Your decompressing vacation to the great outdoors is actually bad for the environment.
Vacations have become synonymous with the idea of escaping the bustling town or city to spend time amongst nature. With the increase in people working from home due to the pandemic, as well as the availability of the internet in even remote areas, people flock to the mountains or the beach for a change of scenery. This boom in the tourism industry in remote and ecologically diverse areas leads to the construction of hotels and resorts, along with making sure these areas have a steady supply of water and electricity and making sure they are accessible by roads. All these development activities put an immense amount of strain on the ecology of the area and resulted in the displacement of indigenous people and wildlife, the destruction of flora, and other ecological disasters. So although it might feel like you’re one with nature and are having an authentic countryside experience when you visit these areas - chances are you’re not.
The district of Kodagu or Coorg in Karnataka has seen a massive boom in tourism over the past few years. Nestled in the Western Ghats and known as the Scotland of India, Coorg is known for its lush greenery, rolling hills, and coffee plantations. Although it was previously not very well known to the general public, it has now become a great centre of tourist activity, with tourists from all over the country flocking to Coorg to experience the rivers, hills, forests, wildlife, historical monuments, and the rich religious and cultural heritage of the area. This increase in tourism has led to the construction of several large resorts and 5-star hotels, as well as a large number of small homestays. Several other development projects like constructing roads and power lines have come up at a very rapid pace to support the tourism industry. Although this may seem like a huge step forward in development for a formerly remote area like Coorg, it comes at a huge cost. Such rapid development has been possible only due to the rampant deforestation of lush forests and levelling of hills.
Since 2018, unusually heavy rainfalls during monsoons have led to devastating floods and landslides, killing people and destroying homes and large swathes of coffee plantations. The landslides were attributed to surface cracks in the hills. Experts say that the rapid rise in the number of resorts and villas constructed in modified coffee plantations tampers with stream networks and groves that provide important ecological services. Additionally, the construction of linear corridors like roads, power lines, and oil and natural gas lines leads to the fragmentation of forest landscapes. This results in reduced soil binding capacity, making these regions vulnerable to landslides and surface erosion. With the change in rainfall patterns due to global warming, these areas are more at risk every year when the monsoon season comes around.
In addition to landslides, flooding and the loss of human, animal, and plant life due to the growing tourism industry, more people visiting the area and entering the forests displaces wildlife and causes pollution due to littering. Deforestation drives wild animals, especially elephants, out of the forests due to the lack of availability of food and water, and into villages and coffee plantations. This, in turn, increases the incidences of human-animal conflict in the area and leads to either human harming and killing the animals that trespass on their property, or the elephants attacking and killing humans.
Similarly, in the Chikkamaglur district of Karnataka, a five-star luxury resort is set for construction in the ecologically sensitive shola grassland region of the Bababudan mountains. The project required 14 hectares of land that lies within 10 kilometres of the Bhadra Tiger Reserve to be diverted for construction. Apart from the scheduled area of the building, access roads leading up to the property have left trails of rubble, dug-up earth, torn-up trees, and blown-up boulders all over the once pristine grasslands. The area lies in between two reserve forests and is also an important watershed for the several streams that nearby villages, plantations, and local residents depend on. The shola area is also home to some of the most endangered and highly endemic species of birds, reptiles and amphibians. Although once constructed, the resort will provide a luxurious stay for tourists, in a peaceful location with fresh air, pristine landscapes, and proximity to national parks for wildlife safaris, it causes irreversible damage to the biodiversity of the area and a huge inconvenience to the local population.
In the tourist-rich state of Goa, the number of major hotels and resorts has increased by 170% from 2008 to 2018. In the small and picturesque beach-side village of Arossim, a small 4-kilometre stretch near Arossim beach already hosts two high-end resorts and developers have proposed three more in the same area. The villagers are heavily against these projects as the area has stormwater drains that are ecologically important to the community as they carry excess rainwater from the village and converge into the property before draining out into the sea. It is also a biodiversity hotspot and supports a large green cover, fauna and medicinal herbs. Villagers are concerned that the destruction of natural drains and sand dunes that act as natural fortresses against the sea leaves them vulnerable to floods.
(Also Read: Impact Of Tourism On Goa)
In February 2018, Arossim villagers blocked earthmovers from felling trees at the property and several protestors requested the panchayat to revoke the project’s licenses. In July, they stopped trucks carrying construction materials and cabins to the site. One argument for the construction of these high-end projects is that it generates a lot of employment opportunities outside traditional jobs for the local people. However, the villagers of Arossim claim that despite the development these resorts claim to bring to the area, local Goans were not hired for white-collar jobs and were only offered sanitation jobs.
These luxury tourism projects pose threats to common land and community resources. Golf courses, in particular, take over 90% of village land, including farmland and forests. High-end resorts and luxury hotels come under Category A hotels. Currently, Category A hotels in Goa make up only 2% of all hotels, however, they are much larger in size and have three times the number of rooms in smaller Category B and C hotels, and 25 times more rooms than the smallest Category D hotels. As a result, high-end hotels cause more problems for the environment and for locals, as they require more land and put a heavier strain on natural resources.
Ecological considerations are barely given any notice when it comes to development and the revenue generated from the tourism industry. Although these projects boast high rates of development in remote areas and increased employment opportunities for the locals, the reality is that these projects cause more problems than benefits for the environment and the local communities. The solution to this problem is not to ban tourists from entering ecologically delicate areas or to cut off these areas from the rest of the world to protect them. A more sustainable model of tourism called ecotourism or sustainable tourism is slowly gaining popularity and is a low-impact alternative to luxury tourism. Ecotourism involves visiting fragile and relatively untouched natural areas while preserving their heritage and conserving wildlife in their natural habitats. Instead of intruding and polluting these areas, tourists are encouraged to engage in activities that are less destructive towards the ecosystem and promote the native culture of the locals. Tourists are encouraged to support smaller homestays run by locals instead of supporting luxury tourism. Being more aware of where we vacation and how it affects local communities and wildlife can help tourists have a more enriching experience while adding some value to the places they visit instead of aiding in their destruction.
(Also Read: How To Be A Sustainable Tourist)
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