Dr. K. Parameswaran*
The International Ecotourism Society has defined Ecotourism as the "responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the welfare of local people". The Australian Commission on National Ecotourism Strategy defines ecotourism as "nature-based tourism that involves education and interpretation of the natural environment and is managed to be ecologically sustainable".
In modern times, eco tourism has been expected to help in achieving the following also: involve travel to natural destinations, minimize impact on natural resources, build up environmental awareness, provide impetus and financial support for conservation, financially benefit and empower local people and inculcate respect for local culture.
A travel enthusiast from Kanyakumari in Tamilnadu and an avid practitioner of eco tourism guidelines, R N Kesavaperumal says that "ecotourism, to be worthy of its name, should be able to ensure financial benefits to the people from the locality where tourism activities are being developed and encouraged. From the other side, eco tourism as an activity has to pro actively teach travelers and tourists to respect local cultures of tourism destinations”.
The International Society for Eco Tourism has made a special mention of the economic significance of eco tourism activities. The society points out that eco tourism activities always takes care that money generated through the tourism must not go out from the local economies. It discourages mass tourism, mass constructions of hotels, tourism resorts and mass activities in fragile areas".
Environment Friendly Tourism: A Reference from Sanskrit Literature
As far as India is concerned, the famous Sanskrit poem the “Meghadoot” by the immortal poet Kalidasa, on close examination, proves to be a manual for eco tourism. The lyrically sublime poem is an explanation and description of the route to be taken to reach the abode of the lover of a Yaksha. The poem is structured as if the Yaksha is describing the route to a rain cloud and requesting the rain cloud to carry his love message to his lover!
The poem stresses on the care that should be taken to protect nature and natural resources. For example, there is sloka in Meghadoot which means “we have watered the trees that blossom in the summer-time. Now let's sprinkle those whose flowering time is past. That will be (a) better deed, because we shall not be working for the reward.”
The poem, describes with great care and diligence, the way through the Central Indian plains, noting with surprising involvement the flora and fauna as well as the geographical and natural particularities of each region that the cloud has to pass through.
The famous Mayoora Sandesham (The message send through a Peacock) in Malayalam describes the famous paddy fields and unique irrigation facilities of the then Travancore (now Kerala and parts of Tamilnadu) in minute detail. Such poems have been the earliest call for conservation and environment friendly travel and tourism.
The Environmental Pledge
|Pic courtesy : http://365give.ca/wp-content/uploads/2011/04/EarthDayPledge.jpg|
In keeping with the tenets of eco tourism, India has decided that the Environmental Pledge will be honoured as far as environmental activities are concerned. The following are the principal aspects of the environmental pledge.
· All stationery and various kinds of publicity material will be made only on paper that has been recycled. The Ministry of Tourism has also pledged itself to implement a recycling programme for all its activities.
· As far as possible, the use of polythene bags will be avoided as far as tourism related activities are concerned. Plastic is non biodegradable and a single polythene bag might take up to centuries for decomposing. Each tourist is putting in his or her effort in conserving nature when they use a cloth or paper bag to carry consumables!
· Another important area where eco friendliness of tourism is reflected is in the use of power and its generation. The environmental pledge makes it concomitant for the tourists as well as the tourism practitioner to utilize environment friendly forms of power like solar energy or wind turbines.
· A related area of concern, from the point of view of eco friendliness, is the care and attention given to the judicious use of water resources. Recycling of used water, installation of active rain water harvesting systems, use of toilets where the amount of water needed is comparatively less etc are some of the important initiatives possible in this area.
· Along with this has to be mentioned the concern that eco tourism projects should have as for protection and conservation of bio diversity and plant and animal life. For this purpose, afforestation activities like planting of tree saplings, medicinal plants etc will be given more prominence in tourism sites. The use of fire wood for heating purposes will be severely curtailed. Use of eco friendly, non plant materials for landscaping, interior designing etc is also part of the environment pledge in this area.
· Segregation of waste is an important part of activities in eco friendly tourism projects. Only bio degradable waste materials will be buried at the sites or used for making compost manure etc. Non bio degradable waste, if any, will be taken to other facilities nearby for scientific disposal.