INDIA:“What Happened at the Eco-Tourism Conclave and WHAT AFTER THIS?”

Friday 25 April 2014

Date: 20 April 2014

Type: Commentary

Source: Imphal Free Press

Keywords: Eco-Tourism

By Soraisam Devajani

India’s first Ecotourism Conclave was held on the 7th and 8th April, 2014 under the banner “Manipur Tourism Conclave” jointly organized by the Ecotourism Society of India (ESOI) and Department of Tourism, Manipur. Mr. V.K. Duggal, Governor of Manipur, graced the event as the Chief Guest. Other dignitaries included prominent individuals and experts from ‘tourism sector’ as the panel of speakers.

While speakers shared some models of ecotourism and ‘responsible’ community based tourism related practices, they also highlighted certain negative impacts of unplanned and uncontrolled tourism development so that necessary mitigation measures could be taken up well in advance by our State Tourism planners. The speakers also cautioned of the likely problem areas with reference to some destinations which witnessed major failures in tourism development.

Worth mentioning is the valuable suggestions rendered by the speakers: active community participation (suggested two models to encourage community entrepreneurship), responsible tourism approach, voluntary participation of tourist in the day-to-day activities of the host, One Village One Product model in Thailand, authentic product, heritage conservation, walk tourism, home-stays, careful study of Carrying Capacity, formulation of code of conduct for service providers, Public Private Community Partnership (PPCP) model instead of Public Private Partnership (PPP) model, wildlife preservation, etc.

Here is an excerpt from the OPEN SESSION:

QUATIONS: The objectivity behind this conclave was questioned, as there was a disjunction between the conclave and the people living in the potential tourism destinations of the state was felt, evident with the non-inclusion of the civil societies.

Dr. Rajesh Kumar, Principal Secretary (Tourism): Wide publicity through various mediums was made well in advance. Some people were even phoned personally to register themselves.

Shri Rakesh Mathur, Honorary Secretary, ESOI: It is for the state to invite all stakeholders.

Ram W. (Representative of Indigenous Perspective): The Disturbed Area status with the implementation of AFSPA and the wide prevalence of human rights abuses in Manipur makes a contradictory picture for the State and battered people to be showcased as a tourist destination.

Dr. Rajesh Kumar: Not in a position to comment on this

Ram W.: Impacts of tourism projects taken up by the State in the last few years have taken a toll on the local dwellers. Mention may be made about the expansion of a State government run hotel by forcefully evicting Naga River Colony. The hotel was ‘handed’ over to a private party soon after the eviction. Along with this, State government run ‘Sendra Tourist Home’ (located in the vicinity of the Loktak Lake) was also transferred to the same private party. It is also unfortunate that the people living in and around the Lake- like Thanga or Karang are not encouraged, trained and supported for home-stays or community tourism where they can become direct beneficiaries. This happened due to ‘Tourism Development through PPP model’ where private parties are considered based on their financial capabilities.

Dr. Rajesh Kumar: With regards the Naga River Colony, the State’s policy on illegal occupation and whatever measures are taken up for that cannot be contested. The government’s assets mentioned here are allowed to be managed by the private party on trial basis for certain months only. Once the trial period gets over, these two properties with addition of few more assets will be put up for e-tendering.

Dr. Dhabali (MD, Classic Hotel): The State interest allowed me to take charge of ‘Imphal Hotel’ to accommodate guests coming from Myanmar and Mauritius who had come to attend the Manipur Sangai Festival, 2013. Similarly I had taken the charge for the management, beautification and renovation of the Government property at Sendra as well. Thus, I took charge of them both one after other on an urgent basis.

S. Devajani: Projects on Rural Tourism Development failed miserably. While the Ministry of tourism has put ‘Rural Tourism Development’ as a priority in its 12th 5-year plan, the tourism planers of our State doesn’t seem much aware that such theme based tourism projects has to have certain characteristics, most significantly (in the case of rural tourism) community participation and to benefit the host primarily. Likewise, development of tourism project with other themes should satisfy their themes and the purpose for its development.

Dr. Rajesh Kumar: Yes, I agree with that. 3 Rural Tourism projects sanctioned during 10th & 11th 5-year Plan failed undoubtedly reasons for which I’m not answerable to since it happened during my absence. I came back only in 2012 and hence I am not involved in any of the projects. Several crores of rupees have been wasted. During that time, almost 90% of the funds (both from Central Govt. and State Govt.) went to certain parts of hill areas to develop tourist destinations there and majority of those projects failed. This impacted other more deserving projects by leaving limited funding.

In this last two years, several projects including 2 mega-projects worth crores have been taken up. Foundation Stone for ‘Integrated Cable-Car Ropeway and Lakeside Development, Loktak Lake’ was also laid recently. In the coming years we are planning to take Manipur Tourism to the next level and you will get to witness the transformation soon. At present several projects are in the pipeline. We also got a mega project prioritized to develop major tourist attractions in and around Imphal City. We are also considering on developing an 18-Hole Golf Course at Nongmaiching, Imphal East District with around 10 resorts (representing different settlements of Manipuris) in its surrounding area.

S. Devajani: Draft Manipur Tourism Policy was released multiple times, the recent one being the Draft Manipur Tourism Policy, 2011 which was put-up online for views and comments from the public. We want to know the current status and when will the actual Manipur tourism Policy be enforced.

Dr. Rajesh Kumar: State Tourism Policy is in the verge of its completion. Views and comments from public through website and 16 departments are being incorporated in the Draft Tourism Policy, 2011. I will consult the Governor and put up for Cabinet Approval. There will be no more open consultation on this.

S. Devajani: There is no trace of tourism education system and research on tourism in our State. As a result of such neglect from the past, several projects have failed which has indirectly/directly hampered the development of our State. Further, when we talk of responsible tourism, one needs certain level of tourism awareness and sensitivity for him/her to participate in the process. What is the best way to bring about some change in this area?

Dr. Rajesh Kumar: Foundation Stone for State Institute of Hotel Management, Nongmaiching has been laid and is scheduled to start by 2015. With regard to tourism education, there is more to be done by Manipur University.

Shri Rakesh Mathur: We are here to spread awareness and create sensitivity. We will further look into it and see what best can be done. In the meanwhile, Food Craft Institute (FCI), Institute of Hospitality Management (IHM) and Indian Institute of Travel & Tourism Management (IITTM) are good options for this matter.

Additionally, Prof H. Nandakumar Sharma, Vice Chancellor, M.U. was contacted after the conclave and his views and comments were sought on tourism education, research and development. He stated:

“India Tourism Congress (ITC) has encouraged us to take up tourism awareness programs for which they may provide the required funding. This was discussed during the 11th ITC National Conference held on 4th & 5th April, 2014 in Manipur University. Accordingly, we have started framing a proposal which covers various aspects to create & spread tourism awareness such as seminars, conferences, workshops and even vocational courses. It may also include short term Hospitality Management training and Skill Development courses along with Guide Training programs. It would most probably kick start by 2015. We may also initiate graduate and post graduate degree programs on tourism and hospitality management, but at a later stage.”

The 2-day Conclave, perceived to be an event held in the interest of the general public and sponsored by the State Government, one wonders why a registration fee of Rs. 500/- per person was charged. The registration fee was a barrier to those who could not afford to pay it particularly for people residing at tourist destination sites. As a result, the conclave was held enclosed within a few favored groups/individuals without participation of people in the potential tourism destinations. Question arises on the motive behind organizing such conclave with non-inclusion of Civil Society Organizations.

Manipur have been known for its human rights abuses in an environment of militarisation with Disturbed Area Status and AFSPA continuing since many years and there arise a conflict in promoting our State as a peaceful tourism destination. The State has already started garnering unfavorable titles - the land of Hand-Grenades, IEDs, etc. which will only worsen in due course of time if the cause of it are not addressed.

An analysis on the recent tourism development trend in our State implies that the people living in and around tourism destinations are not, in any way, encouraged, trained and supported to become direct beneficiaries of most or all the tourism development projects. To worsen the scenario is the Public-Private-Partnership (PPP) model where elite and established chunks become the direct beneficiaries of tourism development and the communities are sidelined in the process. Another lacuna in the process is the process of e-tendering. It is also known fact that majority of the communities living in and around tourist destinations do not get access to internet and hence they are particularly left out from not only such conclave but also the more crucial finalization of Manipur Tourism Draft Policy 2011. Failure of projects cannot be let go off that easily. Crores of rupees which should have been, otherwise, utilised for the overall development of the State have been wasted and this has to be accounted for, even inv estigated throughout the whole planning and implementation process, right and then.

It is not only Rural Tourism projects that failed but various other projects too have proved futile. Let’s take an instance of the annual tourism festival of our state, the ‘Manipur Sangai Festival’. It remains worthy to consider as to what extent has the chaotic ‘festival’ contributed in responsible tourism development of our State. Tourism Impact assessment must be made mandatory both prior and after implementation. Such should be applied before the 18-Hole Golf Course project at Nongmaiching, Cable Car & Rope-way project and other tourism development projects of our State. The seriousness of the government can be seen in such assessment.

Tourism in Manipur is in a nascent state but rapidly being pushed as an industry from several quarters, and this being the reason there is an urgency in taking steps to involve the people in coming up with State Tourism Policy that works for all. The ‘Policy’ should be for the people by the people.

At this crucial stage, it becomes imperative for our State tourism planners and developers to orient tourism development towards quality tourism, the kind of tourism which implies responsible, just and sustainable tourism for long term gain. Tourism industry should be developed in the State, not only to earn revenue, foreign exchange and employment generation but also to bring an overall development of the State through conservation, preservation and revival of our cultural, environmental & social heritage.

For the conclave, it was educative and a significant tourism event organized in the State so far. The question is, WHAT AFTER THIS?

(S. Devajani is a Researcher with the Indigenous Perspective, Imphal)

See online : Imphal Free Press

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