Civic Sanskriti: Taking sustainability and eco-care on holiday with you
Our world offers beauty, charm and adventure, if only we seek with our eyes open, to paraphrase Jawaharlal Nehru. Heading out to experience the outdoors, meet others, tasting a different cuisine, is becoming a way of emerging from lockdown restrictions, and a change from online calls and work from home.
Indeed, travel now is not only about broadening the mind, but also reconnecting with the world and mental health. Much has changed with the climate and ecological crises and the risks of the pandemic, and so there are new mantras for tourism too.
It goes without saying that we need to take care that the pursuit of enjoyment and leisure should not increase waste and pollution, cause disturbances or traffic congestion, or worse, destroy natural or cultural heritage that is a common resource. Instead, we need to think about how tourism can contribute to the healing of our minds, economies and ecosystems.
A recent conference on sustainable tourism development in Pune, hosted by the BN College of Architecture that brought together entrepreneurs, local government, policy makers, academia and social enterprises had some pointers.
Dr Shubhada Kamlapurkar, anchoring the conference management team says that “sustainable tourism requires multiple agencies to work together to set up standards and certification of tourism sites and facilities, and capacity building to strengthen the current systems. For example, it’s essential to have solid waste management, and safe water and sanitation systems to handle tourist influx, and sustainable site management within site carrying capacity, avoiding tourists venturing into fragile biodiversity zones.”
As travellers, we need to be respectful to host communities, local customs and traditions, as well as staff and service providers. Privacy is a concern, so it is best to ask before taking photos of other people. Responsible tourism includes reducing waste, avoiding single use plastic, and taking care not to disturb wildlife and natural habitats. We should try to contribute to the local economy by buying local products, paying a fair price, and hiring local guides.
Initiatives like the global Blue Flag award for beaches show how tourism can be an impetus for environmental improvement and conservation action. When preparing Ghoghla beach in Diu for meeting the Blue Flag criteria, the local administration had to first remove about 20 trucks of broken glass, plastic waste and other debris. Next, they set up drinking water facilities, sparkling clean toilets and showers, life guards, first aid, and opportunities for nature walks and environment education for the local population and visitors. Meeting the stringent criteria also required setting up excellent waste and sewage management facilities, and regular water quality testing within the bathing zone at the beach.
Most interestingly, the beach managers also took up dune conservation by removing invasive exotic plants and protecting local plants. Such dune conservation and environmental management efforts are implemented at all the eight beaches in India that have been awarded the Blue Flag, with support from the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change and the respective state governments.
All tourism activity needs to be transformed into such sustainable forms. Most interesting are initiatives where tourists can themselves support environment conservation efforts. These include clean-ups, plantations, biodiversity documentation such as annual bird counts, monitoring and safeguarding turtle nesting, and ecosystem restoration efforts. Here is hoping for individual responsibility of tourists and collaborative, multi-stakeholder efforts promoted by the government so we can continue to enjoy the beauty and adventure our world offers, not only with reduced ecological footprints but also contributing to sustainability!
Sanskriti Menon is senior programme director, Centre for Environment Education. She writes on urban sustainability and participatory governance. Views are personal. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org