Thiruvananthapuram: Kerala is making great strides as the Responsible Tourism (RT) capital of the world with a focussed action plan. Since the official launch of RT Mission in October 20, 2017, Kerala Tourism has been able to establish 17,008 individual/group units under various categories based on activities and professions such as cloth bag making, paper bag making, handicrafts, organic farming, artists, artisans, community tour leaders, farm stays, ethnic cuisine etc. Of this, 13,567 are led by women. Overall, 92,980 local community members are earning a decent income every month directly or indirectly. The registered units of RT Mission generated Rs. 25.50 crore till January 31, 2020; Rs. 4.51 crore (August 2017 to March 2018); Rs. 4.98 crore (April 2018 to March 2019) and Rs. 16.01 crore (April 2019 to January 2020).
Responsible Tourism is not a mere hollow ‘fashion statement’ for Kerala Tourism but a core value which guides the initiatives to take tourism activities to the grass-roots level, ensuring livelihood to local communities while offering wonderful experiential tourism products to the visitors, showcasing the ‘life on the move’. The success stories of Kerala’s RT initiatives, impressively sustainable and reassuringly inclusive, are drawing the attention of the entire world. Here, we present the unique RT experiments of God’s Own Country for our readers
“Our aim is to link a minimum of one lakh local community members with the tourist industry directly or indirectly in 2020-21. We are quite optimistic of achieving the target given the resounding success of RT Mission’s activities in the last couple of years. Till 2017, the number of RT units in the State was 197. Now, it has crossed 17,000 in just two years,” said K Rupeshkumar, State Coordinator, Kerala RT Mission.
According to him, the RT Mission is giving emphasis to activities under the three pillars of RT concept: economic responsibility, socio-cultural responsibility and environmental responsibility. “The activities of RT Mission have brought about a drastic change in Kerala’s tourism industry. It is playing the role of a facilitator linking community members at the grass-root level with tourism industry. We are systematically working to link local communities directly or indirectly with tourism sector through awareness creation and, trainings and capacity building programmes across the State,” he said.
Years ago, it was Kerala Tourism which pioneered the idea of Village Life Experience (VLE) under its RT project. The core idea was to protect the native crafts and traditional occupations. Now, VLE tour packages are a big hit, especially among international tourists at destinations like Kumarakom, Vaikom, Wayanad and Kovalam. “At present, 60 VLE packages are operational in various destinations across Kerala and 850 families are linked to this programme,’’ he said.
Though a universal definition of Responsible Tourism was framed and declared in 2002 alongside the World Summit on Sustainable Development held at Cape Town, there were no practical models for Responsible Tourism for Kerala to study, consult or emulate. “The Government of Kerala, however, decided to practice RT on an experimental basis at four select destinations and the first phase was started in 2008. After reviewing the activities at these four destinations, RT practices were extended to three more destinations – Bekal in Kasargod, Kumbalangi in Ernakulam and Ambalavayal in Wayanad – in 2011 as the second phase. However, the benefits were limited to a small group of people at the select destinations until the formation of RT Mission in 2017,” Rupesh said.
In a recent visit to Kerala, Dr. Harold Goodwin, Founder & Director of UK-based International Centre for Responsible Tourism, said that democracy and transparency are the major components of RT in Kerala. “Firstly, what makes Kerala ascend the world leadership is the concerted action among government, local people and tourism industry in RT activities. Secondly, RT gives equal importance to socio-economic and environmental responsibilities. Thirdly, after the implementation of RT activities, there is an increase in the number of domestic tourists to Kerala,” he said.
Kerala RT Mission offers an online platform to sell perishable and non-perishable products of registered RT units in Kerala. This innovative venture ensures direct contact between the seller and the buyer.
RT Mission HR Directory
Conforming to the goals envisaged by Responsible Tourism initiatives worldwide, the Mission also encourages activities which generate greater economic benefits for the local people and enhance their wellbeing. Human Resource Directory is one such initiative of the Mission.
“HR Directory was introduced with the aim of connecting the skilled, semi-skilled and unskilled labours to the tourism sector. A detailed list of people like drivers, plumbers, electricians, community tour leaders, coconut tree climbers, employees in house-keeping, gardeners, receptionists, front office executives and many other categories are registered under this platform. Hotels, resorts, tour operators etc. can hire people from the list as per their requirements. Job-seekers can also register on this platform at any time,” Rupeshkumar said.
Kerala Tourism’s PEPPER (Peoples’ Participation for Participatory Planning and Empowerment through Responsible Tourism) project, executed under RT Mission, is reinventing the way in which the local community is involved in tourism activities. The main objective of PEPPER is to discover unexplored destinations that have rich tourism potential and develop them in a sustainable manner with the active involvement of respective local communities. It encourages local self-governing (LSG) bodies to frame proposals for the development of tourism projects in their localities, which are derived from the ideas and suggestions mooted in the course of discussions held at Special Tourism Grama Sabhas, and submit those to the Department of Tourism. The entire process happens with the support and guidance of RT Mission. Department of Tourism evaluates the proposals received under PEPPER and takes up the projects on the basis of priority and their viability.
Special Tourism Grama Sabhas hold much significance as most of the initiatives of RT Mission start from there. “It ensures the participation of local community members ranging from traditional workers and heads of religious institutions to elected representatives, tourism entrepreneurs and environmentalists. The meetings discuss possibilities of identifying places which have the potential to be developed and marketed as tourism destinations. The overall benefits of the project, including creation of job opportunities in the region, are evaluated threadbare. After that, members of Grama Sabhas are divided into different subject groups and discussions held. The discussions conclude with the summing up of the topics deliberated. Resource Mapping and preparation of Resource Directory follow. Based on this, various experiential tourism packages are developed. Simultaneously, training programmes are chalked out with the support of LSGs. On completion of training, the beneficiaries are registered as RT Mission units and linked to the industry through online and offline modes,” he explained.
The PEPPER project was first implemented in Vaikom on an experimental basis. Surrounded by the Vembanad Lake, Vaikom holds immense potential to allure travellers with its beautiful water bodies and serene village life. Kadakampally Surendran, State Tourism Minister officially launched the project on November 3, 2017. “Since then, RT Mission has registered 401 units in Vaikom. In total, an income worth Rs. 95 lakh has been generated by them. In the last one year, Vaikom welcomed 60,367 tourists out of which 44, 683 (74 per cent) are foreigners,” Rupesh said.
Vaikom has proved that tourism destinations and zones can be identified through local community participation, developed in a participatory approach and emerge as true RT destinations. It also underlined the vital role that LSGs can play in development and promotion of a tourism destination. “Taking a cue from the successful implementation of this scheme, Kerala Tourism has decided to extend the scheme to 13 more LSGs in the State. We have started implementing the project in Athirappally, Kayyur Cheemeni, Punnayoorkkulam, Peringamala, Kallikad, Kanthalloor, Ponnani and Amballoor,” he said.
Altogether, as part of PEPPER project, 10 LSGs of Vaikom have submitted 169 different tourism development projects. The feasible projects will be combined to develop the Master Plan for Vaikom Tourism, which is being undertaken by the Department of Tourism.
RT Mission is on a mission to reduce the generation of plastic waste in the industry. “Resorts/Hotels in RT destinations like Thekkady, Kumarakom etc. have replaced plastic water bottles and disposable cups with glass bottles and glass tumblers. Instead of plastic straws, resorts/hotels have started using paper straws and now they have switched to bamboo straws too. Plastic carry bags/laundry bags are being replaced with paper/cloth/jute bags,” he said.
Besides, as part of the ‘Clean Kerala Initiative’ project of RT Mission, Department of Tourism in association with Kerala Travel Mart (KTM) Society, have declared more than 450 accommodation units – hotels, homestays and houseboats in the State – as plastic free by excluding 19 plastic items, including plastic carry bags, plastic tray, disposable cups, plastic bottles, plastic straws, plastic plates, plastic cups, cling film, thermocol, plastic bowls, plastic flags, plastic sheets used for food parcelling, plastic spoons, fruit and vegetable punnets, plastic juice packets, PVC flex materials and food parcelling plastic containers.
Kerala Tourism, through RT, has initated steps to resist global warming. These include forest conservation based on Miyawaki Method, promotion of cycle tours, Mangrove protection activities, protection of local species of fruit trees and conservation of sacred groves. “The sacred groves of Kerala will be mapped and festivals related to them will be made part of experiential packages. ‘Visit a Grove’ package will be launched soon. Activities to conserve the grove with the help of tourists will be designed as a part of the package,” he said.