Tourism and Environment

Ram Rattan Sharma
One of the most controversial and active subjects today is environment, and tourism is intrinsically related to environment Tourism represents around six percent of world trade, and almost 13 percent of the total global consumer spending. Investment in the industry has to be commensurate with profitability. But unlike most other industries, tourism is essentially, based on a good environment, and should therefore, naturally be more concerned about its proper protection , preservation and further development, in its own interest, if not out of altruistic motives. Tourism depends heavily on an authentic Socio-Cultural environment and an unspoilt natural environment. A discerning observer of the world tourism scene would sense a certain change that is gradually taking place in the order of preferences, international and domestic. Heritage monuments, have yielded place to locations which afford opportunities for leisure in an atmosphere of scenic beauty and cultural novelty. In India we suffer from what can only be termed as an embarrassment of riches in this regard. The upsurge witnessed in tourism demands vast infrastructural facilities like hotels, restaurants and roads, which affect the environment. Even when care is taken to minimize this adverse impact, tourists by their very numbers and behaviours, create certain problems. Environmentally responsible tourism is a new concept the world over, its formal enunciation emanates from the 1989 Hague declaration on tourism, which advocates rational management of tourism, so that it contributes to the protection and preservation of the natural and cultural environment.
In India, an environment impact assessment is now being insisted upon as a pre-requisite, for all major tourism projects. some areas, such as the Aravallis, have been declared as being eco-sensitive, and commercial development in and around national parks and wild life sanctuaries is being strictly regulated, unrestrained commercialization has eroded the stability of our coastline, interference with natural sand-dunes would undermine the eco-system of the locality. This complex eco-system is nature’s defence line against tidal waves and land erosion by the sea. Even if beach resorts are built in such a way as to authentically blend with the surroundings, the problem does not end there. Beach resorts require enormous quantities of sweet water to cater to the life styles of rich tourists, over exploitation of underground water creates an imbalance, disturbing the Saline aquifers of the sea bed, resulting in an increase of salinity, making well water in coastal villages undrinkable and salinising fields to a point where agriculture is seriously affected. Availability of water is also a major problem in the hill stations. Overcrowding and indiscriminate construction, particularly in our Himalayan hill stations, not only create ugly blots on the landscape, but also give rise to problems of sewage and solid waste disposal. Another crucial issue is that of energy consumption. Tourist facilities should be so designed as to be energy efficient, taking advantage of sun in hill stations and wind directions and breeze on the plains and coastal areas, to reduce heating, cooling and the air conditioning requirements to the barest minimum. They would have to think of ways of using natural light as a preferred means to artificial lighting. Non conventional sources of energy and water conservation, have to be in future the hallmark of all tourist projects. A large number of tourists, both international and domestic, are attracted to national parks and sanctuaries, which afford them glimpses of wild life mountains, jungles, rivers and lakes for the adventure tourism, hiking, skiing and other similar activities. All this is very well, and certainly deserves to be encouraged, since quite apart from the income generated by tourism, it also increases public awareness about nature and all its beauties. The mistake is when we confuse wild life and adventure tourism with picnics. A national park is not the place to spend a pleasant Sunday afternoon, playing games or sipping martinis. More than just the architecture of the buildings, it is the tourist activities that must blend into the surroundings , underlying everything we do, must be an empathy for wild life and respect for its habitat. We find empty bottles, empty cans and plastic bags not only marring the healthy but also the threatening animals who have been known to choke and die from discarded plastic wrappers or containers, why cannot we have battery-operated vehicles cutting down both on noise and harmful emissions instead of having conventional vehicles. In every case, it is necessary to do a detailed study about the carrying capacity of any tourist location, be it a hill station or a beach resort or a wild life sanctuary. By carrying capacity is meant, the load of people that a particular area can take. The carrying capacity would further determine the optimum number of people required to sustain it both economically as well as environmentally. It would be a good idea if the tourism industry itself undertakes such carrying capacity studies in its own enlightened self interest. The Govt. would certainly be willing to cooperate with information and guidance.
Until recently, tourism in our country was mainly religious tourism. Pilgrims who visited the holy places were humble and had great respect for the local communities living in these places. In turn, the visitors were welcomed with open arms and open minds and given all cooperation and assistance. There was nothing obtrusive in the attitudes of the pilgrims which could offend the sensibilities of local inhabitants. But the present scenario is different. It is not the intention to paint a dismal picture or say that tourism is something which should be banned. Tourism contains within itself the potential of developing into one of the most eco, friendly industries, provided that there is a reorientation of perspective and an acceptance of the basic tenets of conservation.
(The author is former Dy Librarian University of Jammu )