programme said.
Kerala gets around 600,000 foreign and nearly 7-7.5 million Indian visitors every year, cite figures for 2009.
A responsible tourism committee comprising members of the hospitality industry and the government is implementing the programme to ensure that the indigenous inhabitants of the destinations reap economic, cultural and environmental benefits.
M. Sivasankar, director of Kerala Tourism, told IANS: “The scheme has been extremely successful in Kumarakom. The benefits have percolated down to the villagers at the economic, social and cultural level.
“The programme has established new economic linkages and increased seasonal trade. We are trying to develop it into a global sustainable tourism model so that more hospitality groups across the state can adopt it.”
(Madhusree Chatterjee can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)
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Tags: backwaters, beach retreat, global tourism, heritage resort, kerala government, kitchen crew, kottayam, kumarakom lake resort, labour force, lake water, lush acres, procurement price, responsible tourism, self help groups, tourism awards, tourism conference, tourism kerala, unskilled labour, water prawns, wayanad