The concept of ecotourism is frequently misunderstood despite its rising popularity across the globe, which results in an outcropping of businesses and companies that claim to be “eco-friendly” or “environmentally correct” when they are, in fact, nothing of the sort. Being eco-friendly can be difficult; it’s much easier to cut corners while benefitting from the increase in patronage that comes to those who declare their business “green.” And with vague and frequently undefined guidelines as to what is or is not “eco,” it’s easy to get away with fudging a bit about your practices. Of course, companies aren’t the only ones at fault. People want to see endangered animals, want to stay in a secluded hotel in a rainforest or on a beach, want to go on magnificant hikes to ancient ruins, and so how can we fault tourism companies for giving us what we want despite the damage it does to the environment?
Well, India is finally taking a stand against poor ecotourism practices. The Ministry of Environment and Forests announced on Friday the 3rd a comprehensive set of guidelines for tourism. The guidelines were a reaction to the booming tourist industry in India, which has led to the exploitation and destruction of ecosystems. They have not been finalized yet, as the Ministry is still awaiting comments from the people, but hopefully the guidelines will be put in place by December 31st of this year.
The list of new rules is fairly long, and includes items such as:
1) Relocated village area will not be used for tourism. Tourism infrastructure must be environment-friendly.
2) Complete ban on burying, burning or otherwise disposing non-biodegradable or toxic waste in tourism area.
3) All tourist facilities, old and new, must aim to generate at least 50% of their total energy and fuel requirements from alternate energy sources (wind, solar and biogas).
Additionally, protected areas (PAs), which are already a part of India’s forests and parks, will be provided with further protection to ensure that they remain ecologically stable. For example, under these new guidelines no new tourist facilities may be established in PAs (which include national forests, tiger reserves, and sacred areas), and existing facilities will be slowly phased out. Also, only 20% of the PAs may be used for regular ecotourism access, a rule that will help preserve the natural beauty that draws tourists to the PAs.
I think that India’s new guidelines for ecotourism are a bold step forward, and I hope more countries follow in India’s footsteps. The rules will hurt some of the tourism industry, since they cut down on access to PAs and provide stricter guidelines for what can and cannot be considered ecotourism, but I think overall the rules will benefit both the industry and the world. Preserving endangered species and precarious ecosystems can be a difficult task, especially when both of those things are major tourist draws, but losing them is more difficult still. Restricting tourist access and phasing out tourist facilities will help to preserve the PAs, and thus I hope other nations do the same. Also, by creating these rules India is acknowledging that ecotourism companies do not always follow eco-friendly practices, a problem that all nations share. India has taken a step forward in regulating ecotourism and ensuring that the practices are good for the environment and are truly sustainable, another positive step that I hope others will also take.