Kumarakom to host international conference on Responsible Tourism

Tourism value more important than visitor numbers

Kottayam, June 30: Governments are being advised to measure the success of tourism initiatives not by the number of visitor arrivals each year but by the value these tourists bring to the local economies t each destination.

As the three-day International Conference on Responsible Tourism (RT) at Kumarakom concluded on Saturday, a number of suggestions emerged on how the industry move towards achieving the triple bottom line of environmental sustainability, economic growth and socio-cultural conservation.

Mr Harold Goodwin, who summed up the proceedings of the conference at the valedictory function on Friday, said the RT movement in Kerala is in great shape at the moment.

Achievements over the past five years have included enduring partnerships between panchayats, self-help groups, the local communities and the industry; a new tourism policy focused on RT; the RT classification system; generation data on the RT experience in Kerala; and demonstrable and measurable benefits going to local communities. He said while it was a good start, there was much that could be done and advised the state government to focus on measuring, reporting and looking at the yield and not just the number of arrivals.

“It is not the number of people but the amount of profit that is made from each visitor that matters. Don’t worship numbers, it is about the value tourism brings to the local economy,” he said. The conference, organised by the Department of Tourism in partnership with RTSchool@KITTS, concluded on Saturday after a day-long by delegates around Kumarakom following two days of discussions.

Shri. B K Saroop Roy, State Project Co-ordinator, Responsible Tourism Initiative, KITTS, who summed up the discussions at a session held on Friday on the environmental responsibility of RT, said experts, specialists groups and organisations must come forward and contribute ideas on carrying out reliable impact assessment of tourism and capacity studies on destinations – an exercise that is vital for planning strategies for sustainable and responsible tourism.

Among the key recommendations at the session was the need for a pool of ideas and resources that can be accessed by all stakeholders in RT and better documentation of best practices from the tourism industry, case studies and reports that can be learning tools for practitioners.He said the official RT website of the Kerala government could be a resource to post these ideas and reports for all stakeholders to access.

“We also need to develop best practice guidelines for tourism construction, how energy and environment friendly the buildings must be. And we require more experts and organisations to assist us with carrying out reliable carrying capacity studies,” he said. There was also a suggestion to set up a specialised Sustainability University’ in Kerala to focus on academics and research related to the subject.

The inclusion of RT as part of the curriculum or as an extra-curricular activity carried out through tourism clubs in schools and colleges was an idea supported by a number participants at the conference.  Shri Roy said KITTS will soon introduce a certificate course in RT specifically for practitioners.

Shri C Jayakumar from the Thiruvananthapuram-based NGO Thanal said RT should address, besides air, water, soil and aesthetic pollution, the problem of light pollution caused by excessive, environmentally-damaging use of artificial light. A number of similar suggestions were put forward at the session focused on economic responsibility.

The lead speaker, Dr B Vijyakumar, Principal, KITTS, said there was a need for support mechanisms for micro enterprises started by women in RT destinations. Also, existing marketing strategy for RT had to be strengthened and promoted so small businesses linked to it could earn a sustainable income. “Innovation should be linked with RT initiative, particularly in developing niche products and entering into niche market areas. Such innovators must be given support,” he said.

A number of entrepreneurs are interested in entering into and investing in production, marketing and other areas of tourism; but they require technical support for preparing projects and implementing them in a feasible manner, he added.

Among other major recommendations were, public-private partnership in promoting investment at the local level; and ensuring public health, safety and security systems at tourism destinations for sustainable growth.

The issue of “restructured ethnicity”, the cultural adaptation for the purpose of tourism, was a major discussion point at the session on the socio-cultural aspect of RT. As a result of this adaptation locals lose their individual and cultural identities and it causes the public to become annoyed with tourism, said Shri M S Venugopal, Deputy Director, Department of Tourism, who led the talk.  “This irritation may lead to protests and eventually the loss of the destination.

A collective effort involving hosts, locals as well as the guests has to be made to minimise cultural deterioration,” he said. Shri Jose Dominic, Managing Director, CGH Earth, proposed the idea of a “mentorship clinic” where industry experts could come, hear out ideas from entrepreneurs wanting to set up micro enterprises, and provide them with advice on how to start the business.

Shri Suman Billa delivering the welcome addressShri Sitaram Yechury with Shri A P Anil Kumar at the International Conference on RT at KumarakomShri Sitaram Yechury speaking at the inaguration Shri Sitaram Yechury speaking at the inaguration (2) Shri Sitaram Yechury speaking at the inaguration (1)

Responsible Tourism decisions must be made locally, say experts

Kottayam, June 28: Local communities are being urged to make decisions and set priorities on how to make their towns and villages better places for people to live and better places for people to visit – the idea central to Responsible Tourism.

At the International Conference on Responsible Tourism (RT) being organised in Kumarakom, experts said travellers and destinations hosting them are growing increasingly aware that tourism is not just about taking photographs, enjoying hospitality and taking back memories; it is about putting something back into conservation efforts and into local communities.

Dr. Harold Goodwin, a professor at Leeds Metropolitan University and the director of the International Centre for Responsible Tourism, said it is time to turf out “freeloaders” who add no value to the places they visit; and attract people who contribute something to the community by way of employment and revenues, cause the least pollution, contribute to the conservation of heritage and who will enjoy, repeat their visit and recommend it to others.

The aims of RT must include sustainability, improved living standards of local people, lower carbon emissions and animal welfare. The goals for achieving the triple bottom line – economic, social and environmental – should be set locally with the complete involvement of the local people, he said.

“Kerala has managed to achieve so much in responsible tourism in so short a time due to the strength of its local bodies, the Panchayats, which are taking and exercising responsibilities” he said today while speaking on the challenges of achieving RT. “While Kerala has made a lot of progress in the economic development of villages through responsible tourism, it is time for it to set a ‘stretch target’ and take it to the next level.”

On the first day of the conference, which is being organised by Kerala’s Department of Tourism in association with RTSchool@KITTS, Mr Goodwin detailed the developments in RT over the past five years at the plenary session themed “Looking Back, Moving Forward”.

Speakers from other parts of the world provided examples of successful RT practices. Dr Adama Bah, the Travel Foundation project for The Gambia and founder of the Association of Small Scale Enterprises in Tourism (ASSET), explained about the RT campaign in the West African nation to protect the interests of small, local businesses and ensure that they benefit from tourism.

He said members of ASSET are mainly craft market vendors, local guides, fruit and juice sellers on the beach, small guest houses, tourist taxi drivers etc, who have now been classified by the Gambian government as formal businesses and given operational licences.

Other support measures include training, microfinance, product development, linking of horticulture with tourism that has benefited women farmers, improved access to markets and promotion of indigenously made products.

Dr Karma Tshering, the Chief for Nature Recreation and Ecotourism in Bhutan, spoke about the Himalayan kingdom’s tourism policy that aims at “high value and low impact” and a revenue generation mechanism that ensures relatives high earnings for low tourist arrivals.

He said Bhutan’s tourism policy that draws influential and socially responsible tourists has helped preserve the pristine natural landscapes and culture and traditions unique to the region, at the same time generating revenues and employment.

Models of RT followed in post-war Sri Lanka were detailed by Mr Srilal Miththapala, an experienced tourism professional,  who said sustainability was not just about the environment  but made good business sense too. Concerns have been raised about overexploitation of resources and the negative impact of eco-tourism on the island nation which is blessed with abundant natural resources. Sri Lanka has now drafted policies that aimed at regulating exploitative practices, involving local people in tourism and its hotels are increasingly adopting greener measures, he said.

Mr Mason Florence, Executive Director of the Mekong Tourism Coordinating Office (MTCO), explained the difference RT had had made to tourism along the six-nation Greater Mekong Sub-region. Member nations of Mekong Tourism – Cambodia, China, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam – have benefited greatly from the common marketing of travel experience along the stunningly beautiful river along nature and cultural trails.

The global RT experiences were shared at the plenary session on the first day which focused on the conference theme of “Looking Back, Moving Ahead”. Shri. Suman Billa, Secretary, Kerala Tourism, moderated the session.

Field experiences on RT in India were shared by hotel groups that have been recognised for adopting sustainable tourism practices, including the Bangalore-based Our Native Village, Uravu and Vythiri Resorts in Wayanad, Coconut Lagoon of CGH Earth Group at Kumarakom and Basis in Athirampuzha.

On the second day of the conference a panel discussion was held on RT classification system introduced by the Kerala Government.

Shri. U V Jose, Addl. Director (Planning & Projects) Department of Tourism, explained the basis of Platinum, Gold and Silver classification of hotels and the criteria on which the points are awarded.

Panelists included Shri. Jose Dominic, Managing Director, CGH Earth and Shri Baby Mathew from the Somatheeram Group. Shri. Harikishore S, Director, Tourism, chaired the discussion.

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Tourism ministry approval for hotel management institute in Kottayam

Kottayam, June 28: The Union Ministry of Tourism has given its approval for the establishment of a State Institute of Hotel Management in Kottayam. The announcement was made by Hon’ble Union Minister of State for Tourism (Independent Charge) Dr K Chiranjeevi in his message to the three-day International Conference on Responsible Tourism (RT) being held in Kumarakom by Kerala’s Department of Tourism in association with RTSchool@KITTS.

The Minister who was unable to attend the inauguration yesterday in person sent a note –which was read out by his private secretary Dr Sai Pratap IPS – congratulating the state government and KITTS for initiating the crucial and critical dialogue on Responsible Tourism. He said the ministry’s nod for the institute was in response to a proposal moved by Shri Jose K Mani, MP. “This institute will go a long way in meeting the HRD requirements of Kerala Tourism industry. They will get a grant of Rs 12 crore from the Ministry of Tourism,” Dr Chiranjeevi said in his message. He also congratulated KITTS on the silver jubilee of its establishment. “Institutes like KITTS can play an important role in responsible tourism by carrying out capacity studies, sensitising the markets and highlighting issues that can be set right and avoided,” he added.

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Call to expand Responsible Tourism across more destinations in India

The International Conference on Responsible Tourism (RT) opened today with agreement among all stakeholders that the tourism industry can remain sustainable in the long term only if it conserves the unique social, economic, cultural and environmental needs of individual destinations.

Hon’ble Union Minister of State for Tourism (Independent Charge) Dr K Chiranjeevi, in his message to delegates at the conference, said that while India today can boast of an unparalleled range of destinations and products, it has much to do in developing these in a responsible manner.

“Our concerns today include overreaching carrying capacity, the unhygienic conditions of our tourism destinations, lack of proper coordination in waste management practices, a lack of concern for nature and environment and above all lack of commitment to preserve our culture and heritage,” the Minister said in his message, which was read out by his private secretary Dr Sai Pratap IPS, at the inaugural function at Backwater Ripples resort here.

The conference is being organised by Kerala’s Department of Tourism in association with RTSchool@KITTS from June 27-29, 2013.

Dr Chiranjeevi lauded the state government’s efforts to develop tourism in a responsible manner and said his ministry will support such efforts wholeheartedly. “The protection of Silent Valley reserve, development of the Muziris project, and improvements made in backwater tourism are some of the examples we are all proud of,” he said, adding that similar initiatives in AP, MP, Gujarat and Tamil Nadu have demonstrated to the world the positive effects of sustainable tourism development.

Hon’ble Minister for Tourism Shri A P Anil Kumar said Kumarakom has made remarkable progress on socio-economic fronts it was chosen as one of four destinations in the state to pilot RT practices.

He said when it was decided to elevate Kumarakom to an international destination on the pro-poor RT model, steps were taken to mobilise informal sectors like self help groups, farmers groups and homestead farmers to produce, procure and supply goods and services needed by the tourism industry.

“In this process care has been taken to ensure quality, authenticity, regularity of supply and reasonable prices of products. Today above 1,500 families are connected to RT initiative and are making a decent living,” he added.

Shri Anil Kumar said that the target now is to make Kumarakom a “zero-waste destination”. As part of waste management in the destination, the entire community, industry and visitors are being sensitised; sewage treatment plant and biogas plants have been established and plastic bags have been replaced by eco bags. Ecosystem regeneration programme, reconversion of fallow land to cultivable land, campaign against conversion of prairie land and use of pesticides and chemicals for cultivation are some of the other major initiatives implemented at Kumarakom, he said.

Shri. Sitaram Yechury, Chairman, Parliamentary Standing Committee on Transport, Tourism and Culture said all debates on RT over the past decade have recognised that it cannot be achieved without sustainable development.

He said Kumarakom is an example of the spirit of RT in that it has created a better place to live for the local people and a better place to visit for tourists.

But nationwide, there are still concerns to be addressed and a long way to go in dealing with issues such as unregulated tourist arrivals, alienaton of local communities and waste management.

“Responsible Tourism is not just about economy and livelihood, it is also the removal of debris generated by tourists, not just the physical debris, but the economic, psychological and cultural debris. It is necessary to preserve our cultural heritage, both tangible and intangible.”

Shri. Suman Billa, Secretary, Kerala Tourism said in his welcome address that there is a demand and appreciation worldwide for the model that has been evolved in Kumarakom. “We have successfully aligned the interests of all the stakeholders – the industry, local self government bodies, the community and the government. We have created a successful four-way partnership.”

He said recognition has also come from the Centre with the approach paper to the 12th five-year plan, devoting three out of 15 pages on tourism solely to Kumarakom experience and explaining how this is model is an example of pro-poor tourism and how it should be adopted by all the other states in India.

“The UNTWO has identified two destinations which will be the global observatories for Responsible and Sustainable Tourism – the first of which will perhaps be Kumarakom,” Shri Billa said. “We are expecting the confirmation shortly.”

A video message on Responsible Tourism from Mr. Taleb D. Rifai, Secretary General of the UNWTO, was aired at the inauguration. Shri. S Harikishore, Director, Kerala Tourism, presented a report and Shri Anil Kumar published a brochure on the Kumarakom Life Experience.

Shri Suresh Kurup MLA, was the guest of honour. Shri Anand Kumar, Joint Secretary, Ministry of Tourism; Shri U V Jose, Director GKSF and Additional Director, Department of Tourism; Smt. Nirmala Jimmy, President, Kottayam District Panchayat; Shri Vijayan Thomas, Chairman, KTDC Hotels & Resorts; Shri. Ajith Kumar, District Collector, Kottayam and senior tourism officials and public representatives were present at the function. Dr. Rajashree Ajith, Director, KITTS, proposed thanks.

The inaugural function was followed by a plenary session on the conference theme: “Responsible Tourism: Looking back. Moving Ahead” with speakers from India and abroad recounting RT experiences and evaluating possibilities.

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Kerala’s Dkerala responsible tourism logoepartment of Tourism is organising an International Conference on Responsible Tourism in association with RT School@KITTS at Kumarakom, Kottayam, from June 27-29, 2013.
Hon’ble Union Minister of State (Independent Charge) for Tourism Dr K Chiranjeevi will inaugurate the conference on June 27.

Thiruvananthapuram, June 24: Hon’ble Union Minister of State (Independent Charge)  for Tourism Dr K Chiranjeevi will inaugurate an international conference being organised in Kumarakom, Kottayam, to review the progress made by Kerala in implementing Responsible Tourism (RT) practices and to help develop a roadmap for the future.

Organised by Department of Tourism in association with RT School@KITTS, the conference will be hosted by the Backwater Ripples resort at Kumarakom from June 27-29, 2013.

RT is centred on local community engagement with a strong commitment to preserving the socio-cultural identity and the environment at destinations. Initiated in 1990s, RT is today widely accepted as an effective tool for ensuring sustainable development in tourism.

Around 150 delegates will take part in the conference including from countries that are the forefront of RT implementation, such as Gambia, Bhutan and Sri Lanka.

Hon’ble Minister for Tourism Shri A P Anil Kumar will preside over the inaugural function.  Shri Sitaram Yechury, Chairman, Parliamentary Standing Committee on Transport, Tourism and Culture; Shri Jose K Mani, MP; Shri Suresh Kurup, MLA; Shri Suman Billa, Secretary, Kerala Tourism; Shri Harikishore, Director, Tourism; and Dr. Rajashree Ajith, Director, KITTS will be among the dignitaries.

The plenary session on the first day will be on the conference theme “Responsible Tourism: Looking back; Moving Ahead”, featuring speakers from six countries and from Kerala.

 “Kerala has been in the forefront of Responsible Tourism since the March 2008 International Conference on Responsible Tourism in Destinations was held in Cochin. This Conference is an opportunity to look at what has been achieved in Kerala in implementing Responsible Tourism and to look at the challenges which need to be addressed in the next five years,” said Shri A P Anil Kumar.

 RT has now been accepted globally as a tool to boost local economies and livelihood. For instance the West African nation of Gambia has, like Kerala, developed strategies for engaging with local communities to ensure that they benefit from the tourism in their area, generating both employment and micro-enterprise opportunities for the economically poor.

There are similar successful models in other parts of the world, including in Kumarakom, and the conference will showcase them and the lessons they present for other destinations. The core objective of RT is to minimise the negative impact of tourism on society, heritage, culture and environment and maximise the positives.

 Sessions at the conference will highlight experiences, case studies and challenges in RT. Subject experts will make presentations on topics including tourism & micro enterprises; livelihood; product development and marketing; gender equity in tourism; conserving culture & traditions; social entrepreneurship; waste management; energy & water conservation techniques; use of construction technologies; reducing greenhouse gas emissions in tourism; and how Local Self Government organisations and NGOs can promote and campaign for RT.

About Responsible tourism in Kerala

Responsible Tourism (RT) is mainly conceived with three kinds of responsibilities which are termed as the ‘triple bottom-line’ economic responsibility, social responsibility and environmental responsibility. Though the concept of responsible tourism was there right from 1996, it was after the Cape Town Declaration of 2002 that a detailed picture of responsible tourism – including its aims, and factors evolved. RT encompasses all forms of tourism and seeks to minimize negative economic, environment and social impacts. It generates greater economic benefits to local people and enhances the well being of local communities. It also makes positive contributions to the conservation of natural and cultural heritage, and maintenance of the world’s diversity.

More information on Responsible Tourism in Kerala : http://www.rtkerala.com/

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