Madhya Pradesh, in Hindi Central Province, is the second largest Indian state by area and the fifth largest state by population with over 72 million residents state. The scheduled castes and tribes constitute a significant portion of the population of the State 15.6% and 21.1% respectively. Tourism is developing rapidly and the state’s diversity offers real opportunities for cultural and natural heritage itineraries. Perhaps best known internationally for Khajuraho, there is much more to enjoy here.
Four years ago I was approached by Dr Manoj Singh about how Responsible Tourism might benefit rural communities in Madhya Pradesh, I did not realise then how quickly he would mobilise a team and established a Responsible Tourism Mission in the state. Building on the experience of the Responsible Tourism Mission in Kerala, about which I wrote here last week, Manoj and his team have made remarkable progress.
The two Responsible Tourism Missions are not in competition with each other, they are two very different states. One of the fundamental principles of Responsible Tourism is that governments, communities and businesses identify issues, problems or challenges, in the destination which tourism can be used to do something about. The issues vary from place to place. Madhya Pradesh explains that “Responsible Tourism is about using tourism to make better places to live in and better places to visit.” The Responsible Tourism Mission’s objective is clearly asserted “Empowering Local Communities Through Tourism.”
As in Kerala the mission to make tourism better, to use tourism rather than be used by it. The team which Dr Manoj has put together is strong in rural development expertise, in working alongside communities to empower them, working with them rather than telling them what to do. I am here with a group of Responsible Tourism practitioners learning about developments over the last four years around Gwalior, Orchha and Khajuraho, a familiarisation tour to share experience before the International Symposium on Responsible Tourism in Bhopal on 7th September.
The symposium involves the government of Madhya Pradesh, communities and NGOs and the Association of Domestic Tour Operators of India (ADTOI), all working together to make tourism better for communities, businesses and their guests, domestic and international tourists. By engaging communities to enrich the range of things for visitors to do and buy, the tourism industry gets extended lengths of stay and increased revenues and the communities get a significant additional source of income improving their livelihoods
At Tendu Leaf Jungle Resort there is a sign on the path you approach the restaurant which makes the same point as “never mind the patter, watch the hands”, more gently but perhaps more powerfully.
The difference between sustainable and Responsible Tourism is revealed. Sustainability is an abstract idea, often an inoperative objective, a mantra mouthed but not actioned. The examples we have seen over the few days have demonstrated this difference. Where people take responsibility and take action real change results, tourism are better and local communities secure better livelihoods.
We have seen great examples of changes which have empowered women and made safer destinations for them, diversified farm incomes, improved livelihoods for crafters and access for the differently abled.
Already 50 women had been taught self-defence, trained with new skills and found employment.
The Responsible Tourism Mission’s Humsafar (companionship) programme is raising awareness of the challenges faced by the differently and working to reduce and remove them.
By working with communities to develop a range of accommodation facilities, from homestays to rural retreats, the Responsible Tourism Mission is creating opportunities for improved livelihoods through accommodation, performance of music and dance, food and beverage, guiding and craft.
Madhya Pradesh Tourism Board (MPTB) has joined forces with PashooPakshee, to create a holistic rural livelihood program that focuses on developing responsible souvenirs and merchandise portraying iconic destinations of Madhya Pradesh.