ECO-CULTURAL TOURISM AS A MEANS FOR SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT

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					ECO-CULTURAL TOURISM AS A MEANS FOR SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT
By G.N.Sinha IFS, Director, State Forest Research Institute, Itanagar Tourism is one of the world's largest industries and one of its fastest growing economic sectors. It has a multitude of impacts, both positive and negative, on people's lives and on the environment. Because of the 82 per cent area being under forests, possibility of development of eco-cultural tourism for sustainable development of the state is immense. Location of Miao in the periphery of the famous Namdapha National Park is a unique setting for development of eco-cultural tourism as a vehicle of sustainable development. This would require appropriate strategy to translate the potential of eco-cultural tourism into a reality. Ecotourism and culture tourism are the two facets of this development process which needs to be understood by all stakeholders. Ecotourism: Definition and Ecotourism Principles The International Ecotourism Society defines ecotourism as "responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the well-being of local people." A walk through the rainforest is not eco-tourism unless that particular walk somehow benefits that environment and the people who live there. A rafting trip is only eco-tourism if it raises awareness and funds to help protect the watershed. This means that those who implement and participate in ecotourism activities should adhere to the following principles:
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Minimize impact Build environmental and cultural awareness and respect Provide positive experiences for both visitors and hosts Provide direct financial benefits for conservation Provide financial benefits and empowerment for local people Raise sensitivity to host countries' political, environmental, and social climate Support international human rights and labour agreements

Sustainable Principles: Ecotourism development guidelines and management practices are applicable to all forms of tourism in all types of destinations, including mass tourism and the various niche tourism segments. Sustainability principles refer to the environmental, economic, and socio-cultural aspects of tourism development, and a suitable balance must be established among these three dimensions to guarantee its longterm sustainability. Thus, ecotourism should: 1) Make optimal use of environmental resources that constitute a key element in tourism development, maintaining essential ecological processes and helping to conserve natural heritage and biodiversity.

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2) Respect the society and culture of host communities, conserve their built and living cultural heritage and traditional values, and contribute to inter-cultural understanding and tolerance. 3) Ensure viable, long-term economic operations, providing socio-economic benefits to all stakeholders that are fairly distributed, including stable employment and incomeearning opportunities and social services to host communities, and contributing to poverty alleviation. Participation of stakeholders: Ecotourism development requires the informed participation of all relevant stakeholders, as well as strong political leadership to ensure wide participation and consensus building. Achieving ecotourism is a continuous process and it requires constant monitoring of impacts, introducing the necessary preventive and/or corrective measures whenever necessary. Ecotourism should also maintain a high level of tourist satisfaction and ensure a meaningful experience to the tourists, raising their awareness about sustainability issues and promoting sustainable tourism practices amongst them. However, while growing tourist numbers bring economic opportunities and employment to local populations, helping to promote these little-known regions of the world, they also bring challenges with them: How to ensure that local communities fully benefit from the development of tourism and that growth in tourism helps to preserve and sustain the natural and cultural riches of this region, rather than putting them in danger? These questions have to be debated continuously and suitable improvements in the modality of ecotourism development should be made with the passage of time. Cultural tourism: Cultural tourism is based on the mosaic of places, traditions, art forms, celebrations and experiences that portray this region and its people, reflecting their diversity and character. The concept of learning from other cultures to broaden ones perspective is usually a core value. An artisan showing us how to weave a tapestry and learning from them about their traditional dress would be a form of cultural tourism. Buying crafts in the market with no more interaction than the exchange of money does not provide the insight into another culture that is the central theme of cultural tourism. Strategy for cultural tourism: Two significant travel trends will dominate the tourism market in the next decade.
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Mass marketing is giving way to one-to-one marketing with travel being tailored to the interests of the individual consumer. A growing number of visitors are becoming special interest travelers who rank the arts, heritage and/or other cultural activities as one of the top five reasons for traveling.

The combination of these two trends is possible by technology, through the proliferation of online services and tools, making it easier for the travelers to choose our destinations and customize their itineraries based on their interests. Broadening participation in the arts, increasing opportunities for artists, preserving and promoting our cultural resources and investing in communities' quality of life are among the reasons for promoting cultural tourism initiatives. There is a necessity to develop successful strategies linking the arts and tourism in communities across the entire region. 2

Successful cultural tourism projects depend on collaboration, assessment, research, and marketing and visitor service. Multiplicity of terms: A variety of terms and definitions have been used by the tourism industry for defining ecotourism and cultural tourism and other forms of tourism. Terms like sustainable tourism, ecotourism, green tourism and culture tourism are very common. The main distinction between these terms is the motives and ethics behind them. Is the environment being cared for? Is there genuine effort to help the local economies? Are resources being left intact for future generations? Is the local culture being honored and valued and not just photographed? These questions will cut through the semantics and allow us to see what is really being offered. Eco-cultural tourism: It is a concept in which ecological and cultural aspects of a landscape are combined to create a site for tourists. It is proposed as a way for communities with otherwise marginal cultural or ecological resources to develop. Sustainability and participation are both crucial for the long-term future of this form of tourism. There are innovative ways in which cultural tourism (in the form of open-air museums) can be combined with ecotourism to conform to every principle of sustainability. A key element to the success of eco-cultural tourism is local control in the planning, development and maintenance of these sites. This concept needs to be explored in the ways local people view their environment and ecologists regulate it. The potential of eco-cultural tourism as a tool for empowerment and development in the vicinity of Miao is immense. Its ramifications: Eco-cultural tourism also provides ways for the practice of archaeology and anthropology to mix and to articulate with wider society, although it may also pit the two disciplines against each another. Eco-cultural tourism reflects present-day practice, but also acts as a model for how cultural and ecotourism could be employed by local people to build an empowered, sustainable future in similar settings elsewhere. Eco-cultural tourism aims to establish links and promote cooperation between local communities, national and international NGOs, and tour agencies in order to involve local populations fully in the employment opportunities and income-generating activities that tourism can bring. This form of tourism can make a practical and positive contribution to alleviating poverty by helping local communities to draw the maximum benefit from their region’s tourism potential, while protecting the environmental and cultural heritage of the region concerned. Eco-cultural tourism and its objectives:
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Conducting eco-cultural studies Conducting eco-cultural education, awareness and training programmes Establishing and maintaining an interpretation centre Promoting environment friendly local industries to assist village communities

Role of guides: The growing travel niche of eco-cultural tourism is heavily dependent on guides. These professionals are the principal providers of client education about natural 3

and cultural resources, keys to conservation and protection of resources, enforcers of policies that protect host cultures and people, often they are the principal recipients of financial benefits to the local area and they make it fun for their guests. It is somewhat surprising how little a tourist usually knows about his/her potential guide before making a decision to go with an organization, despite the importance of guides to the success of an eco-cultural experience. This lack of information stems from at least two sources; ignorance about the important role the guide will play, and/or not knowing what information to acquire to allow for a pre-trip evaluation, and where to find such data. Many times the credibility of advertisements and commercial sources are suspect and the potential visitor may not know of anyone who has personally been on a guided experience they desire. Independent travelers and commercial travel agents should understand the roles of guides in a true eco-cultural experience, discuss how to evaluate if a potential guide and outfitter are of high quality, and know some sources for this type of information. Issues in sustainable development: In order to develop eco-cultural tourism as a vehicle of sustainable development in Miao and adjoining areas, following three issues have to be addressed: 1) Increasing awareness for preserving ecology of the region 2) Inadequate awareness of rural-urban linkages for strengthening sustainable development 3) Imbibing traditional eco-ethics for conservation and eco-cultural tourism The task ahead: There is a need to sensitize bureaucracy, students and general public about resource use, degradation and its consequences. Role of local institutions, customary bodies and monasteries in preservation of local culture and increasing ecofriendly tourism should be clearly defined. Likewise, role of government, NGOs and community based organizations should also be defined properly for environmental awareness and education programmes. Environmental impact assessment should be made an essential part of all development activity in tropical rainforests which dominate Changlang district. A concrete action plan needs to be prepared for development of eco-cultural tourism in Miao and adjoining areas. Support and guidance of experts and other knowledgeable persons should be enlisted in this task. It should be preceded by a detailed consultation with community based organizations, the government and other stakeholders to clearly define aims, objects, strategies, and activities of such a project proposal. Eco-cultural festival, held annually at Miao, should also evaluate the progress of implementation of the project on eco-cultural tourism.

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