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Endogenous tourism

K.G. Kumar

Endogenous tourism aims to harness the traditional skills of rural artisans.

LAST week, buried in the inside pages of some newspapers, was a small story about a possible initiative that could augur well for Kerala's future.

Aranmula, a tiny, sleepy hamlet on the banks of the Pamba river in Pathanamthitta district, might become one of the sites to feature in the Endogenous Tourism Project of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). A team from the Government of India has just completed a visit to assess Aranmula's suitability for inclusion in the project, and a decision is likely to be made soon.

Tourism, as any observer of Kerala knows, is perhaps the sole oasis in the State's industrial desert, and the sector has grown largely unfettered by government largesse or promotional efforts.

However, left wholly untended, the tourism industry can grow rampant and produce a backlash, industrially and socially.

This is where the concept of "endogenous tourism" can prove a saviour. Unlike "ecotourism", which focuses principally on conservation of natural landscapes and resources, endogenous tourism pivots around the culture and craft of a location, while simultaneously seeking to create livelihood opportunities for the local populations through projects that are community owned, culturally expressive and ecologically sustainable.

Earlier this year, in July, UNDP had committed over Rs 11.5 crore for the new initiative, called `Endogenous Tourism: Culture and Craft- based Ecotourism for Sustainable Livelihoods and Integrated Rural Development', that seeks to promote local culture and craft for creating livelihood opportunities as well as projecting these as local attractions for domestic and international tourists.

The project will be piloted at sites in various regions such as Valley of Flowers in Uttaranchal. The activities at the pilot sites will include setting up of village cultural and recreation centres, training local residents for hospitality-related professions, and developing creative marketing models using local languages.

Endogenous tourism aims to harness the existing traditional skills of the rural artisans, while placing special emphasis on the inclusion of women, youth and disadvantaged groups in income-generation activities.

Essential requisites for the growth of endogenous tourism are: a high level of development, decentralised governmental structures, and the existence of well-preserved local village communities with networks of small and medium enterprises. Fortunately for Kerala, most of these already exist and can be easily tapped.

Thanks to its unique combination of nature and culture, managed through a low-technology rural economy, Aranmula should fit the bill perfectly as the site of an endogenous tourism project.

Yet, however innovative the interventions models are, the sustainability and success of the project in creating market-ready products and businesses will depend on entrepreneurial pioneering and the willingness of all stakeholders to co-operate. To be economically self-reliant, nature-focused, rural or soft tourism cannot be left to the largesse of public subsidies.

It also needs the incorporation of sustainable development tools such as land-use, economic and social planning at regional and local levels. Kerala should take a look at projects like the Austrian tourism project for good lessons.

In any case, if Aranmula becomes the first site in Kerala for an endogenous tourism experiment, it will probably trigger the growth of an alternative path of tourism-driven development. That should be more than welcome.

The writer can be contacted at kg@tug.org.in

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