//WTTC destination award: The lack of sustainability in Kerala tourism raises questions

WTTC destination award: The lack of sustainability in Kerala tourism raises questions

Thiruvananthapuram, 11/02/2006.
KABANI, a voluntary organization in Kerala,  urges the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) to abandon its decision to  consider Kerala tourism for the best destination award. KABANI wants WTTC to  recognize that the current malpractices, lack of transparency and non-participatory tourism projects based on ill-conceived policies in Kerala  are causing tremendous damages to the vulnerable and marginalised  communities in Kerala. Evils of tourism such as the commercial sexual  exploitation of children are rampant in the state.

"At this stage, Kerala tourism is not at all a role model of sustainability", says KABANI.  WTTC representatives are currently carrying out an onsite verification visit  in order to assess Kerala’s eligibility for the WTTC’s ‘Tourism for Tomorrow Award’ 2006. They are looking for ‘best practice’ in tourism development.
We understand that the Tourism Department has painted a one-sided and biased  picture of Kerala tourism. If the WTTC panel shows the determination to talk  to a more representative cross section of stakeholders, they will be able to  understand that Kerala tourism is not a sustainable tourism development  model by any international standards.
Sumesh Mangalassery from KABANI points out "rather, the recently introduced  tourism legislations are undermining the legitimate powers of local democratic institutions, thus negating people’s participation in tourism.  The Kerala Local Authorities Entertainment (Amendment) Bill 2004 has weakened local bodies, depriving them of several millions of rupees tax revenue due to them, which could be used for regenerating local economies. The tourism policies in Kerala are stifling the local economies and depriving local communities of their livelihood systems.
The Kerala Tourism  (Conservation & Preservation of Areas) Act 2005 effectively strips local
bodies of their powers by constituting a committee dominated by bureaucrats,  and by stating that no development activity may be carried out in so-called "special tourism zones" except by permission of the committee.
We would like to remind the WTTC panel that according their own criteria, a destination that wins their award "will be able to demonstrate maximum  positive benefits and minimum negative impacts, as well as the adoption of planning and policies that promote sustainability". Kerala tourism, however, has a strong record of proving that planning, policies and regulations to
date have not effectively addressed major problems caused by tourism. These  include the unsustainable extraction of ground water in tourism spots such as Kovalam, which is causing a serious lack of drinking water for local communities. Problems also include the pollution of the backwaters by the tourism industry, especially the increasing number of houseboats.
The  Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) violations by hotels and resorts are a serious concern in the state, and so is the uncontrolled tourism development in Kovalam and Kumarakom, which has lead to many environmental and social problems. Prostitution including the commercial sexual exploitation of  children in Kovalam and Varkala is rampant. Sustainable waste management
systems are completely lacking in the state.
KABANI urges the WTTC panel to meet a broader range of civil society  representatives to understand the true nature of tourism development in the state. Any decision taken without listening and responding to the voices of voluntary organizations in Kerala will tantamount to neglect of the acceptable international practices of screening processes for such widely
respected awards.
It has been clearly demonstrated that the claim that "tourism is a vehicle  for developing the environment" in the state is highly questionable at best  and unfounded at worst. So is Kerala’s unsubstantiated claim about "success in maintaining a policy of sustainable management incorporating social, cultural, environmental and economic aspects as well as multi-stakeholder
engagement" – a key criterion for any WTTC destination award.
According to KABANI, the mere adoption of planning and policies that may or may not at some point in the more or less distant future promote  sustainability is not sufficient for giving’Tourism for Tomorrow Award’ to  Kerala as a destination. We therefore urge WTTC panel to meet civil society  representatives to get a more balanced view of the processes of tourism packaging and its negative impacts upon the marginalised and vulnerable communities and Kerala’s fragile environment.
For more information:
KABANI – the other direction
Sumesh Mangalassery
TC17/1982(1), Palace View Road,
Poojapura, TVM
Ph: 9447546584