Sustainable tourism

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Ecotourism in India: An Example of Bhitarkanika Wildlife Sanctuary

Bani Chatterjee Madhumita Das

Bani Chatterjee is a Professor, Department of Humanities and Social Sciences, Indian Institute of Technology, Kharagpur. Madhumita Das is Research Scholar, Department of Humanities and Social Sciences, Indian Institute of Technology, Kharagpur

For developing countries like India, Ecotourism serves as an ideal industry for fostering economic growth and conservation. The developing countries, often endowed with natural resources, are now experiencing a dramatic increase in the number of visitors. As mass tourism often ends up with destruction of natural resources, ecotourism can reduce the negativities associated with mass tourism and thus brilliantly help in conservation. On the other hand, it will also stimulate growth through its positive impact on employment opportunities, income generation and education of the host communities

OURISM IS an important driver of growth,which raises the national income of many countries. Nevertheless, the critics consider that tourism development is self-destructive and in the long run, it contributes to environmental destruction. Increasing numbers of tourists often threaten the quality of life and environment. Concomitant with the rapid development of the tourism industry, there are increasing environmental problems like rising greenhouse gas emissions, increasing noise, declining air quality, increasing water pollution and biodiversity loss, draining of wetlands, destruction of coral reefs, etc., leading to depletion of nature. Therefore, the International Union for Conservation of Nature in 1992 lists tourism as the second major threat to protected areas. Owing to the increasing negativities of tourism, several authors reiterated that tourism industry should grow carefully and in a sustainable manner.

The Rio+20 Outcome Document “The Future We Want” highlights the role of sustainable tourism so as to come out of the adverse effects of tourism. The United Nations defines sustainable tourism as “Tourism that takes full account of its current and future economic, social and environmental impacts, addressing the needs of visitors, the industry, the environment and host communities1”. The most important aspects of sustainable tourism are that it ensures long-term economic operations, provision of fairly distributed socio-economic benefits to all,through income-earning opportunities and social services to host communities. Thus, it serves a dual purpose of conservation of natural resources and poverty alleviation.

Ecotourism originated as a type of sustainable tourism, and the first formal definition of Ecotourism is credited to Hector Ceballos-Lascurain in the early 1980s. His definition asserts that as “ecotourism is environmentally responsible travel and visitation to relatively undisturbed natural areas in order to enjoy and appreciate nature that promotes conservation, has low negative visitor impact, and provides for beneficially active socio­economic involvement of the local populations”2. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (Now World Conservation Union) has officially adopted this definition during its 1st World Conservation Congress held in Montreal in October 1996.

Today, ecotourism is one of the fastest growing markets, considered as one of the world’s biggest industries. Starmer-Smith’s study (2004) stated that the number of eco-tourists is growing three times faster than the

conventional tourists. Their study also forecasts that by 2024, ecotourism is expected to represent 5 per cent of the global holiday market. The growth of this niche market is because of changing consumer patterns. Tourists are becoming environmentally conscious and thus are becoming “greener” (Sharpley, 2006:8).For example, in a 2012 poll undertaken by Blue and Green Tomorrow, 47 per cent of respondents answered that they would consider the ethical or environmental footprint of their main holiday in 2013. In India, in Bhitarkanika National Park, the number of tourists increased from 37,080 to 46,917 from 2008-09 to 2012­13 (Information Brochure, Mangrove Forest Division (WL), Rajnagar, Kendrapara, Odisha). International tourism arrivals are expanding at 6.5 per cent annually and within this, ecotourism is growing at an annual rate of 5 per cent representing the fastest growing market (Das, 2011).

For developing countries like India, Ecotourism serves as an ideal industry for fostering economic growth and conservation. The developing countries, often endowed with natural resources, are now experiencing a dramatic increase in the number of visitors. As mass tourism often ends up with destruction of natural resources, ecotourism can reduce the negativities associated with mass tourism and thus brilliantly help in conservation. On the other hand, it will also stimulate growth through its positive impact on employment opportunities, income generation and education of the host communities.

Ecotourism in India

India has been recognized as the land of natural beauty. Max Muller had once pointed out that“If we were to look over the whole world to find out the country most richly endowed with all the wealth, power and beauty which nature can bestow- in some parts a veritable paradise on earth- I should point to India”3. Based on Ecotourism Policy and Guidelines developed by the Indian Ministry of Tourism in 1998, the Ministry of Environment and Forest in

June 2011 called on State governments to frame ecotourism policies to facilitate tourism programmes in protected areas of the country. In addition, 12th Five Year Plan (2012-17) targets to increase the net benefit of tourism activities for the poor, emphasizing that the revenue generated from tourism operations should be utilized for protected area management. At present, India has 661 protected areas with 100 national parks, 514 wildlife sanctuaries, 43 conservation reserves and four community reserves in different geographic zones, extending to nearly five per cent of the geographical area of the country4.

The ecotourism policy in India has tried to bring an interlinkage between livelihood activities and conservation. It has been trying to provide an alternative

As mass tourism often ends up with destruction of natural resources, ecotourism can reduce the negativities associated with mass tourism and thus brilliantly help in conservation. On the other hand, it will also stimulate growth through its positive impact on employment opportunities, income generationand education of the host communities.

to the exploitative use of natural resources to the local communities. Employment opportunities are created for them. They are involved as stakeholders. In the process, they take pride about their natural resources and extend their hands in conservation. The case of Periyar Tiger Reserve, Kerela can be stated as a bright example. With the introduction of ecotourism in the reserve, several eco­development committees are formed. Host communities are given viable and innovative livelihood alternatives through opportunities like rafting, trekking, horse riding, nature camp etc. The project has so far benefited about

  1. people of 5,540 families. With the help of such alternative livelihood, the poachers and smugglers have been converted as genuine promoters of conservation of forests5. Even in case of Sunderban Tiger Reserve, West Bengal, ecotourism has been able to provide decent earning to the participants. The study of Guha and Ghosh (2007) has claimed that tourism participants spend 19 per cent more on food and 38 per cent more on non-food items compared to other villagers. Such increased spending by the tourism participants stimulates different production systems and thus leads to relative prosperity of the area.

Ecotourism, through increase in standard of living of the local residents, also empowers them socio-politically and fosters respect for different cultures and human rights. Indirect incentives like improved infrastructure, health facilities, awareness and education from tourism development develops a positive attitude towards conservation. In Sunderban Project, it has been noted that a part of the increased income from ecotourism is used to finance the education of their children. The great Himalayan National Park is another bright example of ecotourism project in India. The ProtectedArea management initiated eco-development committees not only for the conservation process, but also for poverty alleviation in support of conservation, women empowerment, developing outreach to the remote villages and linking livelihoods to conservation. The women of poor households, dependent on natural resources of the PA are encouraged to form Women Saving and Credit Groups. These groups are now doing business with their own savings through different income generating activities. The empowerment of the weakest section of the hill society through strong local level institutions and livelihood based approach has resulted in genuine participation in micro-planning and decision making and thus, reduction in their forest dependencies. This has resulted in successful biodiversity conservation through economic and social empowerment which is a prerequisite for ecological sustainability (Mishra, Badola and Bharadwaj, 2009).

However, many ecotourism projects are strongly criticized for not being able to adhere to the objectives laid down for a successful conservation policy. Often the environmental objective outweighs the other objectives by overlooking the strong linkage between livelihood of the host communities and conservation. Even in many cases, the gun and guard approach is used and locals are kept away from all information. This leads to conflict between protected areas and local people. For example, in case of Keoladeo National Park, Rajasthan, ecotourism is able to provide employment opportunities to the few Jatt males. Thus, the majority of the community does not support conservation. Compulsory eviction for the creation of national parks, lack of access to the protected areas, insecure land tenure, damage to crop and livestock by wild animals worsen the problem (Das & Chatterjee, 2015). In case of Nanda Devi Biosphere Reserve, a world heritage site in Indian Himalayas, Maikhuri, Nautiyal, Rao, &Saxena(2001)estimated mean annual loss per household as Rs 1285, Rs 1195 and Rs 156 due to damage caused by wildlife to food crops, fruit trees and beehives respectively, Rs 1587 due to ban on collection of wild medicinal plants for marketing and Rs 7904 due to ban on tourism in the core zone. Although Reserve authority granted compensation of livestock killed by wildlife, this was hardly 5 per cent of the market value of killed livestock as assessed by the people. People did not appreciate the present benefits from the reserve management in the form of wages for carrying out of forestation work, partial compensation of livestock damage and availability of solar power devices, wool, and spinning devices.

All such actions finally inculcate a harmful attitude in the minds of the locals towards conservation.

Bhitarkanika Wildlife Sanctuary Case Study

Bhitarkanika Wildlife Sanctuary (BKWS), famous for endangered salt water Crocodile (Crocodile porosus), is located in the Kendrapara District of Odisha in Eastern India. The park is mentioned in the Guinness World Records in 2008 with a 23-foot saltwater crocodile listed as the largest in the world. The national park (Bhitarkanika National Park) was created in September 1998 from the core area of the Bhitarkanika Wildlife Sanctuary, which was created in 1975. The sanctuary is the second largest mangrove ecosystem in India. The park encompasses an area of 672 sq. km of the Bhitarkanika Mangroves, a mangrove swamp which lies in the river delta of Brahmani, Baitarani, and Dhamra rivers.

From the information brochure of Mangrove Forest Division (WL), Rajnagar, Kendrapara, Odisha, it is found that recently, the park witnessed an increase in the flow of visitors for its rich scenic beauty. The number of annual tourist flow in the park along with the revenue collected from them is presented in Table-1 below.

Table 1: Visitor Flow and Revenue Collected


Number of Tourists

Revenue Collected (INR)





























Source: Mangrove Forest Division (WL), Rajnagar, Kendrapara, Odisha

With the increase in the number of tourists, different work prospects are created for the locals. Efforts are also taken to create opportunities for the local people to motivate them to participate in ecotourism so that the dependency of the locals on the natural resources gets reduced and ecotourism positively contributes to conservation. With the impetus of the forest department, villagers have formed a number of Eco-development Committees (EDC). Bhitarkanika Ecotourism and Eco-development Society (BEES) has been formed recently with local people along with members of the forest department and few conservationists. The society gives training to the unskilled, so that they can be engaged in different work activities in ecotourism. The varieties of work opportunities inside and outside park are given in the Table-2:

One of the most important developments after the introduction of ecotourism as perceived by the locals is the development of transportation and communication facilities. A pucca road has been constructed under Pradhan Mantri Gramin Sadak Yojana connecting Rajanagar to the National Park. With such improved infrastructure, there has been an increase in the number of visitors and this has led the locals to take more pride on their rich natural resources. Interactions with the tourists have also been helpful to the villagers in terms of their outlook and exposure. The females of the villages have been able to come out of the periphery of four walls. A numbers have been of Self Help Groups are created by them. Although at present, the groups are not very much efficient in running small or micro enterprises, but these groups have been able to strengthen group cohesion and bonding. In case of health and education also, there has been a slight improvement. The state run 108 ambulances can reach quickly to the needy for the improved transport facilities. The children of the villagers can go to schools even in the rainy season which was a major problem

due to poor kuccha road facilities. However, the condition needs to be improved in the villages that are far away from the National Park.

With the socio-economic and cultural benefits, BKWS witnesses a reduction in the collection of fuelwood, mangrove leaves, honey etc. There has been also an increase in the number of wild animals. The number of endangered Crocodile Porosus has increased from 1308 in 2002-03 to 1610 in 2009-10 as per wildlife census. As per the views of the locals, they can now see cheetals, wild bear etc. regularly which were not there 10 years ago. They also perceive that there has been an increase in the forest covers due to ban on collection of fuelwood. Majority of the locals have gradually developed a positive attitude towards ecotourism.

However, although ecotourism has undoubtedly contributed positively to the income earnings of the locals, a detailed discussion with the participants has revealed that the majority of the participants of ecotourism in BKWS are the wage labourers. While boat business comes in the second category, third is the restaurant and tiffin business. There are a few hotels inside the sanctuary, but the owners are not the residents of BKWS. A handful of eco-guides are at present, engaged in the peak tourist season. The reason for a high presence of wage labourers in ecotourism is due to book education or no education of the villagers. Women participants are even lower in ecotourism related jobs compared to male participants due to the nature of the work available and lack of education. Mostly, the females work as contractual wage labourers in the park. There is also a wide scale difference in the income among ecotourism participants. The tour operators enjoy the maximum profit followed by hotel owners, restaurant owners and boat men. The wage labourers in the park are mostly the contractual workers getting wages below the market wage rate. Many of them agree that their life standard has not improved significantly because of less wage rates. This is the reason for the dependency of the locals on natural resources like extraction of fuel wood, honey, fodder from forests, fishing from the rivers, and prawn culture at the river bank by taking river water. However, participation in ecotourism is preferred because of its relative stability of earning and opportunity to stay with family members.The worst sufferers are the eco-guides for the faulty management practice, and in some cases monopoly of the boat owners. In few cases, conversation with the tourists also revealed that mostly eco-guides are not very much efficient and thus, it makes no sense for them to bear the additional cost of guides. The most important problem is that as tourism is concentrated for four months mainly from October to February, locals fail to earn substantially and consistently from ecotourism. Indirect effect of ecotourism in BKWS is also less for mostly two reasons: (1) unavailability of local enterprises, (2) import of goods and services.

Destruction of life, livestock, and crops by wild animals, lack of fuel depot etc. are some of the major problems that the locals face due to ecotourism. In many cases, compensation is also not provided for the complexities of the process. As per the statement of the villagers, “wild animals are more precious to the government than human lives”. There exists a structural limit to community participation because of lack of qualified human resources and bureaucratic nature of the forest department.

Thus, a proper management of the three major stakeholders: (a) resources, (b) community, and (c) tourists, is highly required for the success of ecotourism in BKWS. More awareness campaigns for the locals as well as the tourists will help in conservation. Involvement of the local people through their awareness will develop their interest in such policies and they will consider themselves as stakeholders. Educating tourists about conservation will also help such conservation policies.Once the locals realize the worth of their natural resources, they will fully co-operate in the conservation . Instead of Gun and Guard approach, steps should be taken to inculcate a positive attitude in the minds of the locals about conservation.Government should take steps to come out of the institutional failure and corruptive practices. It should also take positive steps through proper monitoring, evaluation and management of the site at economic, social, and environment level, which is required for reinforcing conservation. Thus, one hopes to look for an ecotourism project that takes into care, the wholesome development of the locals in Bhitarkanika Wildlife Sanctuary.

Table 2: Work Opportunities for Ecotourism Participants

Inside Park

Outside Park

  • Wages from employment in the park (Patrolling staff, plantation worker, gatekeeper, boat drivers)

  • Eco-development run enterprise (Souvenir shop, can­teen, eco-lodges)

  • Professionals like eco-guides

  • Temporary workers for park related construction and other development activities

  • Self-run enterprise like lodge, restaurants, trans­port

  • Wages from employment in lodges, restaurants, transport

  • Wages from nursery development activities

  • Wages from parking fees

Source:Primary Survey


There is much hope for ecotourism in spite of the various loopholes in the realm of its implementation. Once there is a strong integration of conservation of natural resources and improvement in human well-being,ecotourism will undoubtedly be a successful policy. The policy drawbacks are thus to be addressed adequately by effective involvement of the local people, inculcating awareness about conservation, educating locals as well as tourists etc. to create a win- win scenario for both the local communities and natural resources.


  1. Das, M., & Chatterjee, B. (2015).Ecotourism a panacea or predicament?Tourism Management Perspectives, 14, 3-16

  2. Das, S. (2011). Ecotourism, sustainable development and the Indian state.EPW XLVI, (37), September 10.

  3. Guha, I., & Ghosh, S. (2007).Does tourism contribute to local livelihoods? A case study of tourism, poverty and conservation in the Indian Sundarbans. SANDEE Working Paper No. 26, ISSN 1893-1891.

  4. Information Brochure, Mangrove forest division (WL), Rajnagar, Kendrapara, Odisha.

  5. Maikhuri, R. K., Nautiyal, S., Rao, K.S., &Saxena, K.G. (2001). Conservation policy-people conflicts: A case study from Nanda Devi biosphere reserve, a world heritage site, India. Forest Policy and Economic, 2, 355-365.

  6. Mishra, B. K., Badola, R. &Bharadwaj, A. K. (2009).Social issues and concerns in biodiversity conservation: experiences from wildlife protected areas in India. Tropical Ecology 50, 147-161.

  7. Starmer-Smith, C. (2004). Ecofriendly tourism on the rise.Daily Telegraph Travel, 6, November 6.

  8. Sharpley, R. (2006). Ecotourism: A Consumption Perspective. Journal of Ecotourism, 5(1-2), 7-22.

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