Rural tourism, is an unexplored territory in the landscape of Indian tourism. Considering around 74 per cent of the population resides in rural India, an engaging platform focused on organized rural tourism could generate both, high revenue and employment.
According to the Ministry of Tourism, ‘any form of tourism that showcases the rural life, art, culture and heritage at rural locations, thereby benefiting the local community economically and socially as well as enabling interaction between the tourists and the locals for a more enriching tourism experience can be termed as rural tourism’.
Rural tourism is a multi-faceted tourism concept, including farm/agricultural tourism, cultural, natural, adventurous, and ecological tourism. As against conventional tourism, rural tourism is branded by being experience oriented, locations are sparsely populatedpredominantly in natural environment, meshed with seasonality, and local events, based on preservation of culture, heritage and traditions. The underlying idea behind rural tourism is to create, preserve, and enhance the stake of local communities acrosslocations for common good, and not for the benefit of any individual or firm. Rural tourism encompasses all activities that cater to national and international tourists through facilities that are owned, managed, and serviced by members of the village community themselves,quintessentially a community based initiative.
Primary stakeholdersofrural tourism are the local communities, state governments, central government and the tourists. Local communities are the key stakeholders of rural tourism as they contribute to the structure and surroundings of their respective area and make them desirable for tourism with their own ways of living. Central government is responsible for planning and funding rural areas for setting up the required infrastructure to support tourist activities. The state government is responsible for implementing the recommendations and policies of the central government. Tourists participate inrural tourism, thus generating revenue and making rural tourism sustainable.
Villages have a unique rural way of life, art, culture and heritage which makes them attractive for global tourism. Though existing rural tourism schemes in India encourage and promote villages with impeccable art and crafts, handlooms, and textiles there is a lot more latent potential in the tourism sector, waiting to be unearthed. Rural tourism is important for job creation, thereby uplift economic status of the rural population which would inevitably curb the rising trend of migration to urban area. Another advantage of rural tourism is that it will be socially beneficial to the rural population with more diversity in livelihood opportunities. Thus while tourists may observe as well as live the rural way of living, it allows enterprises to flourish; a mutually beneficial interactionforall the stakeholders involved.
Currently, there are a few villages in India which are gaining popularity as premium rural tourism destinations. For instance, Puttur in Andhra Pradesh is popular for its agriculture, mangroves and prominent silk business activities. Staying at traditional homes adorned withtasteful local aesthetics are eye openers on the healthy lifestyle of the localfolk. Tourists may enjoy the grand tour of the silk saree making process, warm regional hospitality, and visitmany temples that dot this little village. Other similar destinations are Anegundi village in Karnataka, Theerthamalai in Tamil Nadu, ShyamGaon in Jorhat, Assam; among many others.
Conventionally, the said sectorin India, tends to be more inclinedtowards architectural, religious, spiritual, health and other forms of tourism.In terms of influx, rural tourism is not as pronounced, (revenue and popularity) as other forms of tourism. The potential reasons could bea lack of countryside awareness, insufficient investment in developing tourist friendly infrastructure, poor connectivity, high maintenance costs among others.
A critical factor that needs immediate focus, for rural tourism to be preferred over other forms is dealing with sanitation and cleanliness related issues. Irrespective of the promotional activities and rich rural experience, one of the factors that deter both Indian and global tourists from venturing into hinterlands is poor hygiene and health facilities.
Few success stories, providing rural experience include the well-knownconcept of ‘Chowkidhani’, promoted by states like Rajasthan, Haryana and others. Maximum tourist outreach, mostly international, has been achieved by the ChowkiDhani at Jaipur, Rajasthan. Reasons for the high outreach and popularity could bepresentation, aesthetics, promotions, infrastructure, quality of trained staff. We alsoneed to educate the rural communities about the opportunities they have, by participating in rural tourism. The issue of seasonal employment can be tackled through tourism activities.
The National Rural Tourism Schemehas already awarded a maximum of INR 50 Lakh for developing tourism in rural areas. However, with more than 7 million villages, this amount needs to be increased. Furthermore, national and respective state governments, private parties and NGOs should be taken on board for developing rural tourism and promoting it domestically and internationally.
The case of rural conservation in Kokkrebellur, Mandya, Karnataka is one such case where the locals, state government, and a local NGO played active rolein protecting the Spot-billed Pelican. It is notablethat even before the intervention of the state government, the NGO called Mysore Amateur Naturalists (MAN) created a group consisting the local youths to protect the species and simultaneously developed the village into an eco-tourism spot under the blanket of rural tourism.
The Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) has also initiated the promotion of the concept of rural tourism in India and abroad. Rural tourism provides favorable environment entrepreneurs,promotes community cohesiveness, and expansion in choices of rural livelihoods. The emergence of rural tourism will help in boosting a range of activities, services and amenities provided by farmers and rural people to attract tourists to their area to generate extra income.
To attract specific categories of tourists, tourism products should be prepared in consonance with the determination of the carrying capacity of a tourist location. The government of India should identify circuits for rural tourism. An effective tourism publicity drive should also be adopted to bring to limelight the potentials of rural tourism in the country. Another road towards developing promoting rural tourism would be to focus on developing niche products in the rural areas. Specific areas and centers should be identified as niche areas for rural tourism such as heritage sites of Rajasthan, Gir forest in Gujarat, backwaters of Kerala, hills of Uttar Pradesh, Shanti Niketan in West Bengal, dances and musical instruments of Odisha, Nithyagram of Karnataka, Tribals of Bihar, scenic beauty of Meghalaya, folk dances of Andhra Pradesh, wooded valleys of Himachal Pradesh, Teej festival of Haryana and mask dances of Sikkim.
There is animpending need for rural tourism entrepreneurship in the Indian context to facilitate the use of local resources (both human and non-human), create additional scope of employment for rural inhabitants, increase sources of income and achieve a better standard of living. Furthermore, there is need to strengthen the potential of available labor by way of providing the right skills, developing sustainable infrastructure, adequate support to preserve and maintain traditional culture and value system.These initiatives would further require assimilation with tourist linkages and consciousness for eco-biodiversity.
Anupam Hazarika – Research Associate