Today, tourism in India has significant potential given its rich culture and heritage, variety in ecology, and terrains and places of natural beauty. Tourism is also a potentially large employment generator, besides being a significant source of foreign exchange. India is often viewed as a hotspot for biodiversity and its rich natural heritage is unparalleled. The country offers diverse tourism experiences—cruises, adventure, medical, wellness, sports, MICE, ecotourism, film, rural and religious.
Ecotourism is a form of tourism involving visiting fragile and relatively untouched natural areas, intended as a low-impact alternative to conventional commercial mass tourism. Ecotourism is a conscious effort to preserve the beauty of a naturally gifted region and conserve wildlife in their natural habitat. In the process, ecotourism glorifies offbeat places, their rich culture and traditions.
Covid-19 and lockdown have had a catastrophic impact on the country’s tourism sector. While the world is on its way adapting to a new normal, there’s still uncertainty regarding international travel; however, the search volumes for domestic travel indicate an appetite for going on vacations. After months of lockdown, people want to be amid greenery and nature to get some fresh air and enjoy good weather. Several niche offerings such as medical tourism, ecotourism and domestic leisure, wherein people can travel in their own cars to remote untouched areas, are expected to fuel demand.
Covid-19 has had a massive impact on the mode of transport opted by tourists. They are more interested in responsible and sustainable travel. Current travel trend shows that the classic road trip is ready to make a comeback, as most tourists are looking for nearby offbeat destinations, away from the crowd and close to nature, which can be comfortably reached by car rather than travel by flight or train.
Need for Ecotourism in India
Rising threat of global warming and nature degradation have given a fillip to ecotourism. Promoting and preserving fragile and undisturbed nature, reducing carbon footprint and connecting secluded environments with the mainstream are a few concerns that ecotourism will tackle head on. Today, there are many sprawling farms, resorts, homestays and eco-friendly hotels in India offering a natural retreat in popular tourist destinations.
Alok Gupta, Principal Secretary, Rajasthan Tourism, stated that the pandemic has caused an unprecedented crisis worldwide and perhaps, hit the tourism sector hard. I believe tourists are concerned about safety and are choosing destinations away from the hustle bustle of big cities. I expect a rising preference for lesser-known destinations and excursion sights near major destinations; this will likely be the next big driver for attracting tourists.
Sunil Mehta, Tree House Resorts, also pointed out that even after the last of the pandemic, the scars and fear will take a long time to heal. Resorts at easily drivable distances from the metros will benefit the most. Wildlife and ecotourism: These will definitely take off as potential travellers understand the need to be with nature and in open natural surroundings.
Government Initiatives for Overall Tourism
The government has realised the country’s potential in tourism and taken several steps to make it a global tourism hub and subsequently, encourage ecotourism.
Mr. Rupinder Brar, Additional Director General, Ministry of Tourism, spoke at a session on ‘Future of Travel, Hospitality and Tourism Industry and The Way Forward’ (organised by FICCI) and highlighted that while revival of international tourism would take some time, domestic tourism will be in focus.
In line with this strategy, some major government initiatives to boost tourism and ecotourism are as follows:
- In October 2020, Prime Minister Mr. Narendra Modi inaugurated four new tourist attractions in Gujarat—Arogya Van, Ekta Mall, Children's Nutrition Park and Sardar Patel Zoological Park/Jungle Safari (near the Statue of Unity at Kevadiya in Narmada district).
- The initiative is part of the 17 new planned projects. Additionally, the government will also launch a seaplane service from Ahmedabad to the Statue of Unity, lending a major push to India’s tourism.
- The Ministry of Tourism developed an initiative called SAATHI (System for Assessment, Awareness & Training for Hospitality Industry) by partnering with the Quality Council of India (QCI) in October 2020. The initiative will effectively implement Covid-19 guidelines/SOPs for safe operations of hotels, restaurants, B&Bs and other units.
- The Ministry of Tourism launched the Dekho Apna Desh webinar series to educate viewers on various destinations and showcase the sheer depth and expanse of the Indian culture and heritage.
- The Prime Minister has urged people to visit 15 domestic tourist destinations by 2022.
- The government is working to gain 1% of the global international tourist arrivals pie by 2020 and 2% by 2025.
Recent Ecotourism Initiatives in India
The government has designated ecotourism as a ‘thrust industry’ in states such as Jammu & Kashmir, Sikkim, Himachal Pradesh and Uttaranchal. A range of incentives are available for ecotourism projects such as hotels, resorts, spas, entertainment/amusement parks and ropeways.
Projects Initiated for Ecotourism Development in India
- Development of Horsely Hill in the Chittor district of Andhra Pradesh has been sanctioned.
- Development of Satkosi in Orissa (Rs. 4.25 crore) has been approved. The following are proposed under the project: building an interpretation centre; landscaping; elephant camps; trekking park; watch towers; parking facility; etc.
- The Ministry of Tourism (MOT) has sanctioned Rs. 2.63 crore for an ecotourism project in Morni-Pinjore Hills and Sultanpur National Park in Haryana.
- The project on integrated development of tribal circuit, with focus on ecotourism in Himachal Pradesh, has been approved for Rs. 6.98 crore.
- Expansion of Wayanad in Kerala for Rs. 2.01 crore.
- Development of Tourist Circuit (Western Assam Circuit) Dhubari Mahamaya-Barpeta-Hajo has been sanctioned for Rs. 4.97 crore.
- Expansion of Mechuka destination (Rs. 4.41 crore in Arunachal Pradesh).
- Development of tourist destination in Khensa for Rs. 4.58 crore in Nagaland Circuit Udhyamandalam-Madumalai-Anaimalai, Tamil Nadu.
- Jungle Lodges and Resorts, Karnataka (provides experience of living in the wilderness).
- Private initiative in Kerala-Casino Group of Hotels, Tours India Ltd. (adopted 2 tribal villages in Periyar Tiger Reserve for growing indigenous pepper to help local communities realise financial gains).
- GEF Project-Gulf of Mannar, Tamilnadu (ecotourism as an alternative method of livelihood and preservation of biodiversity in the region).
- Sikkim Biodiversity and Ecotourism Project (developing collaboration between TAAS, local orgs., and communities for biodiversity, conservation, and income generation).
- Periyar Tiger Reserve, Kerala–India Ecodevelopment Project, Corbett–Binsar–Nainital Ecotourism Initiative (Uttarakhand), and Great Himalayan National Park, HP – Eco Development Project (promoting participation of local communities in biodiversity conservation through incentive-based mechanisms)
The Covid-19 pandemic has disrupted the tourism industry. For uncertain events such as these, the country must look to build and grow domestic travel as international tourism will take some time to resume. Lessons from the ongoing pandemic are loud and clear. Social distancing, importance of hygiene and sanitation cannot be overlooked. Now, it is deeply ingrained in the human psyche at large. In these times, ecotourism assumes a depth and meaning which people were unaware of/oblivious to earlier, leading to a rise in preference for lesser-known destinations and excursion sights near major destinations, which will likely be the next big driver to reboot tourism.