SUBJECT :A new study on ecotourism has called for it to be expanded in outlook and made less tiger-centric. 

By - Vijay Pinjarkar

Nagpur, June 28, 2018: A new study on ecotourism has called for it to be expanded in outlook and made less tiger-centric. “While wildlife tourism in India relies mostly on tigers and a few other charismatic fauna, there is a need to explore potential around other less known wildlife sanctuaries and nature reserves. Studies need to focus on identification of means to transition from tiger-centric tourism to ecotourism,” the study titled ‘Trends and pathways for ecotourism research in India’ states.

Researchers Mahi Puri and Brijesh Thapa from University of Florida and Krithi K Karanth from Centre for Wildlife Studies (CWS), Bengaluru, reveal India has seen remarkable growth in nature-based tourism. “However, the current approach has had limited benefits to conservation, protected areas and local communities,” they say. Parks that have more than 1 lakh visitors annually including Kanha, Periyar, Tadoba, Corbett, Mudumalai, Bandipur, Kaziranga, Ranthambore and some with less than 1 lakh visitors were part of the study.

The authors analyzed and reviewed 30 peer-reviewed studies on ecotourism published since 2005. Studies were categorized into three broad themes — those that assessed the potential for ecotourism at specific sites, examined impacts of the existing tourism model, and those that evaluated ongoing ecotourism initiatives. They also identified prominent reasons to adopt ecotourism, evaluated whether principles of ecotourism had been incorporated in scientific research, and identified gaps in research.

Puri, lead author of the study, says, “India is endowed with some of the most diverse landscapes and biodiversity in the world. However, compared to South Africa, Kenya and Costa Rica, India is not recognized as an ecotourism destination, and therefore misses out on a large share of international tourism.”

Puri adds for India to gain a foothold in the global market, a huge shift towards responsible tourism models is required. Scientific research can provide the necessary impetus for policy legislation, consumer awareness, and avenues for financial investment. “Our study is a step towards identifying existing gaps in ecotourism research in India,” she says.

On doing away with tiger-centric tourism, Puri says, “People need to be provided with more options in terms of things to do. This means diversifying tourism itself. Currently, when tourists visit a tiger reserve, the only activity they can have is a safari. Periyar is an interesting example where people have many more activities in the buffer areas. Diversifying tourism would help employ more people from the local communities and provide greater opportunities for their capacity building,”.

Based on existing studies, the researchers conducted quantitative and qualitative thematic analyses along with reviews of ecotourism research in India to classify broad themes, categorize prominent reasons to adopt ecotourism, evaluate whether principles of ecotourism have been incorporated in research and identify gaps in research.

“We found conservation of biodiversity and local socio-economic development to be the primary motivations for ecotourism. In addition, existing research is not comprehensive, nor does it equally address all the principles of ecotourism,” says Karanth.

Another author Thapa says while ecotourism is recognized as a win-win solution for conservation and development goals, issues related to implementation are rarely addressed in research studies.

“Emphasis needs to be generated on public-private partnerships (PPP) to ensure financing of ecotourism projects, and address aspects related to certification and auditing of ecotourism practices. In this context, research needs to explore different market strategies such as tax subsidies, payment for ecosystem services etc that could incentivize private funding,” says Thapa.

There are major gaps in research regarding impact on wildlife in terms of habitat use, populations and behaviour; research to quantify changes in land use pattern, habitat degradation, connectivity and resource consumption; research to ensure equitable distribution of economic benefits; social and ecological carrying capacities of sites, Puri says.


Source: India Times