Responsible tourism in Kerala – Insights from the International conference on Responsible tourism, Kumarakom 2013 – Looking back, moving ahead.
Responsible tourism is all about “Better places for people to live and better places for people to visit”. Kumarakom the backwater village was the first destination in Kerala to have implemented Responsible Tourism in a great way. Local community participative tourism initiatives, direct and indirect involvement and benefits for the local community are some ways of responsible tourism model in Kumarakom. A great applause goes to the local self governance, the state tourism department, KITTS (Kerala institute of travel and tourism studies – the nodal agency for RT in Kerala) to have implemented the RT tourism model in a very successful manner. Responsible tourism goes with the idea of benefiting everyone, the local community has to be beneficiaries financially, socially and culturally.
Being an agrarian backwater village, most people in Kumarakom depend on farming, livestock, fishing and other backwater based occupations. When CGH Earth Came up with their first resort in 1996, Kumarakom was about to get recognized as one of India’s the most naturally beautiful destinations. There was a gold rush for acquiring land for constructing big time resorts in Kumarakrom as part of identifying the tourism potential of Kumarakom. The local people were not really part of this process, the villages had a livelihood very parallel to this development and were not part of it. The low level job opportunities were like the big thing offered. Any tourism development without benefiting the local community can no way be stated as a healthy progress.
In 2008 the government of Kerala came up with the first initiative of responsible tourism in Kumarakom. There were agreements set with the stakeholders of the tourism sector in Kumarakom, that the local agriculture produce was to be absorbed by the stakeholders. However, after harvest the industry was not able to turn up. The produce were scattered and could not be delivered systematically with a good supply chain. The model was a flop and even brought up clashes. That was when the idea of setting up a central agency to collect the produce was set-up in 2011 and named it Samrudhi – This agency’s role was to act as a leverage between the stake holders and the local community for effective sale and delivery of the local produce. Today samrudhi has a revenue of more that Eight million Indian rupee and this directly goes to the local community. Apart from agriculture and livestock produce, other items like souvenirs, handicrafts include in the produce – services and programs like the village visits and activities are sold as experiences of Kumarakom to the outer world conducted by the local men and women – which turns them to Job creators employing themselves.
Today there are thirty focused groups each with thirty women each working in agriculture based businesses under Kudumbashree (a women empowered society – a Kerala state government initiative). There are local guides who have come up with day programs and activities around kumarakom with the support of the Kerala Tourism – Responsible tourism department and local governance bodies, making the local population the beneficiaries of a phenomenon called tourism and making it better places for people to live and better places for people to visit.
Written by Benjamin John