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How can India embrace sustainable tourism for the future?

To say that a place is really eco-friendly, you are ensuring that guests get clean water, clean air, fresh organic food, clean energy, no plastic, and green mobility.

I’d first like to make an attempt to explain the phrase ‘Sustainable Tourism’. For it is a term misused widely and without a standard global meaning attached to it. Some think it’s about preserving the environment, others think it’s about job creation, but most fail to understand the vastness attached to the term ‘sustainable tourism’.

To me sustainable tourism is about using tourism as the key driver to effect impact in a particular area. Impact is a quantifiable metric – those measures two critical forces:

  1. Carbon emissions
  2. Local income

So, sustainable tourism is really a measurable endeavour to lower carbon emissions and increase local income.
The phrase often gets mixed up with eco-tourism, and many resorts or even destinations claim to be ‘eco’ without really measuring either of the two metrics mentioned above. Nonetheless, we are grateful, as for each small contribution to either metric is a step towards prosperity for the country.

  • Define an ecotourism belt across virgin territory in each state. There is considerable work being done by the government here in identifying pristine, offbeat and sensitive zones that can be used as pilot projects. Current tourist sectors are already cities, plagued with urban issues of sanitation, infrastructure and the works, so turning them into eco-zones will take a lot of time, money and resources.
  • Have strong governance policies around these zones to avoid overcrowding. Usually offbeat areas attract all the large hospitality chains and industries once the footfall grows and ultimately becomes small urban cities themselves, with issues of traffic and pollution.
  • Measure continually, on a real time basis to be able to show how a place remains eco-friendly. This is perhaps the most important principle as currently there are no global standards for carbon emissions or local income improvement. Data collected has huge end-case potential in white papers, case studies and establishment of standards in this area.

To say that a place is really eco-friendly, you are ensuring that guests get clean water, clean air, fresh organic food, clean energy, no plastic, and green mobility. These are a tall order. For example, take the case of plastic. So many use cases in hotels. How do we replace each element with a bio-degradable one? Do such vendors exist? Can bamboo pulp replace the use of paper towels, napkins and toilet rolls. Green cleansers can be used to replace chemical ones. And even garbage bags can be biodegradable. But what do we do about the plastic that is intercepted, found by the roadsides and burnt by other hotels? We can get rag pickers to pick them but who organises the delivery trucks, storage or even the segregation and recycling? That’s where the governments need to step in to create facilities for segregation and recycling. So, a zone can really become sustainable when this process is created.

Let’s talk green food
There’s really no guarantee of soil. Because it has been pumped with chemicals and pesticides for so many years, the industry being so mammoth and the farmers uneducated, forced to buy to protect their livelihood, that the soil quality has deteriorated a lot. Chemicals used pass on to our food and are the main reason for increasing cancer cases around the globe. The answer would be to switch to natural farming methods, where there is zero use of chemicals. However, the revolution has just begun in the state of Andhra Pradesh and it will be years before it scales to a level where we can boast that our produce is 100% chemical free. Until then, we can tie-up directly with farms for fresh produce, at least we know that it’s not kept in cold storage for a season.

Local income generation is easier, one can hire locals to work at hotels, train them and even provide them with a career development graph. We can get local entrepreneurs to set up kirana stores, or local activities. We can get people to make local products and revive crafts. Have more homestays and facilitate direct bookings. The potential is endless. The biggest challenge is to create the footfalls, for once guests start using facilities the locals get a way to earn money.

India has to conduct a few pilots, and a massive collaboration is required between industries solving for climate change – green mobility and buildings, eco-friendly consumables, renewable energy, natural farming, water recycling and waste management to name a few.

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