Unregulated tourism has changed the landscape of several tourism destinations in India beyond repair. The problem, of course, does not only lie with stakeholders, especially since those involved in tourism are only concerned with revenue maximisation. Although there are several schemes available to promote tourism regulatory there is no document on critical regulatory aspects.
In a backdrop where poverty plays a significant role, uncontrolled tourism has resulted in environmental degradation and disturbed the ecological balance. In the climate change scenario this could spell disaster for livelihoods. In the words of Francesco Frangialli, UNWTO Secretary-General, speaking at the Ministers’ Summit on Tourism and Climate Change in London, United Kingdom, November 13, 2007, “Climate change as well as poverty alleviation will remain central issues for the world community. Tourism is an important element in both. Governments and the private sector must place increased importance on these factors in tourism regulatory development strategies…They are interdependent and must be dealt with in a holistic fashion.” This situation is primarily the result of the absence of a regulatory framework which can ensure sustainability in terms of environment, economy and culture.
Way back in 1992, K Srisang in his paper,‘Third World Tourism: The New Colonialism’, summarised the situation aptly—“tourism in the Third World, as practised today, does not benefit majority of the people. Instead it exploits them, pollutes the environment, destroys the ecosystem, bastardises the culture, robs people of their traditional values and way of life and subjugates women and children in the abject slavery of prostitution. In other words, it epitomises the present unjust world economic order where the few who control wealth and power dictate the terms. As such, tourism is little different from colonialism” (Srisang, 1992).
To corroborate this view, the following are the ill effects of unregulated and unplanned tourism—degradation of heritage sites;
commodification of sacred resources; creation of a market for prostitution and drugs; environmental degradation and decline in biodiversity; destruction of wildlife habitats; pollution of lakes and water- bodies; overexploitation of valuable fresh water resources; global warming; and loss of scenic beauty due to high footfall, and resultant long-term damage to site.
Promoting Sustainable Tourism
Butler in 1993 had defined sustainable tourism regulatory as that “which is developed and maintained in an area (community, environment) in such a manner and at such a scale that it remains viable over an indefinite period and does not degrade or alter the environment (human or physical) in which it exists.”
Thus, sustainable and tourism regulatory should be such that the players in the sector ensures the resources retain their attraction forever and plans are devised keeping the carrying capacity of the concerned site in mind. In addition, there must be no (or only minimal) adverse environmental, social and cultural impact of tourism (Ministry of Tourism, 2011).
In India, tourism regulatory is gaining importance over the years. According to the Ministry of Tourism, the sector contributed to 6.88 per cent to India’s gross domestic product (GDP) in 2012-13, and contributed to more than 12 per cent of the country’s employment. Some recent statistics related to India’s tourism sector is presented in Table 1.
The Draft Tourism Policy by Ministry defined the following as the key mission for the sector (Ministry of Tourism, 2011).
- To achieve a 1 per cent share of international tourist arrivals by 2016-17
- Have 1450 million domestic tourists by 2016-17
- Promote sustainable tourism as a priority
- Enhance competitiveness of Indian tourism industry
- Create a world class tourism infrastructure
- Ensure greater visibility for tourist facilities
- Augment the human resource base in the sector
Admittedly, it is not easy to prepare a regulatory framework for the industry, since tourism regulatory activities combine the contributions of several sectors that cut across different domains. Unlike other sectors, the direct stakeholders in tourism are host communities, apart from being consumers and producers. Besides, tourism directly affects an entire community favourably as well as adversely, depending on the nature of activities undertaken.
From a governance perspective, tourism activities cross-cut many different departments and are fluid in nature. This is the prime reason that, despite being a top revenue earning and employment generating sector, tourism continues to be the neglected from a policy perspective.
In 1992 a National Action Plan was announced. It was regarded as an emerging action plan to set things right in some key areas, and to provide directions to achieve quick results in tourism regulatory sector. In 2002, the action plan was finally translated into a tourism policy and it officially became a joint central-state government concern.
The policy aimed at increasing the number of domestic and international tourists. In 2002, Government of India launched an international marketing campaign named as Incredible India to promote tourism regulatory in India to global audience. However, the campaign was substantially criticized by experts who pointed out that it failed to cover several aspects/regions of India which could have been attractive to the average tourist (Bhatia, 2013).
Currently, the prevalent Central Government policy in practice had been framed as far back as 2002. A new policy, drafted and circulated as the Draft Tourism Policy 2015 on the official portal of the Ministry of Tourism has suddenly disappeared from the portal, raising some serious questions about the intent of the Ministry.
Although at present, there are several boards in existence mandated to promote tourism, especially to attract foreign tourists, no regulatory authority has been constituted as yet. Another key problem is that tourism is a concurrent (state as well as central) subject in the Indian Constitution. Thus, apart from the Union government, various states have their own policies in keeping with their own perspective. A careful look at many state level policies will prove them to be quite contradictory to the sustainable tourism regulatory development paradigm.
For instance, one may have a quick look a tourism regulatory policies of Government of West Bengal and Uttar Pradesh. Both are published in 2016. Government of West Bengal is gearing towards 10 per cent growth in number of tourists per year. And, Government of Uttar Pradesh is expecting its tourists to grow from less than 2000 lakh to 6000 lakh by 2017. That means more than 200 per cent increase in next 10 years. And, to do so, both governments are talking of already identified important tourism destinations. While also talking of sustainability as a perspective, these goals itself suggest the contradiction in thought process. Without considering carrying capacities, developing right measures to address carbon foot prints and the similar concerns, the targets are set. And, without doubt if these targets are to be achieved, the first one to be sacrificed is the sustainability concern.
The only significant paper on tourism regulatory legislation in India was prepared by the Indian Institute of Tourism and Travel Management (IITTM) sometime in the 1990s. The focus was to identify the legislative guidelines of the tourism sector. The complexities in framing a regulatory policy for the tourism industry can be well understood by taking a look at the partial list of 31 legislative acts related to the tourism industry presented in Table 2.
Although there are several schemes available to promote tourism there is no document on critical regulatory aspects. To prevent tourism from further affecting host communities and valuable biodiversity, a balanced policy that takes into account appropriate regulatory measures to promote tourism, while at the same time deal with enhanced competition for a win-win situation for every stakeholder, is urgently needed.
Identifying the framework
- Key industries/sectors that are directly linked to tourism such as the hospitality sector, tour operators and other tourism service providers etc. needs to be identified.
- Pro- or anti-competitive issues, such as policy distortions/conflicts affecting competition (national and/or state level policies); prevailing anti-competitive practices in the tourism sector; possible impacts of such policies and practices on welfare issues—for tourists (consumers), service providers (producers) and host communities, need to be resolved; and,
- Measures towards regulatory and competition framework on selected sectors that are directly linked to tourism regulatory activities needs to be taken.
Given the fact that tourism can provide direct benefits to communities and serve as an important tool for poverty alleviation, it is imperative that a regulatory framework is embarked upon by the government for the development of the tourism sector. Such a framework needs to take into account the welfare of host communities, the comfort of tourists, the profits of tour operators, as also maintain the ecological balance so as to protect our valuable biodiversity.