Threshold limits of NE tourist destinations

Tourism destinations in the Northeast region are witnessing increasing footfall.
Threshold limits of NE tourist destinations

Tourism destinations in the Northeast region are witnessing increasing footfall. Improvements in connectivity within the region, coupled with policies to showcase tourism potential, have put more destinations in the region on the itineraries of domestic and foreign tourists. An assessment of the carrying capacities of these destinations is crucial to preventing the adverse consequences of crossing the threshold limit. India’s policies to deepen bilateral and multilateral ties with neighbouring countries, with the northeast region at the core of these engagements, hold promises of bringing more foreign tourists to the region. Tourists from outside the region take a break from the daily mundane to reinvigorate amidst the scenic beauty of destinations in the region, which has led to the growth of the hospitality industry and transport business. Homestays have increased in the region as these offer cultural tourists the opportunity to experience the tangible and intangible cultural heritage of multi-ethnic societies. The homestays also provide them with opportunities to enjoy the natural beauty of the countryside. These are also destinations for local residents coming from places within a short radius who like to take a break at the weekend to enjoy the beauty with friends and relatives. Footfall and requirements of these local tourists while assessing the carrying capacities of these destinations and accommodation in home stays need to be considered to arrive at realistic figures. The threshold limit of tourist destinations, more particularly the destinations that have witnessed a surge in home stays, needs to be decided through consultation with key stakeholders: local residents, owners of hotels and lodges, tour operators, villages, and local authorities. Increasing footfalls of tourists bring more revenue to the state and local authorities and contribute towards strengthening the local economy. Demand for agricultural and horticultural produce in the hotels, lodges, and homestays creates a niche market for local farmers, but demand exceeding the production has led to a situation of shortages of nutritious fruits and vegetables and other food products at the village market for local residents in some places in the region. Ignoring this hard reality may result in undesirable health issues for villagers in the long run. The determination of the upper limit of home stays or hotels within or closer to a tourism destination needs to be based on a realistic assessment of demand and supply so that while granting permission for the creation of the tourist accommodation, the demand of local residents is kept in mind. Incentivizing farmers and producers to increase productivity to cater to the demand from the tourism industry is a viable option, but it must not be reduced to a chicken and egg dilemma. The northeastern region is traditionally an organic hub, which is another attraction for tourists from other regions in India as well as from abroad. Therefore, any initiative to increase production and productivity of agri-horti products to cater to the demand of the hospitality industry cannot be at the cost of this traditional knowledge of the farmers of the region. Replacing organic farming practices with excessive use of chemical fertilisers to increase productivity and boost production will have a negative impact on the soil health of the region. Degradation of soil health could prove to be a bane for the region and adversely impact the resilience of ethnic communities to combat climate change impacts. This reality should ring the alarm bell for the tourism stakeholders to be cautious in their approach while drawing the future roadmap. It also implies the need for projecting the correct picture of livelihood opportunities in tourism ventures in an area so that unemployed youth of the area get a clear picture of the saturation level of livelihood and employment opportunities before choosing it as an alternative livelihood opportunity. Connectivity is an important driver of tourism growth, and once a highway or road is constructed, a railway line is laid, or an airport is built, the tourism opportunities are increased. Waterways are developed to connect to a remote tourism destination in the region, and concrete structures mushroom to cater to tourist accommodation demand. When other avenues of livelihood are not available, tourism is seen as an alternative livelihood opportunity by the majority of households, for whom traditional agriculture practices have become non-remunerative. Lessons must be learned about tourism overgrowth in Himalayan states like Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh, and Sikkim and its disastrous impact on the ecology. Catastrophic landslides and the sinking of places like Josimath have, in turn, affected household income as many tourists have chosen to visit alternative, safer locations. The Northeast region is ecologically more fragile, and the high incidence of landslides keeps reminding policymakers and people in the region to undertake comprehensive and cumulative studies about the carrying capacity of a place in the region before pushing large infrastructure projects. Such a word of caution must not be viewed as discouraging tourism growth in the region but as ensuring that such growth is sustainable. Identifying the threshold limits of tourism destinations in the region needs to be prioritised for the sustainability of tourism initiatives.

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