The Himalayan states owing to its natural beauty, rich biodiversity, geographical features conducive for adventure sports continue to be a hit amongst tourists. However in recent times, tourism which is one of the mainstays of their economy, is also responsible for the degradation of ecosystem. Last year, taking cognizance of the destruction to ecosystem caused by unregulated tourism, had banned tourist vehicles from plying to Rohtang Pass.
The need of the hour is to balance the economic potential of tourism and its impact on environment.
Following are the steps suggested for the same:
1) Tourism is greatly dependent on the ecology of the Himalayan region. If the environment degrades, tourism will also be impacted. The Uttarakhand flood teaches us that we must learn to build sustainable models for pilgrim-based tourism in the fragile hills. Some of them are –
● Build an inventory of tourism sites with an understanding of the carrying capacity of the region based on location and fragility.
● Control the number of visitors in the pilgrim site and ensure that littering is minimized by carrying out a check on items carried and brought back
● Ban construction of roads for the movement of pilgrims and tourists to within 10km of the high altitude pilgrimage areas in order to create an ecological and spiritual buffer
● Restricted development to be carried out in these buffer areas
● Use the carrying capacity plan to create facilities for tourists, particularly facilities for sanitation and garbage disposal
2) Construction activities such as hotels etc create additional burden on the ecosystem. Focus should be on promoting homestead tourism which can provide livelihood as well as deal with the menace of excessive construction activities
3) Use a certification programme to include rating of key environmental sustainability guidelines – like reuse and recycling of waste and energy efficiency and renewable. These will involve tourists also in understanding the needs of Himalayas and their own role in protecting the ecosystem
4) The entry tax can be increased for entering into all the hill towns. Tourism tax for entry into fragile ecosystems can be increased. The fund created should be used for creating increased sustainable tourist infrastructure. For eg. Costa Rica has a tourist surcharge, charged from every hotel for ecological development
5) Entry of vehicles in fragile ecosystems can be regulated
6) We can look at creating community based tourism which allows locals to take part in decision making process and increase the support and cooperation from locals for the environmental protection projects.