Rural Tourism in India Helps to Develop the Country

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Mahatma Gandhi once said that “India lives in its villages”. It is true to a great extent that if you want to encounter the “real India”, then you have to go the villages because Indian villages are the real repositories of India’s culture and tradition.

Indian culture is syncretic and dates back to ancient times and these factors attract tourists from around the world. However, for a very long time, tourist destinations were limited to famous monuments, forts, pilgrimage sites, beaches or snow-capped mountains which more or less are located within cities or have eventually got converted into cities as a result of the influx of tourists. The reasons why such locations were promoted as tourist destinations are obvious.

In the tourism parlance, there are four important pillars of tourism: accessibility, accommodation, attractions, and amenities. In other words, places can attract tourists if tourists can find seamless transport facilities, good facilities for their stay, healthcare facilities, ATMs, telecommunication and internet connectivity. And such considerations led policymakers to focus on the usual tourism products for years.

However, in recent years, there has been a shift in the tourism industry in India. And policymakers have shifted their attention to tourism of all hues. Now the tourism industry in India has understood the need for a broad base tourism and thus has started to focus on the unexplored and unexploited resources of rural India. In other words, attempts are being made to make tourism an inclusive platform rather than a purely urban industry led by the elite. It is indeed a wise move as tourism can, to a great extent, contribute to the development of rural India.

Today tourism is all about experiences. People no longer want to spend their money just to see monuments or historical places and come back. Many tourists now desire to experience unique cultures, traditions, local cuisine and interact with the locals. Such experiences provide some sort of enrichment. And this shift in ideas and beliefs, if well exploited, can be a valuable guarantee of human development in developing countries which face tremendous challenges in providing social and economic justice to their vast segments of the rural population.

Around 74% of India’s population lives in villages, where they face persistent challenges when it comes to livelihood, education and health facilities. Rural tourism can, to a great extent, be a one-stop solution to the rural crisis in India as it will undeniably diversify rural portfolio apart from farming, animal husbandry, and other low skill jobs. Rural tourism, in short, has many socio-economic benefits for rural regions.

With such considerations in mind, the Endogenous Tourism Project-Rural Tourism Scheme (ETP-RTS) was launched in 2003 in India. It is a collaborative effort between the Ministry of Tourism, the Government of India and the United Nations Development Programme. The ETP-RTS is, in fact, a result of India’s National Tourism Policy 2002, which identified rural tourism as one of its core focus areas. The objective of ETP-RTS is not to create urban comforts in rural settings but to create such an environment that will help the tourists to enjoy and experience the rural settings.

Another important angle in rural tourism in India is that it banks upon the ownership and involvement of the local community along with government and NGO assistance. This leads to the capacity building of the local community and eventually to poverty reduction as such projects focus on providing livelihoods to the poor section of villages by engaging them in either hospitality, craft making or other allied services that tourists usually require. A part of the revenue generated from such village tourism is used for the general welfare of the community as a whole.

Major types of rural tourism in India are agricultural tourism, cultural tourism, nature tourism, community eco-tourism, ethnic-tourism, food routes, and adventure tourism. Through such kinds of tourism, the government is trying not only to increase rural productivity in terms of income generation but also to conserve the rural environment as well as culture. By involving local people, rural tourism becomes an effective way to conserve as well as popularize traditional beliefs and values in modern times.

Some popular rural tourism destinations in India are Kutch Adventures India in Gujarat; Itmennan Lodges Punjabiyat in Punjab; Ecosphere Spiti in Himachal Pradesh; Lachen, Sikkkim; Ballabhpur Danga and Sunderbans Village Life in West Bengal; Majuli in Assam; Pochampally in Telangana; Govardhan Eco-village in Maharashtra; and Dzuleke in Nagaland.

From the perspective of the tourist, rural tourism provides an opportunity to visit and explore local dances and drama, folklore, artifacts, handicrafts, and to witness local trades like weaving, pottery, cattle rearing, poultry farming, brick making as well as farm management practices. Other memorable experiences that tourists can take back are events organised during region-specific festivals. All these can be explored along with the experience of the unpolluted and thinly populated landscape of the villages.

The concept of responsible tourism has been gaining popularity over time and thus various responsible tourism enterprises are flourishing worldwide. Many tourists nowadays want to actively engage in and contribute to local development processes while enjoying their travel experiences.

It is obviously a novel idea to contribute to the development of the community and region one is visiting. Such contributions need not necessarily mean economic gains for the host country or host community. An improvement in the level of social justice and growth of social capital is an equally important contribution that one makes when one chooses rural tourism.

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