Woman meditating during sunrise, Neyyar dam, India
Eco-tourism is an increasingly common and popular term used all over the world as resources, both natural and manmade, continue to feel the weighty crush of an ever-increasing tourism industry. This movement is aimed at preserving and protecting both the natural and the cultural treasures that make each destination so valuable and unique. However, eco-tourism still recognises the importance of visitors and the economic contributions that they make to a destination. Therefore, its focus is on educating visitors to experience new lands, cultures, languages, religions, arts, cuisines, fauna and flora in an environmentally responsible way. So, in fact, eco-tourism is a dual responsibility shared by the tourist and the service providers within the destination.
This is particularly important in places such as India for various reasons. Firstly, India is a land of extreme diversity and biodiversity, making it one of the world’s wealthiest destinations in environmental, historical and cultural terms. Secondly, its resources are under much threat as the lack of funds, pollution, an extremely high population and a lack of education regarding preserving such resources are all major problems. Thirdly, as tourism levels increase, the local Indian people perceive the economic potential and tend to ignore the dangers being placed upon the resources out of a need for the money they are generating. So, tourism has, in some areas, become quite damaging to the very environment that has made India such a popular destination.
India has to implement responsible tourism in two main areas. These are 1) the protection of its wildlife, many species of which are endangered due to hunting and shrinking habitats, and 2) the preservation of its ancient temples and monuments, which are threatened by natural disasters, pollution and large numbers of tourists taking photographs, touching and milling around these. Tigers are particularly threatened, as are Indian Rhinoceroses. The Ganges River is another important natural resource that is facing major threat by pollution. Human and animal corpses are frequently seen floating along its ‘holy’ waters and the millions of people that survive off it die every year from water-related diseases. The Taj Mahal is an example of a tourist attraction being damaged by pollution, as its white marble exterior becomes discoloured.
Eco-tourism aims at raising awareness amongst visitors and locals alike for the preservation of the destination. It supports local economies that are related, in any way, to the tourism industry. These include museums, galleries, restaurants, craft markets, independent farmers that grow goods for private sale, dress makers, musicians, accommodation providers and so much more. Another important part of eco-tourism is voluntary work. This ensures that locals are involved in the important task of saving their own resources, while making it a voluntary initiative saves money and allows everyone involved to focus on the priority of the environment.
The money that is raised by such environmentally responsible tourism endeavours is used to train more locals to work in a way that protects their environment, run special education programmes, host events and campaigns to raise more funds, and improve and provide for the existing resources (e.g. purchasing food and building better enclosures for tigers).
India is fast becoming an eco-tourism hotspot as it recognises the need to salvage its valuable wealth of natural and cultural resources. Tourists visiting the subcontinent can do their part by adhering to the requests and instructions of attractions and guides, supporting the local economy and respecting the sacred temples, mosques and monuments. In addition, littering and pollution needs to be avoided at all times.
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