Role of nature based tourism in sustainable development


Tourism has played a major role as a tool for economic empowerment at the community level and a key contributor to the GDP across many economies globally. Travel and tourism contributes about 10.3% of global GDP. Last year alone almost 1.4 billion people travelled for tourism purpose and the growth has been phenomenal in last 9-10 years. 

As the term indicates, Nature Based Tourism is dependent on natural heritage including pristine landscapes/ecosystems and flora & fauna, hence there is a need to harvest the products of such tourism in a manner that they are able to take care of the very resources it is based while allowing economy to grow and people to sustain. However, when it comes to environment conservation or sustainable development, we still have a long way to go as we have not been able to use this tool extensively, the way we should have except a few turnkey projects here and there.

To discuss more about whether nature-based tourism has been able to contribute to sustainable development and if it is, than to what extent, this special session was organized by CHINAR and Global Foundation. The panelists of the session included – 

Mandip Singh Soin, a prominent Indian explorer, adventurer, environmentalist and a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society and also the recipient of Arjuna Award of Adventure’ – The Tenzing Norgay Lifetime Achievement National Award for Adventure in 2012. 

Kedar Gore, a seasoned wildlife and environmental conservationist, currently working as the Director of The Corbett Foundation.

Manjiri Gaikwad, a sustainable tourism professional currently working as Sustainability and Community Tourism Manager with Global Himalayan Expedition (GHE) and Mountain Homestays. 

Dr. Thiago Beraldo Souza is from Brazil and is an ExCo member of the Tourism and Protected Areas Working Group (TAPAS) of the IUCN World Commission of Protected Areas, where he plays the role of Knowledge Development Coordinator.

Mandip Soin explained how sense of responsibility at individual as well collective levels can ensure the success of nature based tourism. He shared the work undertaken by Responsible Tourism Society of India earlier known as Ecotourism Society of India, of which he was a founder, and emphasized the need and urgency of responsible practices in tourism. He shared that it is very important that sustainable tourism criteria as well as good practices are promoted among operators and service providers.

Gore pushed for more expansive nature based tourism across the protected areas network in India particularly in the Tiger Reserves as there’s a huge untapped tourism potential here. He underscored through there are conflicting dynamics between local communities and wildlife or the authorities and the local communities (which can be attributed to behaviours of both tourists and service providers), nature tourism has huge potential for further growth. 

While sighting Brazilian experience of nature based tourism Dr Thiago shared the importance of national parks and sanctuaries for the growth of nature based tourism. He also shared examples from Amazon forests, where people specially women and youths have been able to achieve empowerment through nature-based tourism. 

Manjiri explained, how Ladakh has changed from being a small place in the Himalayas to most sought-after hill station today. She highlighted how over-tourism is gradually making things complicated in the region and causing both social and environmental disturbances. She advocated for non-destructive impact tourism that can further engage local communities for conservation of nature.

The session witnessed a high number of attendance with people from academia, civil society organisations and government agencies. The web-dialogue was moderated by Dr Pradeep Mehta and Dr Pranab J Patar.