India is a country that is blessed with snow-capped mountains, deserts, retreats, spiritual pilgrimages, heritage sites, health and holistic healing, ecotourism, and wildlife. The country is blessed with natural resources so much so that these become a means for economic development through tourism, in particular, ecotourism. For ecotourism in India to be sustainable, it should be able to conserve and protect the natural environment and improve the well-being of local people.
Ecotourism, therefore, impacts on the social, economic, and environmental aspects of sustainability. The focus of the sustainability practices and experiences is in Uttarakhand, India, where wildlife tourism flourishes with the presence of Jim Corbett Tiger Reserve in Corbett National Park. The environmental sustainability practices are focused more on tiger protection and conservation as well the environmental protection of their forest habitat.
Social Sustainability Practices on Ecotourism in India
There are a number of current social sustainability practices on ecotourism in India. One of these is the reduction in the conservation and livelihood conflict. In the ecotourism venture, both the local people and the Forest Department become involved in planning, decision-making, and execution processes (Vigneshwarie and Singh, 2011). The conflict between the villagers and the Forest Department has been considerably reduced. In the past, in national parks in India, there would be conflict between the local community and the Forest Department. This happened because the villagers depend on the forests for their livelihood and the officers would apprehend them since they are in charge of forest protection and conservation. Thus, the conflict would ensue. But with ecotourism in their community and local participation is active, some form of understanding and cooperation has developed between the two parties. There is less incidence of poaching and hunting in the park. The social outcome of ecotourism both benefits the villagers and the Forest Department.
The second social sustainability practice of ecotourism in India is the environmental awareness because of the ecotourism activities that provide environmental education and training to protect and conserve the natural environment. The villagers become more aware of the need to protect the park.
Thirdly, there is the social sustainability practice of self-development among the villagers and developing family support for the family members that engage in ecotourism activities. The aim is to develop their skills to enable them to be locally employed in the ecotourism services like in the eco-houses, hotels, transport, and as tourist guides, among others. Having gainful employment, the family also benefits from increased income.
Having these positive social outcomes from ecotourism, there is the assurance that ecotourism in the national parks in India will be sustainable over the long term for the benefit of the local community.
Economic Sustainability Practices on Ecotourism in India
Vigneshwarie and Singh (2011) conducted a study on the awareness and perceived socio-economic outcome of ecotourism in the Corbett area, Uttarakhand, India. They were able to identify the major economic benefits through the economic sustainability practices in the Corbett National park and these are:
- Shift in the local economy – because of the economic sustainability practices of generating revenues from ecotourism activities, the local community shifted from depending on the forest resources for their livelihood to ecotourism activities that generate income to the villagers. Instead of poaching and hunting of tigers and other wild animals in the Corbett National Park, the villagers instead are now engaging in micro enterprises to cater to the needs of the tourists like souvenir products, handicrafts work, and other ecotourism services. Thus, there now exist primary and service sectors in developing the village
- Providing employment for the Unemployed Youth and Women – This pertains to the local employment for the village people, particularly, the unemployed youth and women. Ecotourism should benefit the local community economically through providing local jobs in the ecotourism services. They are hired as tourist guides, workers in eco- houses, the women work in homestays, and other local employment to benefit the jobless youth and women.
- Providing revenues for the Forest Department – the revenues come from souvenir shops set up in the community and these revenues support the conservation efforts and protection of the
Environmental Sustainability Practices on Ecotourism in Uttarakhand, India
The environmental conservation and protection of the Corbett National Park, in particular the Tiger Reserve with the tiger conservation is top priority in Uttarakhand, India. This is because tiger population has been decreasing through the years. Tigers are also endangered species so that there is an urgent need to prevent their extinction. This reduction in population of tigers in the reserve is due to rampant poaching and killing of tigers for their bodily parts which are used for traditional medicine. The tiger habitat is also being degraded because some villagers derive their livelihood from the forest resources.
While there are other tiger reserves in India, it is in Jim Corbett Tiger Reserve is the focus of intense conservation. The reserve is home to the Bengal tigers and their population is also dwindling. The natural habitat of these tigers is experiencing a lot of pressure in terms of environmental sustainability. The current environmental sustainability practices in the Corbett National Park are the following:
- Creating or declaring buffer zones for the reserve. The core areas are off-limit to tourists. They can be allowed only in the buffer zones.
- The problem of overcrowding is being addressed by limiting the number of tourists visiting the reserve.
- Forest guards are vigilant in monitoring the activities in the reserve for the conservation and protection of the natural habitats of the tigers, and some other big animals, like elephants.
It must be noted that the protection of the tigers is closely linked with the protection of their natural habitat, and at the same time the protection of the reserve is also linked to the source of livelihood of the local community. Thus, any ecotourism planning for environmental sustainability should consider the tigers, the natural habitat, and the villagers.