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Responsible Tourism in Kashmir

Gulmarg & other tourist destinations will perish if we don’t act responsibly
11:53 PM Dec 29, 2023 IST | Dr Raja Muzaffar
responsible tourism in kashmir
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Scientific studies say that by 2030 there will be a 25 % increase in CO2 emissions from tourism when compared with 2016 ? In 1950 there were 25 million tourist arrivals in the world in different countries. In 1970 this number went up to 166 million and by 1990 this was 435 million. Between 1990 to 2018 the number of tourist arrivals in the world became three times higher and it went up to 1.442 billion and by 2030 1.8 billion tourist arrivals are projected. Let us now relate this with India. 30 years back the number of tourist arrivals in Goa , Uttarakhand , Rajasthan, Himachal or J&K was very less but now the rush is huge.

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Before 1990 few thousand pilgrims would visit Amarnath, Kedarnath or Badrinath, but now this number is huge and it is posing threat to our ecology and environment and we have already witnessed several environmental disasters in these areas. In Sonamarg , Pahalgam or Gulmarg we had very few concrete hotels in the past but now with the huge influx of tourists we have constructed a large number of hotels in these tourist destinations and these places now look like small cities rather than hill stations ? This is going to have a negative impact on our ecology and climate as these practices will cause depletion of our natural resources and will impact forests and local biodiversity as well.

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Managing waste in tourist places across the world has become an arduous task and this is more challenging in hilly areas like Gulmarg, Pahalgam and Sonamarg, in Kashmir. A day isn’t far when this will go out of control and all our tourist places will be choked with trash and our tourism industry will collapse. To address that the only way out is to adopt sustainable and responsible tourism practices and all the stakeholders in tour and travel trade need to understand which these practices are all about.

Ecotourism Conclave

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On December 16th Ecotourism Society of Kashmir in association with Gulmarg Development Authority -GDA organized an ecotourism conclave at Gulmarg to discuss and deliberate on overcoming irresponsible tourism practices . The newly posted CEO of Gulmarg Development Authority -GDA Mr Raja Waseem is very much concerned about these things and sought cooperation from tourism players to make Gulmarg a sustainable tourist destination. He said that illegal constructions and unscientific waste management are his two big challenges which he wants to address in the coming months.

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Chairman Ecotourism Society of Kashmir Sameer Boktoo welcomed the participants who were mostly hoteliers , travel agents, media persons and Govt officials and urged upon them to join hands in preserving Gulmarg.

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The Vice Chancellor of Central University of Kashmir (CuK) Prof A Ravindernath who was chief guest on the occasion laid emphasis on strengthening sustainable tourism practices and assured that CuK would collaborate with GDA and other stakeholders on building capacities of the students vis a vis ecotourism. He said that CuK already has a separate department of Tourism studies which works under the school of business studies. He said the department can work in collaboration with GDA, tourist players and NGOs and send their students for internships as well.

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Executive Member Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industry -KCCI and past president Travel Agents Association of Kashmir , Farooq Kuthoo , Perzada Fayaz Past President TAAK , Nadeem Qadri legal advisor Ecotourism Society of Kashmir , Zahoor Qari Past Chairman Travel Agents Association of India-TAAI JK Chapter, Akram Siah President Travel Agents Society of Kashmir-TASK , Shamim Shah Travel Agents Federation of India JK Chapter head , Noor Mohammad Shangloo JK Tourism Alliance Chairman and officials from Army also spoke on the occasion and voiced their concern about Gulmarg.

Cape Town Declaration

Responsible tourism practices are now discussed and debated across the world for the last few decades. Responsible tourism focuses on respecting the tourism destination’s environment, community, and culture. The participants in the Gulmarg Ecotourism Conclave were fully focused on responsible tourism as it aims to correct the adverse effects caused by irresponsible mass tourism. The Cape Town conference on Responsible Tourism was organised by the Responsible Tourism Partnership and Western Cape Tourism as a side event preceding the world summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg in 2002, and attended by 280 delegates from 20 countries. It grew out of the South African work on responsible tourism guidelines and involved delegates field-testing the South African Guidelines on sites in and around the city. The 2002 Cape Town declaration agreed that responsible tourism minimizes negative economic, environmental and social impacts. generates greater economic benefits for local people and enhances the well being of host communities. This is an internationally recognised event, supported by the United Nations World Tourism Organisation, that highlights how tourism can make the world a better place.

The Cape Town declaration is now widely accepted and was adopted by the World Travel Market in 2007 for World Responsible Tourism Day which is celebrated on November 7th every year.

Sustainable tourism & Govt’s strategy

Govt of India has in-fact come up with a National Strategy for Sustainable Tourism last year wherein thrust has been given on Sustainable Tourism. The Sustainable tourism or Green Tourism takes into account current and future economic, social and environmental impacts, addressing the needs of visiting tourists, the tourism industry, the environment and host communities. The policy document on National Strategy for sustainable tourism prepared by the Ministry of Tourism through an office memorandum dated April 29th 2022 reads :

“The National Strategy for sustainable tourism aims to mainstream sustainability in Indian tourism sector and ensure a more resilient, inclusive, carbon neutral and resource efficient tourism while safeguarding natural and cultural resources”

Conclusion

Responsible tourism practices cannot be achieved unless we don’t become responsible citizens. The tourists, hoteliers , cab drivers , restaurant owners , shopkeepers and all other tourism players and the Govt have to show their responsibility towards green tourism.

To make Gulmarg a better winter tourism destination we as responsible citizens / tourists need to act responsibly.

Let us not carry any plastic bags or food items with us to Gulmarg.

The local shopkeepers , hoteliers must also minimise the use of plastic

The hotels must process their food waste by installing small organic waste composters-OWCs which are not so expensive at all. Only thing is we need a behavioural change

GDA must initiate introducing battery operated All Terrain Vehicles -ATVs & battery cabs need to be introduced in Gulmarg.

Govt must provide additional staff to GDA and volunteers and interns from colleges , universities can also be asked to handhold GDAs work.

Dr Raja Muzaffar Bhat is an Acumen Fellow. He is Anant Fellow for Climate Action and has written extensively on sustainable development, climate action and environment

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