Fresh, crisp air blowing with the sound of temples, river flowing along beautiful hills and forests, prayer flags blowing in the wild winds in the Himalayas, jungles alive with the sound of the wild birds and animals, Nepal has it all! With abundance of natural beauty and a whole range of adventure options, tourism is the major sector of Nepal with millions of tourists visiting every year. Beautiful place drawing beautiful people from around the world adds the positive vibe to our country. Ecotourism is absolutely necessary to keep all this beauty and the nature alive like it is now.
Ecotourism is now defined as “responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment, sustains the well-being of the local people, and involves interpretation and education” (The International Ecotourism Society, www.ecotourism.org). Ecotourism is sustainable tourism that focuses on preserving and protecting the natural system. The high number of tourist visiting our nature always exerts pressure on the place. Evidences can be the excessive amount of solid wastes in the mountain trails and foothills, diminishing culture in some places, disappearances of indigenous communities, etc. It is magical to walk in the forest hiking trails among the wilderness with a sneak peek of the close mountains and the gurgling sound of the river. The wild flowers and the sounds of animals add to the beauty. Meeting friendly native people at the end only adds to the amazing experience. The aim of the ecotourism is to keep this feeling intact for our future generation too. If sustainable tourism is not adopted, it does not take long for the forest trail to be a desert trail, the wilderness gone, the river polluted and the local economy collapsed. This is where the importance of ecotourism comes in.
Eco-tourism focuses on natural places than artificial places. It promotes tours and excursions to ecologically and culturally important places with the least possible carbon footprint. Nepal has lots of these places like natural parks, hiking trails, home stays etc. The eco tourism always focuses on sustenance. It promotes the local resources and helps in creating local job opportunities to the local people. For example, taking tourists hiking along natural places helps in promoting our natural beauty and helps in providing job opportunities to the locals who own tea shops and hotels. Other than this, eco tourism also uses the revenues generated as funding to preserve these natural places.
Lots of agencies in Nepal are adopting the eco-tourism policies. They promote local produces, job opportunities for the local people, through shops, hotels or as porters. The ways in which they are promoting eco tourism is by encouraging participants to bring eco friendly and sustainable products with them on tour such as water bottles, phosphate free soaps, re-useable bags, re-chargeable batteries, educating tour participants about the local peoples, cultures and communities, hiring local guides, etc.
There are lots of things to be taken into consideration while promoting tourism in any place and lots of focus should be given to the amount of impact we are having to the place. While Himalayan is famous tourist destination, this large number of tourists visiting there has already posed problems of solid waste management. It is important to respect this awe inspiring mountain we have and bring back all the waste that is generated. Similarly, lots of woods are cut down to provide hot water to the tourist. Sustenance is to be taken into account while cutting down the forest to provide hot water.
While respecting tourists and visitors is a culture of our country, we should be careful about the types of people we are hosting. There have been a lot of instances of statues smuggling and bio-piracy. Proper mechanisms have to be practiced by the country and the agencies to prevent such happenings. Respect to the local people and their culture is another aspect of eco-tourism. The place has always been a home to the local peoples so their sentiments have to be kept in mind before doing anything.
Home stays has helped in promoting eco tourism in our country. Not only are the local people getting jobs, but the local produces are being consumed this way, and the tourist also get firsthand experience on the life and culture of the people. Like our culture is paving way for tourists visit, the tourists are also paving way for our culture preservation. For e.g, the tharu dance, rodhi ghar, etc. are starting to be promoted to bring tourists into the community.
Going green has been another “cool” word for many agencies too. While claiming to have eco-friendly tourism, they might not really practice it and mask their destructive habits with the name. Taking products from the urban areas, like the packaged foods, and water, and also hiring the porters from elsewhere than the local area, might improve the comfort of some tourist, but it does not help in the development of the local area.
While promoting eco- tourism, the local people’s involvement is very crucial. Their knowledge and understanding of the place is important to know and prevent any kinds of impact tourism can bring. Many beautiful places in Nepal have not been explored yet. Locals should be made aware about the potential of their home, in drawing tourist, or in selling local produces. Before starting with business, understanding the concept of sustainability helps in preventing the overuse of resources. It is important for the locals to be made aware about the environmental issues too to prevent deforestation, or pollution, in the name of tourism. As the business grow, consumption grow and waste grow too, which increases the barren land and pollution. If the locals are aware of the long term impact of every action, then this can be prevented.
Tourism has always been a major business sector, and has contributed to the revenue of local people as well as the country. With so many beautiful places still to be discovered and brought into tourist maps, it is important to consider not going overboard and using up all the resources to be left with nothing. Sustainability is the most important issue of the present, which has to be maintained in any sector to provide for the population we have while preserving our natural system and ensuring that the future generation has the same beauty that we have. Eco-tourism is the way in which this sustainability can be maintained while promoting our tourism.
(Published in Image Nepal, Travel Magazine)