Government committed to promoting sustainable tourism: Minister

New Delhi, July 27 (IANS) The government’s efforts to create a new paradigm for sustainable development of tourism in India have resulted in several ‘environment friendly initiatives’, union Tourism Minister Kumari Selja said Tuesday.

The initiatives focus on rural tourism, capacity development, linking rural communities to the mainstream with tourism projects and stressing on the conservation of vernacular and rural architecture, she said.

‘Our dedication towards according priority for tourism with inclusive growth is best exemplified by our innovative rural tourism project that covers 166 rural sites across the country,’ Selja said.

She was addressing a two-day National Workshop On Sustainable Tourism Criteria For India being held in the capital Tuesday and Wednesday.

‘Given that the year 2010 is being celebrated as the International Year of Biodiversity, India as a member of the 14-country Marrakech International Task Force on Sustainable Tourism Development contributed widely in enabling the transition to a ‘United Nations Partnership for Sustainable Development’ and subsequent fostering of ‘Global Sustainable Tourism Criteria (GSTC)’,’ she said.

Selja said: ‘The three pillars of sustainable tourism were environmental integrity, social justice and economic development.’

In this context, she said eco-tourism was a niche product with major revenue and employment generation capacities.

‘Travel to eco-tourism destinations like national parks are growing but better management of forests requires immediate attention,’ the minister said.

As a modest beginning, the government has set aside Rs.200 crore as a special golden jubilee package for Goa to preserve its natural resources by restoring its ‘erosion prone beaches through sustainable forestry’.

The tourism ministry is spearheading interactions with industry stakeholders under the ‘Tigers: Our National Beauties’ scheme to preserve natural habitats of tigers in eco-tourism and rural destinations, she said.

The inaugural session of the workshop was attended by Sultan Ahmed, minister of state for tourism, Ashok Khosla, chairman of the International Union for Conservation of Nature, Anand Kumar, joint secretary of tourism, Sujit Banerjee, secretary, ministry of tourism, Rajesh Gopal, member secretary, National Tiger Conservation Authority, Mandip Singh Soin, president of the Eco-Tourism Society of India, Jose Dominic, founder of the Our Native Village Bangalore and several others.

The workshop, divided into four sessions, addressed issues like ‘Global Trends on Sustainable Tourism’, ‘Global Sustainable Tourism Criteria and Tourism Sustainability Council’ and ‘Global Sustainable Tourism Criteria in Indian Context’.

‘Part of our blueprint to promote India abroad as a holistic tourist destination is sustainable tourism. Rural tourism is integral to the sustainability criteria. We had started with 36 UNDP-supported rural tourism destinations and the number has now swelled to 166. The rise in the number of tourism destinations has seen a 300 percent increase in livelihoods of the rural and ethnic communities engaged in rural tourism projects across the country,’ Sujit Banerjee, secretary, ministry of tourism, told IANS.

He cited Samod, a heritage village retreat in Rajasthan, as an example. ‘It has a thriving local handicrafts industry supported by the government’s rural tourism initiative,’ he said.

Delivering the keynote address, Khosla said: ‘The changing climate and rising sea levels were going to imperil several tourism destinations across India.’

Citing figures, he said, nearly 15,000 sq km of area was turning into desert in India every year and by 2030 ‘the country will need the combined resources of three India to support one nation’.

Melting glaciers were a threat to the Himalayan destinations and the latest Census showed that the tiger population in India was as low as nearly 1410, he said.

‘India has decide the model of tourism it has to follow to keep tourism self-sustaining,’ Khosla said.

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