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‘Tourism must adopt a greener, sustainable, and responsible practices’

Kingshuk Biswas Kingshuk Biswas

Kingshuk Biswas is on the UNWTO Panel of Tourism Experts and currently working with Gujarat Power Corporation Limited. The views expressed are his personal.

Sustainable tourism, regenerative tourism, responsible tourism, eco-tourism, etc are now the hot topics of discussions in any tourism seminar/webinar. Many international destinations/hotels/tour operators have started certifying themselves with 'sustainable tourism' certificates. This trend will gain momentum tremendously soon. Excerpts from the e-interview:

How do you see the emerging trends in the Indian tourism industry?

The Indian Tourism industry is certainly waking up to the benefits of sustainable tourism in the post-covid scenario. During the last two years most of the tourism webinars taking place in the country have focused on the subject of 'sustainable tourism'. Unknown destinations, cuisine, handicrafts, adventure sports, etc have been spoken about and discussed passionately by the Industry stakeholders.

 

Stayacations have been widely promoted by the hotel industry. Group tours are now a no-no and FITs will prevail in the post covid scenarios. Enriching fulfilling experiences are now high on the agenda of every tourist. They are no longer just satisfied with mundane activities like boat riding, monument vists, etc. Tourists are seeking engagement and thus new innovative tours are on the agenda. Virtual destination experiences/shopping experiences are on the rise. During the covid period, many websites have emerged exclusively selling authentic handicraft items from across the country.

 

On the operational side, there has been a downsizing with the hospitality industry laying off in large numbers and only essential staff being maintained. Tour operators/agents have found virtues in work from home (WFH) and thus rented offices are on the decline.

 

The pandemic has brought the sustainability, green and responsible tourism in the focus. What is your opinion on this? Are these going to remain in the focus?

Covid-19 has impacted our lives tremendously. Our life choices have also undergone a massive transformation.  We want to live healthier, eat healthier, work healthier, enjoy healthier and so on.

 

Given this scenario, it is natural that tourism must adopt a greener, sustainable, and responsible practices.

Tourists nowadays are seeking 'enriching experiences'. Tour Operators have a major role to play in this area. For example, anyone who has visited Agra would have come back with a packet of the famous 'Agra Petha'. So, hotels can introduce 'Petha making' workshops on their premises. Tour operators can arrange for a visit to a sweet shop and demonstration of this unique delicacy. Or a visit to the ancient city of Banaras should be coupled with a visit to the famous Banarasi sari loom factory.

 

Opportunities are endless in our culturally strong country for showcasing such unique experiences. Destinations does not belong to the tourists; they are merely visitors. Destinations belong to the community who are residing there. Their culture, customs, beliefs, rituals, etc are entwined with the destination. If tourism supports the local community by providing employment opportunities, preserving and showcasing their culture, then tourism can be said to be truly sustainable.

 

Health & hygiene becomes main concern for tourist’s these days. Where do we stay on these fronts globally and how can we achieve these?

In a mall in Ahmedabad, one of the shops had a nice display stating that 'All our staff are fully vaccinated'. The Tourism Industry should also start displaying such boards, whether it is airlines, hotels, restaurants, tour operators, guides, souvenir shops, etc. That is the way of reassuring tourists that 'All is well'. Many tourism associations, airlines, hotel chains, etc in India have vigorously started vaccination programmes for their staff. It is time to highlight/promote this hygienic practice boldly and prominently to the tourists. Not only it is a healthy practice, but it is also a good business practice too. Safety and security of tourists should be paramount.

 

Social distancing is focus today and tourists are looking for lesser-known destinations globally. What will be impact on the major tourism destinations in the country? How will it help in achieving equal distribution of tourism across the country?

During pre-covid times, 'overtourism' itself was a major issue in the mature tourism markets in Europe, South America, etc. International organizations like UNWTO, WTTC, ITB, WTM etc had brainstormed vigorously on it and many solutions/technical papers, etc were written on it. One of the solutions proposed was to divert the mass tourism traffic from the major tourism centric destinations to lesser-known destinations within the country. Tourism heavy destinations like Venice, Amsterdam, Dubrovnik, etc badly needed breathing space literally for its residents.

 

The same logic applies to the major tourism destinations in India too. Unless and until we discover and promote lesser-known destinations, our major destinations will be overflowing with tourists.  Not only lesser-known destinations should be promoted, but the major destinations can offer off-season discounts/offers so that the traffic in tourist season is dispersed.

 

How hotels and tourism industry is adopting renewable energy measures? What should be the way forward?

A recent news item mentions that in India, some of the hotels that have Google's eco-certified badge. The major Indian hotels chains like Taj group, ITC and Oberoi have already their renewable energy measures in place.

 

However, the challenge for the hospitality industry lies in the budget hotel segment, which is the majority in India. I understand that when the big hotel chains have already gone ahead and adopted renewable energy sources, soon the smaller hotels will follow suit. Pre-covid times, hardly anyone knew about the 'sustainable tourism' certified hotels and even today in India, no has an accurate data of how many such hotels exists. As times change, so does business models and so does customer expectations.  It needs to be seen how the inbound tourism market will reveal itself in India, when international borders open soon. Will the foreign tourists seek 'green certified hotels' when they land up in India? With Google and booking.com and other mega travel portals now boldly displaying the 'Sustainable tourism practices' in their hotel search list, the market conditions itself may encourage hotels to adopt green practices. 

 

The future is of renewable energy and the sooner the tourism industry adopts it, it is better for their businesses and also better for our mother earth.

 

What should be the marketing strategy of State Tourism Board’s in the changed scenario?

Post covid, at the global level many countries have already adopted marketing strategy focusing on sustainable tourism practices. e.g. Switzerland, Germany, Slovania, Thailand, Denmark,etc.

Many state tourism boards in India have been promoting unknown destinations on social media platforms in the recent past and that should continue. Focus can be on tourism activities which promote social distancing, nature, wildlife, community participation, etc. Every state in India has lot of hidden treasures in terms of intangible heritage such as cuisine, handicrafts, arts forms, literature, etc which will certainly attract both domestic and international tourists.

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