What makes a tourist destination green? Is it a commitment to involve local communities? An effort to reduce energy use? Working with conservationists? All of the above?
Deciding on what makes tourism sustainable isn’t easy but last month, an international initiative called Green Destinations decided to name the world’s top 100 green destinations.
The list spans 45 countries with Netherlands surprisingly being the country with the most number of sites on the list. Then again, perhaps Bhutan had the last laugh — the entire country looks to have been declared as a sustainable destination!
Two Indian sites made it to the final 100 — the Khangchendzonga National Park and the Parambikulam Tiger Reserve — but surprisingly, many of our famous tourist destinations are entirely missing from the list. Given how rich India is in biodiversity and cultural heritage, it just shows that we have a long way to go before our tourism destinations can be considered green.
What criteria did they use?
15 criteria devised by the Global Sustainable Tourism Council were used to judge the “sustainability” of the nominated sites. The criteria included:
- Protection of landscape & scenery
- Cultural Heritage Conservation
- Inhabitants involved in tourism
- Reduction of fossil fuel dependency
- Accessibility for disabled
A team of over 50 experts rated the nominated destinations to come up with the final 100. The panel however noted that they weren’t able to take the carbon emissions into account and that:
[The] initiative aims to recognise tourism destinations that have worked hard to make a difference and take sustainability seriously. Nevertheless, no destination is sustainable for the full 100 percent. Also in the selected destinations important issues remain to be solved.
So which two Indian spots made it on the list? Let’s take a look.
Khangchendzonga National Park
A UNESCO World Heritage Site and India’s only Mixed Heritage site, this magnificent place is famous for both its cultural and natural heritage and is home to the world’s third highest peak. Home to red pandas and snow leopards, the park covers around a fourth of Sikkim’s area and borders both Nepal and China.
According to the selection committee, the site made it to the final 100 because, “this destination works actively on nature and landscape protection, which is also asked from the visitors.”
The panel cited the park’s Zero Waste Management Project where a partnership between NGOs and the government led to an initiative to monitor the garbage left behind on the trails by trekkers. The panel also recognised the involvement of locals in the park’s management.
Parambikulam Tiger Reserve
The Parambikulam Tiger Reserve and Wildlife Sanctuary is located in Kerala in the southern Western Ghats. The Reserve is an important wildlife corridor and was recognised for its “community-based ecotourism model” which involves indigenous communities in tourism and anti-poaching efforts.
Tigers, lion-tailed macaques, elephants and 124 butterfly species (including 34 that are endemic to the region) can all be found here. Interestingly, the Reserve is home to the world’s oldest and largest teak tree named Kannimara. The tree is over 350 years old.
(Shalini Iyengar is an environmental lawyer and Faculty at Srishti Institute of Art, Design and Technology)