“India‟s rapidly expanding tourist industry poses an unacceptable threat to the
country‟s heritage and environment”
In the last decade the Indian Government has awakened to the significant economic aspect of tourism. In its
Annual Report 2007-08, the Ministry of Tourism stresses the pivotal role of tourism with regard to socio-
economic progress. The report focuses on the increased foreign exchange earnings associated with tourism.
Aggressive Ministry marketing campaigns have won awards. One significant campaign highlighted India‟s
heritage, Ayurveda, and its role as a business meeting place. Widespread campaigning within India has
promoted the idea of “Atithi Devo Bhavah” (the guest is divine) to protect international tourists from negative
experiences such as cheating and rudeness. „Medical Tourism‟, focused on the benefits of India‟s high-tech
private medical facilities combined with its attractiveness as a tourist destination, is also a growth area.
Repeatedly it has been said that heritage and the environment will be protected. Whereas heritage may be
local, environmental issues are also linked to the global scenario, especially concerns about the growth of air
travel and the issue of global warming. The intent is present on paper, but implementation remains a
question. This becomes especially pertinent as the 2010 Commonwealth Games are expected to increase
international footfall by several millions of people. Though the Games will be held in Delhi, the tourism boom
will be noticeable in several adjoining areas, as well as other famed places in the country. This naturally
raises the question of whether – despite being a boon to local business – the aftermath may create more
loss to Indian heritage and further damage the local and global environment.
The tourism debate in context:
Tourism as a driver of economic development
According to the World Trade Organisation, India has „belatedly and gingerly‟ begun to catch up in the „race
to attract foreign tourists‟. In 2006 Indian was ranked 21st globally in terms of its US$8.9 billion of earnings
from tourism, compared to China in 5 place with US$33 billion and the United States in 1 place with
US$85 billion. This though is a marked improvement on the US$2.6 billion earned in 1995 and a 13.3%
increase in foreign exchange earnings from tourism over the previous year. It is thought that India played
host to six million tourists in 2007 and the government projects that this figure will rise to ten million by 2010,
when India plays host to the Commonwealth Games.
Industry estimates that tourism could grow at 22% a year between 2007 and 2011.The World Travel and
Tourism Council predicts more sober, but nevertheless impressive, growth rates of 7.6% per annum over the
next ten years – a higher growth rate than it predicts for any other country. According to the Council the
travel and tourism economy makes up 6.1% of India‟s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and accounts for over
30 million jobs or 6.4% of total employment. The rapid growth of India‟s tourist industry is clearly a boon to
the economy and job market. Ambika Soni, the Tourism and Culture Minister, estimates that the sector is
likely to generate two lakh (200,000) jobs by 2010 in the skilled and semi-skilled sectors. According to an
editorial in the Assam Tribune, demanding that the north-eastern states capitalise on tourism‟s potential,
tourism is an industry that can benefit all its stakeholders – „from a taxi-driver to a five-star hotelier‟.
Does tourism threaten India‟s heritage and environment?
The Ministry of Tourism has been aggressively marketing „Indian Culture‟ to attract international tourists. Its
„Incredible India‟ campaign – promoting India as everything from a healthcare destination to a source of
amazing heritage and wildlife – has won many plaudits. However, the rapid expansion of tourism, especially
on the scale envisaged by some within the industry, has the potential to have a negative impact on both
heritage sites and the environment – thereby undermining the very attractions tourists are flocking to visit.
Speaking on World Tourism Day, Mr Ralph de Souza, The Goa Travel and Tourism Association president,
said that unorganised growth of tourism „was a threat to Goa‟s environment‟ that could damage the „diverse
eco-system along the west coast, beyond repairs‟. Speaking at an international conference on responsible
tourism held in Kerala earlier this year, Dr. P K Manoj praised Kerala as the pioneer tourism state in India but
warned that it now faced „ecological overkill‟ as a result of the success of tourism in the state. Even in West
Bengal, the unique Sundarban area faces threats from development of tourism – particularly caused by
building of luxury hotels.
But it is not just the environment that some are concerned about. According to the World Monuments Fund
(WMF), tourism and global warming are the twin largest threats to heritage preservation. The WMF are
concerned that the „rapid rise in global tourism is bringing more and more people to fragile and often
unprotected places‟. Five Indian heritage sites currently feature on the WMF‟s list of the 100 most threatened
sites in the world, including Amber Town in Rajasthan and the Srinigar Heritage Zone. The British TV
historian Dan Cruickshank has also identified tourism, alongside war and consumerism, as a major threat to
the heritage sites of the world. The Taj Mahal, revered around the world and India‟s top tourist attraction, has
increasingly been placed at the centre of debates about the pros and cons of India‟s recent rapid
development. On the other hand, keeping India‟s poor record in maintaining heritage sites in mind, one might
say that tourism would help generate necessary funds to put more money into preservation.
Do „Responsible Tourism‟ and „eco-tourism‟ offer a way forward?
In 2007 India became the first Asian nation to have an International Centre for Responsible Tourism (ICRT).
At a major conference in Kerala in March 2008, delegates adopted a declaration emphasising the
importance of minimising tourism‟s negative impacts on the environment, local economy and heritage, whilst
actively promoting the interests and involvement of local people and ensuring that tourists develop a greater
understanding of local cultural, social and environmental issues. One tour operator claims to have used
Responsible Tourism to spread awareness of „folk art forms, culture and lifestyle that are going into oblivion‟.
In a similar vein there has been increasing interest in the concept of eco-tourism in recent years, which has
been described as a „conscientious form of tourism‟ because it not only seeks to conserve eco-systems but
to „raise public awareness of the environment, to sensitize travellers to nature and its processes and to
reduce negative impacts of human activities on natural areas‟. However, the charge of hypocrisy has been
levelled at those promoting eco-tourism and recently, one US commentator ridiculed the World Wildlife Fund
for promoting a $64,950 luxury travel holiday on which each traveller will consumer 71 percent of the
average American annual carbon footprint in three-and-a-half weeks.
Critiquing the „New Moral Tourism‟
The British academic Jim Butcher, author of the book „The Moralisation of Tourism: Sun, Sand... and Saving
the World?‟, critiques what he refers to as the „New Moral Tourism‟ for wrongly denigrating mass tourism,
portraying tourists as „thoughtless people who contribute to the exploitation of the places they visit‟, and for
standing „against modernity and transformative economic development‟.
Within India, numerous individuals and organisations are concerned that the major challenge facing the
tourist industry is a lack of investment in the infrastructure and quality of service required to make India a
number one tourist destination. Madhavan Menon, head of Thomas Cook India, has warned that India „risks
being held back‟ especially by a lack of good budget hotels. China attracts ten times more visitors than India
and other Asian governments invest far more in developing their tourist industries. Though the Indian
Ministry of Tourism has marked out several key tourists‟ destinations for substantial infrastructure
development, with the 2010 Commonwealth Games fast approaching some are concerned that India will not
be ready to take advantage of this showcasing opportunity. The Ministry has already had to announce plans
to promote tented accommodation during the Delhi based games to deal with insufficient hotel capacity. If
India is to truly benefit from its potential as a major world tourist destination, maybe modernisation and
development of its infrastructure are a more pressing issue than exaggerated claims about the destructive
impacts of tourism?
Should we travel less?
Previously, travel was associated with the way that social progress afforded free time for individual leisure
and self-improvement. Travel was held to „broaden the mind‟ and being „well travelled‟ commanded respect.
Now many people present a negative view: we‟re „addicted to oil‟ and our disruptive restlessness
undermines community life and threatens the planet. While some commentators argue that „flying kills‟ and
would welcome travel once again becoming an „expensive luxury‟, others argue that we shouldn‟t lose sight
of the remarkable opportunities travel affords us and that we should actually work to ensure that these can
enjoyed by more of the people of the world. As India‟s tourist industry expands, both in terms of international
visitors and domestic tourism, is the concomitant growth in air travel something we should worry about or are
tourism‟s critics suffering from a killjoy mentality?
The 2008 Travel and Tourism Economic Research India World Travel and Tourism Council
Tourism enriches World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) February 2004 (pdf)
Tourism with Vision Shobita Punja India Travelogue
India‟s tourism industry lacks accountability One World South Asia 29 September 2008
Unregulated tourism threat to Goa's environment Navhindtimes.com 28 September 2008
Commonwealth Games Delhi 2010: A Threat to the Common Wealth Govind Singh Eco Worldy 6 July 2008
Global warming joins tourism as biggest threat to historic sites Charles Starmer-Smith The Daily Telegraph
8 June 2007
Conserving environment to promote tourism M.A. Haque The Sangai Express 15 January 2007
Tourism & Its Impact in Ladakh Sonam Wangchuk The People‟s Commission on Environment and
Development in India
For the sake of the world's poor, we must keep the wealthy at home George Monbiot The Guardian 28
Tourism Sector in India continues to Witness Encouraging Trends Ministry of Tourism and Culture 10
India's passage to tourism megabucks Mahendra Ved The New Straits Times 29 September 2008
Promoting tourism Assam Tribune 29 September 2008
New focus for Indian tourism Neil Heathcote BBC News 16 September 2008
Good tourist, bad tourist Jim Butcher Times Higher Educational Supplement 4 January 2008
Hospitality sector to expand before Commonwealth 2010 Hindustan Times 14 April 2007
Impact of tourism on employment generation J. P. Singh Vision RI
I love cheap flights Brendan O‟Neill Comment is Free, The Guardian 19 May 2006
Annual Report of Ministry of Tourism (2007-08)
Promoting Peace Through Tourism: Role of Cooperatives
Dissemination of Cultural Heritage and Impact of Pilgrim Tourism at Gangasagar Island
Sahara and the Sunderbans - Ecotourism or Megatourism?
Tourism: An Impact on Society and Culture
Tourism and the Environment
Indian tourism: Disappointing progress, incredible growth!
Atithi Devo Bhavah
Responsible Tourism – The Concept
Ministry of Tourism
List of Heritage Sites
The 12th International Conference of National Trusts
Women and children
Endogenous Tourism for Sustainable Rural Livelihoods
World‟s archaeological heritage is at risk
World heritage – examining the threats
India seeks to use Buddhist heritage to attract tourists
Not Family Silver, It‟s Crumbling Masonry
Dying art forms liven up fest
Partners in Progress
Tourism in Darjeeling
Does Tourism Contribute to Local Livelihoods? A Case Study of Tourism, Poverty and Conservation in the
Strategies for Marketing Rural Tourism in India: paper presented by Mr N K Piplani, General Manager
In the news:
Asian Development Bank to Invest US $90 Million In Tourism in India TravelVideo.tv 6 October 2008
Delhi will struggle to house Commonwealth Games tourists ZeeNews.com 28 September 2008
Delhi inks pact with Intach to maintain heritage sites Hindustan Times 3 July 2008
Our heritage reinvented The Economic Times 28 February 2008
Subsidised Tourism Worsens Andamans' Woes IPS 6 December 2007
Delhi to Jail Beggars for 2010 Commonwealth Games Delhi Capital 24 June 2007
CWG 2010 to Spur Indian Tourism Industry Growth Free Press Release 19 April 2007
India‟s Sunderbans Jungle Camp wins „responsible tourism‟ award Dance with Shadows 12 March 2007
India pushes 'graveyard tourism' BBC News 27 December 2006
Oops, we helped ruin the planet Guardian 04 March 2006
UK companies keen to assist Delhi in hosting commonwealth games 2010 UK Foreign and
Commonwealth Office 4 February 2006
Wooing the global hopping tourist The Hindu 17 February 2002
INDIA: Fisherwomen Question Tourism's 'Magic' Asia Water Wire