The city of ruins: Mandu
Who decided that the Taj Mahal, the Eiffel Tower, the Pyramid of Giza and the Great Wall of China would become the world’s most visited tourist spots?
Fig 1: Photos from the left- Taj Mahal (Agra, India), Base of the Eiffel Tower (Paris, France), Pyramid of Giza (Cairo, Egypt)
Photo credit: https://th.thgim.com/news/national/article19512435.ece/alternates/FREE_660/18THNSMTAJMAHAL (Taj Mahal); https://www.wantedineurope.com/i/preview/storage/uploads/2016/01/paris-eiffel-tower-visitors.jpg (Eiffel Tower); https://egyptpyramidtours.net/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/Day-Trip-to-Giza-Pyramids-and-the-Egyptian-Museum-from-Port-Said-Port.jpg (Pyramid of Giza)
Why is France the most visited country in the world?
Fig 2: Number of Tourist arrivals (International)
Source: https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/ST.INT.ARVL?end=2017&locations=IN-FR-ES-CN&start=1995&view=chart World Tourism Organization, Yearbook of Tourism Statistics, Compendium of Tourism Statistics and data files.
How do some places on Earth become visit-worthy and others fall into oblivion? In case these questions intrigue and interest you, then you are at the right place!
What is tourism? Well, in a nutshell when people travel from their place of stay for work/ pleasure/ pilgrimage or for other reasons, they use a host of services and undertake a host of activities in their place of visit. All of this is tourism. TODAY, IT IS A 1.6 TRILLION US DOLLAR INDUSTRY1.
Contrary to popular wisdom, the concept the tourism is not new to mankind. However, the current form and scale of tourism is relatively new, starting with the advent of commercial airlines and trains. Let’s talk about the history of tourism, some other time.
Today, most National Governments have dedicated ministries of tourism and take the income (actual or potential) from tourism very seriously. Most countries also spend a lot on tourism. For example, the Government of India is slated to spend more than two thousand crore rupees on tourism related infrastructure in 2018-192. Many cities and countries depend heavily on tourism for their economic growth. Maldives, The Bahamas, Seychelles, New Zealand and Malta are some of the more known examples3 (Tourism makes up more than 40% of the economy in Maldives!). Estimates suggest France earned around 200 billion Euros from tourism in 2016!4
So, tourism is a BIG DEAL in many places across the world. In many other places, governments are trying hard to make tourism a BIG DEAL and draw sizable revenue from it. Of course, there are exceptions. Syria, Somalia, Eritrea and many countries, both with stable and unstable governments actively discourage tourism.5
In fact, a recent BBC article6 emphasized on the growing vices of “overtourism” commenting on “how Hordes of tourists are suffocating cities around the world” and how to be a better tourist engaging in sustainable tourism!
A picturesque landscape (e.g. the Scottish Highlands), a man-made engineering marvel (e.g. Burj Khalifa in Dubai), a natural phenomenon (e.g. northern lights in Iceland) or an ancient heritage (e.g. Stonehenge in England) - whatever indigenous and unique a country has to offer, is developed and marketed as a tourist destination.
Tourism can be of many many types. Historically, pilgrimages and trade related travels were the most common types. Presently, it is much more than that. Eco-tourism, geo-tourism, heritage tourism, religious pilgrimage, MICE7 tourism, business travel, Niche tourism, vacations, cruises, adventure trips, honeymoons, camping, day trips, safaris and even the soon-to-be-true space tourism! The list is endless.
Fig 3: Types of Tourism (From left – MICE Tourism, Muslim Pilgrimage to Makkah, Eco-tourism in Costa Rica, Cruise in Bulgaria)
Photo credits - http://www.tourismnewslive.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/12/mice_tourism_back_in_kerala.jpg (MICE Tourism); https://i0.wp.com/metro.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/138612983.jpg?quality=90&strip=all&zoom=1&resize=644%2C408&ssl=1 (Pilgrimage); https://greenglobaltravel.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/Costa-Rica-Travel-Guide-Hiking-in-Corcovado-National-Park2-e1486933470461.jpg (Eco-tourism); https://files2.abingcdn.com/balkaneu.com/uploads/2015/04/09030824/Crouise-Tourism-BG-IBNA.jpg (Cruise)
Part of the tourism in a country is typically curated, developed and managed by the governments/ administrations while the rest happen organically without much intervention from the authorities. The latter kind is slowly eroding as more and more authorities realize the potential gains of planned tourism and the vices of unmanaged tourism.
So, what exactly is tourism planning & management? Loosely defined, it is the design, development, marketing and effective management of tourist sites/destinations in a sustainable, integrated, inclusive and controlled manner. If mishandled, this can lead of major social, environmental and economic issues.
Let us discuss how Governments plan for tourism, without delving too deep into the technicalities. It all starts with a policy push (An intention by the Government/ administration to develop an area/ region as tourist spot). And then, ideally, the following steps are followed:
2. Feasibility studies and surveys – Simply put, the viability of developing an area or a spot into a tourist destination is analysed through surveys and studies. This step generally helps answer questions like how much money will be required and whether the development will be detrimental to the environment.
3. Engaging with the local populace – This is probably the most important and often ignored step in the whole process. The increased tourist footfall may damage the environment, irritate the locals, disrupt the services or increase the rents. Discussions with the locals, listening to their apprehensions and planning for their mitigation is vital.
4. Preparing a Tourism Master Plan - All things considered, now a plan document is then prepared capturing all the details of how tourism is to be promoted and how the local resources are to be safe-guarded. This may include the budget, the designing of the sites, planning the infrastructure by experts. The plan lays out the exact extent of the intended development and decides on who will be responsible for the upkeep of the site(s).
5. Implementation - Armed with a clear plan, the designs and projects are implemented on the ground. Say for example, building toilet blocks for incoming tourists, regulating the hotels nearby, cordoning the area around a site, restoring a broken part of the heritage structure et al.
Monitoring and managing the sites and allied infrastructure – Once the tourists start to pour in, the authorities start monitoring and managing the sites/ destinations.
Well, to be frank the process is rarely as easy or linear as it sounds. It can take anywhere between a couple of years to decades to fully develop an area into a tourism destination. The process requires a destination(s), intent (from the local population and the government), money (to build and maintain the infrastructure), experts (to plan, design and implement) and connectivity channels (to bring in the tourists). Beyond all of these, the process also requires a lot of marketing and promotional activities!
Coming back to the questions posed at the beginning of the article. Yes, tourism planning is a booming field and tourism is an extremely lucrative industry, actively involving businesses, governments and local inhabitants. Across the globe, tourism is being planned, regulated and optimized.
YET, much of the tourism in the world is still organic and not organized. While the entry to a country is regulated through visas, entry permits and passports – many countries don’t regulate the travel inside the country. Travel enthusiasts and adventure seekers regularly discover new & pristine locations which are unregulated/ ill-regulated by governments. Most countries also do not regulate domestic travel or cap the inflow of tourists up to a certain point. In such cases, tourism planning takes a back seat. For example, ill-regulated tourism operators for Everest climbs in Nepal (It caused 11 deaths in 2019)9.
So, while France can attribute its tourism successes on effective tourism planning, Tibet and its beauty remain largely unexplored. For reasons known and unknown, tourism contributes negligibly to Tibet’s economy.
Along with governments, policy makers and expert, it is also imperative for citizens to be aware of the consequences of tourism and make responsible choices. The world is a beautiful place. Let’s make a pledge to explore, not exploit.
1.https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/ST.INT.RCPT.CD?end=2017&start=1995&view=chart Total receipts in 2017 was 1.526 trillion USD as per world bank data
7.Meetings, incentives, conferences, and exhibitions
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The city of ruins: Mandu
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Exploring Rajasthan with students of Amity University, Kolkata in Oct 2019
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