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How A New Breed Of Tourists Is Showing The Way To Travel Responsibly

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Worldwide, tourism accounts for nearly 8% of global greenhouse gas emissions. The sector is not just a contributor to climate change, but also a victim to its impacts.

According to research by UNWTO/ITF, global emissions from tourism are forecasted to rise by 25% by 2030 from 2016 levels. Transforming tourism for climate action requires not just a newer way of thinking, but also embracing a low carbon pathway.

India has the world’s fourth-largest carbon footprint from tourism, with just the USA, China and Germany preceding it.

As per the study, emissions produced to support tourism within India (destination-based accounting or DBA) was 268 tonnes carbon dioxide equivalent while tourism emissions made by citizens of India (described as residence-based accounting or RBA) stood at 240 tonnes carbon dioxide equivalent.

As India moves towards easing restrictions imposed due to the pandemic and getting its economy back on track, the tourism sector is picking up again. However, as domestic travel increases, so is the need to do it sustainably. Enter: Eco-tourism.

eco

What Exactly Is Ecotourism?

Ecotourism is responsible for travel to natural areas which conserves the environment, sustains the well-being of the locals, and involves interpretation and education (TIES, 2015). Areas that offer low-impact opportunities are considered to be ideal for ecotourism. Most importantly, it makes knowledge, awareness, and education an integral part of one’s travel.

This type of tourism is now globally recognised as a powerful tool for the conservation of forests, biodiversity/wildlife and scenic landscapes. It does so by creating sustainable alternative livelihoods for forest-dependent communities and by generating conservation awareness among the masses and decision-makers.

Ecotourism is a win-win strategy that has proven to be rewarding for not just travellers, but also local communities and the protected area authorities. For example, the ecotourism offering area, Corbett National Park, is famous for tiger safaris for those who visit.

Due to the high density of tourists, the locals residing in and around the Park have been involved in activities that offer them social and financial support while assisting the tourists in a welcoming stay. Locals have set up homestays and utilise their skills in a manner that they are able to participate in processes that offer tourism.

Through ecotourism, local communities are able to sustain their livelihoods by reducing their dependency on the forests and being a part of alternatives. Moreover, ecotourism maintains a flux between the rural and urban areas as the two communities interact and learn. Adding to the economic benefit, it prevents urban migration by offering opportunities in the local areas themselves.

How Can You Engage In Eco-Friendly Travel?

To be an ecotourist means to seek quality experience along with the local communities and their diverse culture. It is beyond mere sightseeing and capturing pictures. Ecotourism involves immersing oneself in the local ‘way of life’ and environment-friendly opportunities.

This active approach for travel includes activities like hiking, trekking, bird watching, wildlife safaris, etc. Additionally, ecotourists do not expect a high-end fashion of living but limit themselves to enjoying basic amenities. In other words, they consume ethically without posing a threat and pressure on the environment.

Photo" Avni/ Climate Fellowship
Photo by the author.

What Does Ecotourism Mean For The Local Communities?

Local involvement is the bedrock of ecotourism. The local ecosystems and forests are protected as the local populations are no more dependent on these resources for their livelihood. Alongside protecting nature and their culture, communities earn a living.

In order to strengthen community control and management of the forests, it is important to generate a sustainable flow of non-extractive financial benefits of forests for the communities, to ensure that the communities take interest in the conservation of forests and wildlife.

 

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Bhandary highlights the benefits that locals receive from ecotourism practices, “When locals are involved in ecotourism, they are generally trained depending upon the skills they possess. This becomes their source of income that makes them feel secure and more aware.” Drawing attention to culture and tourism, she adds, “When culture and sustainability are merged, eco-friendly tourism is said to be efficient. Locals know the history, depth, and roots of any area – they are indeed a crucial part.”

A local lifestyle is a pure form of living with immense knowledge and understanding. Gupta highlights the Pardhi tribe from Central India, “People from the Pardhi community walk barefoot in the forests, which helps them connect on a much deeper level, is more sustainable, and harms no animal.”

“An effective ecotourism model is the one which gives the locals an ability to use their own skills and abilities. Knowledge from online platforms is nowhere near the traditional knowledge that the locals possess,” says Karekar. He adds, “People’s real value must be recognised and utilised. Training and providing experience to locals and empowering them to take up jobs like nature interpreters, educators, guides, and activities’ managers is important for sustainability. This is a long-term strategy. This is also a method of income generation.”

Aniket Gupta, the founder of a wilderness-based experiential learning initiative, claims ‘the joy of discovery, exploration of the habitat, people, culture, cuisines, biodiversity’ to be the driving factors that attract him towards a place.

According to him, “Ecotourists travel with no checklist. They go with an open slate. They know what possibilities can work out but they don’t have a fixed itinerary. It means to live like a local.”

He further adds, “Ecotourists do their research and ask questions about the destination. They try to understand what they’re looking to gain from the experience and the consequences of each action when in the landscape. If travelling to a green village, I need to make lifestyle and travel changes so that my actions align with the goal of the area. Defining why they wish to travel to that place is the most important aspect.”

Anurag Karekar, the Director and Co-Founder at Naturalist Foundation, as well as an ecotourist himself, believes that “nature educators act as a role model and help make a tourist a good ecotourist. One must possess good values for nature and living beings. To be an ecotourist means to learn, inculcate, and become a spokesperson for the environment.” As tourists, our interest to understand better is crucial.

He highlights the importance of why’s saying, “Greenwashing is not the only necessary habit. Why’s are extremely important to know and answer. Tiger is important, yes. But why is it important? Knowing that is the key to ecotourism.”

While one must engage in sustainable travel, tourists must be aware of the footprint they leave on the natural place. “Conservation and harmonious coexistence are a must when travelling. Like a guest at somebody’s place who tidies up before leaving, when we visit a landscape, we should leave it as it is or in a better shape. Not the worst one,” says Gupta.

Photo" Avni/ Climate Fellowship
Photo by the author.

According to Prasamsha Bhandary, a nature educator, “Shift from anthro-centric to an eco-centric approach is crucial. Small changes like waste disposal, reusing and recycling materials, and plastic replacement with bamboo or steel can create a massive impact. Being conscious of a place’s threshold and capacity is something that sets one apart.” She further suggests natural and sustainable alternatives for tourists like “plates made of banana leaves and Areca leaves, straws made of coconut leaves, bamboo, or paper.”

Why Should Ecotourism Be Your Top Priority?

Ecotourism does not just benefit one but all stakeholders involved. While the government and forest authorities set the goal, it is the locals’ and tourists’ responsibility to implement it.

India, however, does not have a good track record with respect to sustainable travel practices including eco-tourism. And while the country has improved its rank in World Travel and Tourism Competitiveness, it ranks dismally when it comes to Environment Sustainability securing 139, 134 and 128 ranks in 2015, 2017 and 2019 respectively.

The global market of ecotourism was approximately 181 billion in 2019, which is projected to reach 338.7 billion by 2027 with a CAGR of 14.3% during 2020-2027. Some of the best ecotourism destinations in the world are Costa Rica, Norway, Kenya, Palau, Galapagos and Antarctica.

To be an ecotourist means to seek quality experience along with the local communities and their diverse culture. Photo: Rehlat

How Can Ecotourism Be Facilitated?

The involvement of all stakeholders is vital for the effective promotion and facilitation of ecotourism. Researchers, forest officials, locals, and travellers are an equal part of ecotourism. Government and forest authorities plan out and decide on tourist destinations, perform the capacity building of locals and service providers, and provide numerous options of tourism, which may be based on themes like nature, culture, religion, etc. Road connectivity, use of technology, and inculcating better waste management practices can tweak ecotourism in an area.

To travel sustainably also means to accept accommodations that the locals have to offer – be it in locally owned guesthouses, camps, lodges, or homestays. This prevents any harm to the environment, reduces pollution, conserves energy, and maintains the aesthetic value of places. Respecting local culture and lifestyle is expected of tourists when indulging in such practices.

Locals are often engaged in the production of local items including handicrafts, food products, etc. The formation of women’s self-help and youth groups for offering services through their skills has proven to be effective. States like Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh, Odisha, and Kerala have succeeded in getting women and youth involved in ecotourism practices. This supplements socio-economic benefits for such communities.

The COVID-19 crisis is a watershed moment to align the efforts of sustaining livelihoods dependent on tourism to the Sustainable Development GoalsSDGs) and ensuring a more resilient, inclusive, carbon-neutral and resource-efficient future. Eco-tourism could help take a step in that direction.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

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A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

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Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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