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Travel tales

Responsible Tourism

Left to Right- Aman Nath, Amit Dixit, Dr Harold Godwin
Left to Right- Pranab Sarkar,Mark Watson,Jose Dominic,Jyoti Kapoor, Shama Pawar

Responsible Tourism Summits are regularly held in India and Outlook Traveller and Kerala Tourism are the most active in this field. Responsible Tourism – that’s a HOT WORD and many many eminent leaders in tourism and hospitality industry join in and share their thoughts on the refined and extensive format of Responsible Tourism (RT).

The Summits create first-of-its-kind platform for all stakeholders of RT to network, liaise, share best practices, and discuss the way forward to develop a cohesive RT blueprint for India along with multiple panel discussions exploring different facets of RT.

But before talking about responsible tourism, let us check if we aware of the actual meaning of the word RESPONSIBLE. Do we really know what Responsible means?

Or like many other big words used by our celebrities, politicians and other corporate world giants – this word is also going to be used just as a money spinner. The summits give me mixed feelings but the idea of it being used as a money spinner is more evident.

Being a travel photographer, an ardent nature n wildlife lover, I at times feel so sad and ashamed of what we are actually doing? Over the last few years, I have come across many incidents of high-class conferences and summits where we talk big – very big and then we leave behind a mountain of scrap – garbage for others to take a lesson on how to save our planet. We have talked a lot about conserving our natural resources and vanishing wildlife, we have talked about sustainability. And now we talk about RESPONSIBLE. But …..

If we were really serious, we would have gone out and done something. Just attending summits in a luxurious hotel, building luxurious nature retreats which are accessible to rich and affluent classes only does not make us responsible.

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Instead, the rich should be given training classes before they visit a nature destination either for work or pleasure. In fact, recently I was in Mussorie in Uttrakhand and a few locals told me about the mess created during one of a recent movie shoot by a big Bollywood star. A hell lot of litter was left behind in the entire area by the unit. Please see the picture taken by one of the locals the shooting team left behind.

You see, the question I asked was – Are we Responsible?

It’s going to be same Bollywood celebrity himself asking a question after a few years – oh such a horrible place it is! But then, who is responsible?

It’s like that famous incident where a celebrity goes for a wildlife safari – sees a sweet beautiful though poor helpless animal, feels hungry and gets the poor animal killed for his lunch. A lot of hue n cries afterwards – but after some years of long courtroom battles the poor animal loses and the celebrity roams around free and ready for another kill.

Another incident I want to narrate here is about a documentary shoot by a well-known channel on nature and wildlife. I ran across them in a sanctuary in Chhattisgarh once. The driver of one of their vehicles used to take his jeep go off the roads frequently and then stop. Go out and pick up a smashed dead rabbit from the sides of the road. And everybody of the shoot team used to applaud him. When I enquired why he was doing so – he said he loves the sweet meat of wild rabbits, and he loves doing so whenever he brings tourists to the sanctuary. Now everybody from the channel team was happy and hoping for a tasty lunch without realising what harm they were doing? Is this what the channel calls Responsibility.

This was about 3 years back and I am sure the rabbits must be on the extinct list of Chhattisgarh. Similarly, I am waiting for other animals to be declared extinct from all around the world.

Almost at the end of the summit, I have seen a heap of garbage at the pop-ups that the organisers put up. There is so much of food wastage – which if collected could feed an entire settlement of 30-40 families.

Is this a message that we are trying to spread and let the world know that we are Responsible.

At the summit, we talk about starting Responsible tourism awards. Everyone knows who will win; certainly the organisations who will spend a fortune in projecting themselves as the best. It does not matter what they do in reality. But don’t think that I am against all these award ceremonies – I guess the true recipients should be from the grass root levels, the people who actually practice the theory in their everyday life.

It’s just not enough to preach or be responsible for a few days when you are vacationing or giving lectures or attending summits.

“A lot is happening in Responsible Tourism in India,” said Harold Goodwin, Professor of Responsible Tourism, Manchester Metropolitan University and Director, International Centre for Responsible Tourism. Delivering a powerful keynote at one of India’s Responsible Tourism Summits Prof. Goodwin spoke to a rapt audience that included responsible tourism practitioners from around the country, the academia, top-ranking bureaucrats, corporates, representatives from tourism boards and the travel & tourism industry.

Unfortunately, the summit saw participants representing only the top elite members promoting Responsible Tourism – but no representations from the actual and real people who work for the actual promotion of responsible tourism by saving the age-old cultural values, mother nature, the ecology and the local flora and fauna.

“Everyone has a responsibility to be responsible. The centre and state governments, locals, service providers, and tourists have to come together,” yes very true, everybody has to pitch in. Don’t you think that at first we should first teach ourselves to be responsible when we go out to travel with family, or visit places for business, or go for wildlife safaris, ocean cruises etc. etc.

We should follow up our speeches, teachings by actions and organise more awareness camps and summits at the actual sites, carry out cleaning of our travel and nature destinations and check up at regular intervals. I remember an awareness camp at the base station of Valley of Flowers once. It really was a nice effort, all the plastics and drink cans were removed and it was a very pleasant scene. But then after the drive was over – it was back to square one and within a weeks’ time – it was the same – green grassy land was again painted in multi-colours with plastic packets.

Why don’t we understand that the food and beverages packets that we carry filled up become less heavy after we consume the material inside and it will be much easier to bring it back with you and dump it at the right places?

To sum it up, I feel that we should think of responsibility at all times, at grass root levels, and should spread the word around. Initiating more awareness through actual actions and follow-up practises will be a small try.

So are you people out there ready to join me for such a drive – Don’t you think we are RESPONSIBLE towards our future generations and also the present time fellow occupants of Mother Earth. Let’s take a PLEDGE today to be RESPONSIBLE by actions and not just words.

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