Thiruvananthapuram, March 22 (IANS) An international group of experts, at a recent meeting of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), gave Kerala a pat on the back for sustainable tourism with eco-friendliness and inclusiveness, Suman Billa, Kerala Tourism secretary, said Friday.
The experts said Kerala's variety of tourism activity could serve as a model not just for India, but also for the rest of the world, Billa, who was also the keynote speaker at the meeting in Geneva, Switzerland, said.
The accolades for Kerala's Responsible Tourism (RT) came from experts, policymakers and diplomats from developing and developed countries as well as representatives of international organisations and civil society who had gathered for the UNCTAD meeting recently.
"Kerala has become a model for tourism development for entire India," observed Supachai Panitchpakdi, secretary general of UNCTAD.
Billa said the state had turned tourism into a driver of economic growth, but without compromising concerns for ecology. The interests of local people had also been integrated into the tourism promotion work in the state.
"Over the years, a host of geographic and socio-cultural factors, including unfettered growth, a fragile ecosystem and high density of population, led the policy makers to adopt sustainable tourism practices. It gradually evolved into the more inclusive and integrated concept of RT," Billa said.
In 2007, the Kerala government adopted RT as the bedrock of its tourism policy and four pilot destinations - Kumarakom, Kovalam, Wayanad and Thekkady -- were chosen for implementing RT practices.
This was followed by a strong policy intervention in terms of aligning incentives and subsidies with the RT framework.
At Kumarakom, the state department of tourism partnered the local self-government and women's self-help groups to forge a strong stakeholder network and set up exclusive committees to drive the activities.
The Kumarakom RT initiative inspired the formation of farmer groups, cultural groups, village life experience tours and more, enabling the local community to access the tourism market and benefit from it.
Significantly, the government announced a slew of incentives, including a subsidy of 15 percent for tourism investment, special electricity tariff for projects following RT practices and RT certification for tourism service providers like tour operators and resorts.
At Kumarakom, where the pilot RT initiative was launched in March 2008, 18 hoteliers signed tripartite agreements for procurement of produce from the local community.
Representatives from Caribbean countries, Africa, Latin America and some other Asian nations showed keen interest in the Kerala model of Responsible Tourism, saying it could be replicated in their own countries with adjustments made for local conditions.