Tourism is increasingly being located in natural areas and often with fragile ecosystems, like mountains, hills, coasts, forests and wetlands. Different tourism products like ecotourism, wilderness, wildlife tourism, are growing rapidly in pristine and less accessible forest areas - the national parks and wildlife sanctuaries. Tourism is emerging as a key economic activity in the Western Ghats due to the rich biodiversity and verdant landscapes acting as the natural resources for tourism to thrive in this region. The Western Ghats are home to diverse social, religious, and linguistic groups. There is high cultural diversity of rituals, customs, and lifestyles in the region including a significant population of adivasis and forest dwellers.
What is emerging is the opening up of the region as a tourism destination, resulting in the movement of hoteliers and tourists into these areas. Proximity to urban centres has brought more footfalls into the remote areas of Western Ghats.
Tourism has recently received much adverse criticism due to its perceived threat to the environment of the Western Ghats, an ecologically sensitive region and biodiversity hotspot of global importance. This derives mainly from the perception of tourism as high-end tourist development, such as resource-intense 5-star hotels, and low-end mass tourism that can blight landscapes. Added to this are the aspects of unplanned and unregulated urbanization that tourism promotes, often far beyond the carrying capacity of a locality. These create huge pressures in the context of scarce drinking water sources and vastly inadequate sewage treatment facilities, air pollution caused by the massive influx of thousands of vehicles, new roads (and up gradation of existing ones) through prime forest areas in the name of tourism, which pose a grave hazard to ecological integrity.
Tourism can have adverse social impacts, including displacement of people, changing social structures, loss of culture and traditional livelihoods, increase in alcohol and drug abuse, sexual exploitation of women and children and commoditisation of cultural practices.
The aim of the workshop was on sharing of ground realities and experiences of current tourism developments in the Western Ghats, the role of different stakeholders in tourism. It intended to create a 'charter' to spell out our vision for tourism in Western Ghats. The workshop was organised by Save Western Ghats Movement in collaboration with Keystone Foundation, Spice Route Souharda Sahakari, Prakruti and EQUATIONS.