Shifting to ECO-TOURISM.

It can add to the market value of our traditional tourism

Last week, I had an opportunity to attend two- day workshop related to ecotourism, organized by Eco – tourism society of India in collaboration with many other tourism related organizations at Srinagar. The theme of the workshop was “ practicing responsible tourism ”. Many issues related to tourism, particularly the ecotourism were discussed at length and several experts of repute were part of the panel. Vistas of prospective vigorous tourism were almost perceptible with motivating and powerful presentations by the panelists . However , the interactive sessions were noisy , off the track and at occasion’ s haywire. It seems we are yet to be proficient with the etiquettes of seminar culture and other interactive discussion . Unanimity was quite visible among all the participants regarding the strategic location and unique characteristic of Kashmir as pioneer in invigorated eco – tourism destination in the region.

Kashmir being the leading prospective stake holder of ecotourism in the subcontinent, so ‘responsible tourism’ should have been the essence of our tourism policy. Tourism sector in Kashmir derives its strength from its scenic beauty, interesting ecosystem, pleasant climate , diverse flora and fauna, and unique culture and heritage. All these features of splendor and richness are fragile in many ways and need to be preserved not only for subsistence of the tourism sector, but for our posterity as well. For the last six decades , in the garb of tourism development, we have resorted to over exploitation of these resources, satiating our materialistic urge . The haphazard expansion of erstwhile hill stations; encroachments into water bodies, vandalizing forest cover and many such other activities not in agreement with the delicate eco – system has landed our tourism sector and environment in mess . Tourism expansion related regulations are in place since Maharaja’s autocratic rule and were then adhered to strictly, but unfortunately after 1947 we gave a damn to such regulatory rules . Political interference , corruption and many other shoddy practices acted as catalysts in ruination of our striking scenery and other natural resources. After independence we as a nation failed to protect our God- gifted wealth. The concept of sustainable tourism, which was religiously followed by our forefathers , eluded us after abolition of autocracy.

Even after decades of defacement Kashmir is left with enough of natural wealth to be a vibrant ecotourism destination; but it requires a multi pronged sustainable tourism policy to get the ill – assorted tourism infrastructure to the international levels of excellence . Ecotourism will be the exclusive field where Kashmir can make headway and flourish. In the contemporary world of quality and excellence where emphasis is on nature and natural products , ecotourism attracts the high- end and well paying tourist traffic. This in other words can be termed as tourism of higher income with minimum stress on our natural wealth . Making ecotourism the flagship of our overall tourist activity invites a huge facelift of our tourist trade in synergy with scenic environs and natural resources. The vital infrastructural requirements of tourist traffic like bedding capacity, recreation , food and entertainment has to be in harmony with the nature and its accepted system of usualness . This all can be achieved in the first instance by declaring and notifying tourism as one of the important constituents of our economy through an extraordinary legislation with powers of empowerment and regulation of the sector. Shifting to ecotourism can as well enhance the market value of our traditional tourism and other products like adventure tourism, winter games, pilgrim tourism and golf tourism. This process of changeover cannot be achieved overnight but can be phased out with tangible measures of devising sound policy, dedication and a will to achieve the targets in a pre – conceived time frame.

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