According to a research report composed by six organisations (EQUATIONS, INTACH, SANE, Kalpavriksh, TISS and ActionAid) on the status and impacts of tourism in the Andamans, it was found that the Andaman islands had scope which was yet undiscovered.
The collaborating organisations, released the report entitled 'Rethink Tourism in the Andamans - Towards building a base for sustainable tourism' at the India International Centre in New Delhi in the hope that it would serve as an important input for the ongoing discussions on the role of tourism in the islands. While there have been other proposals, perspective documents and plans for tourism commissioned for the Andamans, this study was unique because it took into account the aspirations and experiences of a wide range of stakeholders. It also assessed in detail the current realities in relation to tourism in the islands and assessed the likely impacts if tourism there were to continue along the same lines.
The main findings of the research study indicated that despite being a relatively new destination in the country, the negative impacts of tourism are already becoming visible in the Andamans. On the socio-cultural front, it is important for the administrative and local representatives to ensure that tourist demands do not overshadow and take priority over local peoples' needs and aspirations. Further, the need to put a firm end to the commodification of the islands' indigenous tribes - first the Jarawas and now the Sentinelese - as products for tourists to view was called for. Economically, the research showed that contrary to popular belief and policy positioning, tourism does not account for a significant proportion of the domestic product and income of the islands. An analysis of the macroeconomic indicators showed that the increase in the number of tourists did not seem to translate into spin-offs and catalyse the local economy. There is also need for appropriate strategies to be devised to ensure that tourism brings economic benefit and sustainable employment for the communities in the islands.
On the environmental front, there is an urgent need to regulate the use of natural resources by the tourism sector and strictly enforce the Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) Notification in the islands. Developing a strategy for harvesting and use of water and disposal of wastes that are bound to rise with increasing tourism needs to prioritised, as both are very serious problems. The need for members of the tourism industry to voluntarily adopt more environment-friendly practices and take conscious steps to reduce tourism's ecological footprint was stressed, particularly in view of issues like climate change and the need to preserve the rich and unique biodiversity.
In addition to assessing the status and impacts of tourism in the Andamans, the research report also provided a comprehensive set of recommendations addressed to a range of stakeholders. Some of the significant points made were: to develop a clear vision and strategy for tourism in the A&NI through a coordinated and participatory approach and to ensure that a reliable base for information is built, on which tourism plans are based. Tourism cannot be conceived as a standalone activity and must be aligned to larger plans of sustainable development in the islands, taking into account the social, cultural, economic and ecological realities. Furthermore, the need to clearly and decisively position tourism as a nature-based, ecologically sensitive, low volume, low footprint was stressed. With the current trends of infrastructure, heavy and high volume tourism were only adding to the pressures on the island and brining in very few local benefits. Forms of tourism such as shopping malls, golf courses and amusement parks were to be definitely shunned.
The hope that tourism will become the pillar of the islands' economy requires a sound economic analysis of the current and likely economic impact of tourism. Current data on percentage of GDP, contribution to revenues and employment generation indicate a rather insignificant economic role. There is a need to invest in building the capacity and skill base of the local community to enhance their opportunities and benefits from tourism. Such plans must take cognisance of the high degree of vulnerability of tourism as an economic activity. Interdepartmental coordination and an enhanced role for PRIs will also be key ingredients for a more coherent, sustainable implementation of tourism in the islands.
There is a dire need to increase tourist and community awareness about the ecological fragility of the islands and accordingly regulate tourism activities and strictly implement the CRZ in the islands, making the Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) process for all tourism projects mandatory. The collaborating organisations believe that the time has come for policy makers, community representatives and members of the central government and A&NI administration to seriously assess the direction in which tourism is developing in the islands. The question as to whether tourism can be the main pillar of economic development needs some serious re-thinking. It is hoped that policy makers work with the findings of this research study and that this report serves as a base to initiate further dialogue and democratic consultation in the islands on tourism issues.
(The research study was sourced from EQUATIONS and supported by ActionAid)