Tuesday, July 14, 2009

ECOTOURISM :Going on A Green Vacation

Going on A Green Vacation

For SME hoteliers, eco-tourism offers a way to cut costs, preserve nature and offer a great vacation experience

Susanna Athaide

ITS hackneyed, timeworn and very clichd , but its true nonetheless: Green is in and green is the way to go. If youre not with us, youre against us, the prevailing attitude seems to say, and from individuals to global organisations, few can risk being seen as polluting the environment. Most organisations are bending over backwards to showcase their eco-friendly and socially responsible credentials, which have now become indispensible for business. This is as true in the hospitality world as everywhere else.
One of the rising trends in hospitality is eco-tourism . At its most fundamental, The concept of eco-tourism means being in harmony with nature and the local environment, says Manishankar Ghosh, owner of Questrails, a mid-sized adventure tourism company based in Delhi. Whether it is choosing a hotel that uses eco-friendly practices, going on nature treks and camps or experiencing the cultural heritage of a place, tourists are opting against the standard holiday plans and for locations where they can commune with nature. Many foreign tourists are interested in visiting places that have minimum adverse impact on the environment, says Serafino Cota, President, Federation of Small and Medium Hotels and Guest Houses in Goa.
In line with this prevailing attitude, tourists are increasingly choosing hotels based on their eco-friendly designs and practices. Many hotels have realised the value of this green trend and have begun to cater to this need. New hotels are built from locally sourced wood or stone and many employ solar energy, compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) and water harvesting techniques. The hotels are designed to maximise the use of natural light during the day in order to curb energy costs. Some hospitality companies manage to have almost no direct impact on the environment. At our camp on the Ganges riverbed, we have no permanent structures. We use dry pits or chemical toilets and transport all the garbage away for disposal. Nothing is dumped in the area, says Mr Ghosh. The Greenhouse Resort at Pushkar in Rajasthan is also a tented property, but a very different one. This 20-tent boutique hotel is one of the most luxurious hotels in Pushkar, but is eco-friendly nonetheless. We use natural materials, alternative power and energy and water conservation techniques. Solar energy is used for heating water, says Saurabh Sharda, Director, The Greenhouse Resort. Existing hotels might not be able to incorporate such dramatic changes, but can start reducing their impact on the environment through small incremental changes. Those wishing to adopt green habits can easily begin reusing and recycling dry waste and composting wet waste. Replacing existing lighting and appliances with energy-efficient substitutes and using eco-friendly cleansing agents are other alterations that most hotels can make with little planning or effort. Many tourists are also showing an interest in activities or holidays that take them closer to nature. SMEs are beginning to cater to this class of travellers. Hotels collaborate with companies that provide wildlife treks and expeditions, while other companies such as Questrails provide these specialised vacation options.
Social responsibility is another aspect of eco-tourism . In the recent past, many popular tourist areas have lost much of their local culture thanks to the influx of tourists. These tourist destinations have become practically interchangeable with other tourist hotspots across the globe, and this has led to tourists exploring other locations for an authentic vacation experience. In other areas, the lucrative tourist business has attracted players from across the country and local employment has suffered a decline. Socially responsible tourism aims to remedy this situation by helping to preserve local traditions and encouraging local businesses. We employ many local people in our camps, says Mr Ghosh, Most of our provisions are bought from the neighbouring areas, even though it is cheaper to order the same from the nearby city. Guided tours offering a glimpse into the local way of life are also becoming increasingly popular, especially among foreign tourists in India.
According to Mr Sharda, Eco-tourism is still in its infancy in India. At present, there is more demand for green hospitality from foreign tourists than from domestic tourists. Mr Cota agrees, Foreign tourists will often ask for details about the green practices that the hotel follows, but this is slowly picking up among domestic tourists as well. In the domestic segment, school and college-goers are a growing market for eco-tourism . Several corporates too are choosing wilderness retreats for their seminars and team-building activities, says Mr Ghosh.
As demand for eco-friendly practices is not very widespread, most eco-friendly ventures nowadays are motivated by the principles of the owners or management rather than by market forces. With costs being the primary factor for SMEs, many may question whether the changes required to green up their practices are worth the effort and investment. However, hoteliers who have gone the green way are unanimous about the advantages. Though the initial installation costs, especially for solar energy, are on the higher side, this technology cuts down the hotel expenses in the long run, says Harinakkshi Nair, Senior Associate, HVS Eco Services. Prices for the guests too are not affected to a large extent. Mr Cota agrees, Prices dont really go up unless hotels are providing organic food, which is not very common in India. Mr Sharda, too, is confident about the benefits of eco-friendly practices, and he adds, Adopting energy and water-saving practices is definitely cheaper in the long run.
The long run seems to be the common timeframe for the success of eco-friendly ventures. There is no doubt that environmental consciousness is picking up across the globe, and this is reflected in the ever-increasing number of green products. Hoteliers should probably take into account the fact that preserving the natural and cultural heritage of their locality is essential if they wish to ensure tourist demand in the years to come. A few years down the line, ecological purity and cultural distinctiveness will be in short supply. At that time, eco-tourism could turn out to be the trump card for hoteliers, serving to distinguish their hotels and localities from the generic offerings of other tourist spots.


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