Over the last couple of weeks a high-level delegation from Madhya Pradesh in central India, led by the Minister of Tourism Ms Thakur, has been in Kerala on India’s tropical Malabar Coast. Madhya Pradesh plans to draw on Kerala’s experience to attract tourists to enjoy their state’s rustic beauty, life, and heritage. Ms Thakur explained why they wanted to learn from Kerala. “There are several tribes such as Bhil, Sahariya and Gond living in our State, and we want to showcase their traditional values, attire and food habits to the entire country and outside world with Kerala’s assistance. The soul of India lies in the villages, and we want to show it to the world with your cooperation.” One of the reasons for Kerala’s Responsible Tourism approach’s success has been its engagement with communities and the panchayats, the local village level councils.
Madhya Pradesh has signed a memorandum of understanding with Kerala to replicate Kerala’s pioneering Responsible Tourism initiative. Kerala’s Tourism Minister, Kadakampally Surendran, said that RT was the “only tool for sustainable development of tourism” as it created better places for people to live in and to visit. The Minister said the pact with Madhya Pradesh was “another milestone” for Kerala Tourism and its RT Mission. Madhya Pradesh’s government has expressed its intent to adopt and implement the model, aimed at developing villages and local communities, eradicating poverty and emphasising women’s empowerment. Tourism Minister Kadakampally Surendran said “It’s gratifying to watch other states implementing the community-oriented and heritage-preserving responsible tourism mission activities of Kerala. Apart from Madhya Pradesh, many other states too have expressed their interest in the project.”
The Second International Conference on Responsible Tourism in Destinations was held in Kerala in 2008, focused on sharing knowledge about developing Responsible Tourism practice. The ideas were tested in four very different villages located across Kerala Kovalam (beach), Kumarakom (Backwaters), Thekkady (Wildlife) and Wayanad (Hill station). A variety of approaches were used and tested, all with the intent of increasing local communities’ participation in tourism. By 2005 there was concern about the impact of tourism on communities by increasing volumes of tourists and the development of hotels and resorts. In retrospect, this is best seen, as one of the earliest and most successful interventions to manage overtourism and to ensure local economic benefit from tourism as an additional income source for the vast majority of households wherever a Responsible Tourism approach was implemented.
In 2015 the Tourism Minister asked that a “census” be conducted in one of the villages to provide evidence of the local benefits. In Kumarakom the research found that 70% of households were engaged with, and benefitted from, tourism. 40% of households owned a tourism business, three quarters sold to tourism businesses and one quarter directly to tourists. This reflects the Responsible Tourism strategy in Kerala to develop producer groups to supply farm produce and soft furnishings to the hotels and resorts. The other pillar of their approach is Village Life Experiences. Tourists are able to visit households to meet with farmers and craftworkers. The households gain additional income, the tourist has a guilt-free encounter with local people and they are able to purchase directly from their hosts. The hotels and resorts sell the commissionable Village Life Experiences guided by people from the villages.
In 2017 Kerala created the Responsible Tourism Mission to roll this strategy out across the state to enable many more communities to benefit from tourism bringing an additional income source to households while avoiding household dependency. The new national draft strategy for the tourism industry adopts a Responsible Tourism approach and there are Responsible Tourism Award winners across the country.
If you have the opportunity to visit Kerala, take a Village Life Experience. It will be a highlight of your experience of Kerala; for many, it is the highlight of their trip.