It brings people of different nations together, allowing them to come into close contact with each other and learn about customs and other aspects of life. It reveals the scenic beauty and past heritage of a country to people belonging to other nations.
The knowledge and experience gained in the process can lead to greater understanding and tolerance, and can even foster world peace.
The contribution of tourism to economy is striking. A study conducted by the United Nations has shown that developing countries in particular, can reap handsome benefits out of tourism which generally boosts national income. Tourism also helps in healing the balance-of-payments situation.
To ensure a circulating economy, even countries not relying on tourism to a great extent, promote internal tourism. Tourism generates employment and adds to the entrepreneurial wealth of a nation.
While tourism has several advantages, it also has some undesirable effects. Tourism can cause social, cultural or environmental disruption. Of the greatest concern is the damage to the environment.
In order to attract more tourists, sprawling resorts are built which take neither the local architectural styles nor the ecology into consideration. Natural systems are destroyed as a result of indiscriminate construction and efforts to provide water and waste disposal facilities and recreational arrangements to tourists.
Overuse of environmental wealth disturbs the ecological balance. Overuse of Himalayan trails, like the Nanda Devi trails add to the environmental degradation. The ways to the Himalayan peak are strewn with rubbish. The picturesque hill station of Shimla in Himachal Pradesh is a pale shadow of its erstwhile pristine beauty.
The massive influx of tourists and the ever-growing avarice of the builders to construct more and more hotels and lodges to accommodate visitors has defaced the landscape.
In fact, Shimla has now become a concrete jungle and is slowly ‘dying’ with the passage of time. But unmindful of this, the local administration and the greedy hoteliers operating in the area are busy damaging the ecology and beauty of this place to make money.
Unfortunately for tourism, the concretisation of Shimla is fast turning away the discernible tourists. Damage is most discernible in wildlife parks which remain the foremost sites of tourist attraction.
Tourist vans and the massive influx of visitors destroy the vegetation, thereby affecting the feeding habits of animals and the landscape as well. Overcrowding brings about congestion, leading to environmental degradation and health hazards. The site eventually loses its attraction.
Monuments too have suffered from the heavy influx of tourists. The Taj Mahal, one of the Seven Wonders of the World, and the majestic Khajuraho temples has suffered a lot of wear and tear from the trampling feet of tourists.
Some socio-cultural effects of tourism have been damaging. Tourism often ushers in new lifestyles; arrangements as desired by tourists are provided in order to make them feel at home.
The emergence of this ‘other’ culture in various places has caused dissatisfaction among the local people. The local people tend to imitate foreign values, breaking away from their own traditions.
For monetary gains, the poor locals are sometimes tempted to present themselves as objects of cultural curiosity, thus demeaning themselves.
Making matters worse is the fact that the bursting wallets of the wealthy tourists lure young people into offering themselves as ‘objects of desire’.
Thailand, a beautiful country, is better known as a ‘hot’ destination among tourists round the world for ‘sex’ tourism. That this way hurts the pride of sensitive people of the nation is of no concern to the state authorities, and also to those who use sexual attractions to make a fast buck.
Though this problem is not so widespread in India there have been disturbing reports revealing this aspect of tourism being promoted under the guise of ‘health resorts’ that provide massage and other such services to the tourists. Several tourist spots make sexual services available to the wealthy tourists on demand.
However, nothing is done to stop it for fear of turning away the tourists. It is worse when for money’s sake, even child prostitution is encouraged. In some cases, the governments encourage tourism even at the cost of incurring damage to the cultural values of the country in order to increase their national income. This attitude can have disastrous consequences.
In the island of Maldives efforts to boost tourism are destroying its priceless resource of coral reefs. As these safeguard the island from mounting sea levels, their destruction is bound to open up dangerous possibilities.
Tackling problems posed by tourism is necessary, for once the natural resources and historical monuments are lost, and tourism itself will collapse. The world tourist industry has awakened to this fact and has begun considering tourism- related environmental issues. ‘Environment-friendly’ or ‘green’ tourism has been stressed in the Alps, a tourist attraction that accounts for a quarter of the world’s revenue from tourism but which has been heavily degraded due to overuse.
To prevent overuse, tourism must be promoted within planned limits, keeping in mind factors like ecological balance and health safety. Tourism cannot be allowed to play havoc with traditional cultures in sheltered societies.
To contain the socio-cultural setbacks of tourism, it is necessary to realise that cultural decline, which has already set in as a result of widespread use of new technologies and growing network of communication, is being encouraged in a degrading way once the locals set themselves up as cultural showpieces for visitors.
The Haryana government, of late, has been aggressively promoting tourism by showcasing state culture and traditions. Nothing wrong with that, but what is disturbing is that in its zest to attract more and more tourists, the state tourism department is destroying the unique earthly culture of the area.
Its Mhara Gam tourist campaign where foreign tourists are invited to stay with the locals in their homes to have a ‘feel’ of the local cuisine and culture is a noteworthy step. But this has also started to tell on the overall lifestyle and culture of the local people, as they get infected by the tourists’ way of life and culture.
To promote safe tourism, while ensuring that it remains a profitable industry, it is imperative to understand the factors that hamper the growth of tourism and check them effectively.
General instability of the nation is damaging to tourism prospects. Political disturbances in particular, pose serious problems. The growing violence in the international scene and increasing threat of terrorism effect the flow of tourists. Countries like Sri Lanka, Israel, Palestine and Afghanistan have been victims of terrorism for long and have therefore suffered setbacks in tourism.
In Egypt, where tourism earns the country much more than the earnings from Suez Canal, the Muslim fundamental activists have” drastically cut down revenue from tourism.
Terrorist activities and other violent acts in India recently had enormous detrimental effects on tourism. Recent eruption of violence in different parts of the country has led to the decline in revenue earnings of the country.
The growth in terrorism has also eroded much of the charm of states like Jammu and Kashmir and the north-eastern states that were once favourite spots for tourists owing to their scenic beauty. The operation of muggers in places like Florida, Hawaii and Corsica has posed a serious problem to tourism.
Economic factors like rising input costs inhibit growth in demand. Non-availability of adequate resources for tourism leads to a lack of infrastructural facilities. Keeping down costs and consolidating – the resource base is necessary while ensuring quality. Emerging regional blocs like the European Union may also pose barriers to the growing tourism industry.
Whatever are the problems, India must work hard to reap the benefits from this industry, and for the country has everything to attract visitors from far and near. The monuments of a civilization going back into the hoary past dot the country.
Ancient Buddhist stupas and Hindu temples, Mughal and Rajput palaces, forts and victory towers, rock-cut caves and elaborately laid out gardens—there are ever so many things to see in India wherever one goes. And the variety is impressive. The beautiful blend of architectural styles and scientific planning of those old buildings is a marvel.
If the snow-capped Himalayas and the desert in Rajasthan do not appeal to all, there are picturesque hill stations in the lower hills. There are the vast beaches in the east, south and west. There are forests and wildlife sanctuaries. And now there are adventure sports for those who want action—trekking and mountaineering, skiing, rafting and canoeing in the turbulent Himalayan rivers and hang gliding.
There are many cultural dimensions to attract the aesthetic sensibility. The cuisine offers enough variety to please diverse tastes. From Mughlai to Rajasthani, from South Indian to Punjabi, India, perhaps, offers the greatest number of mouthwatering cuisines among the countries of the world. The textile arts and crafts offer wonderful glimpses of India.
In spite of India’s enormous potential, the tourism industry has failed to realise its potential. The share of India’s tourism industry in the world at present is very low.
On the other hand, Malaysia and even South Africa, which are very small countries with limited tourism potentials, corner an impressive share of the tourism pie of the world. This aspect is difficult to understand, given the country’s attraction owing to its rich historical heritage, scenic beauty and the mystique of its cultural diversity.
Every part of India bears the legacy of ancient eras in the form of monuments and other architectural glories. To add to such attraction is the fact that India is one of the cheapest vacation grounds. Then why does the country fail to utilise the benefits of tourism?
One reason is the meagre financial resources available to the tourism sector. In spite of the successive governments’ claims, the Central budget has hitherto made a significant contribution to the development of tourism, and hence, there is a gross shortage of money for developing infrastructural facilities.
Inadequate and substandard hotels and problems of hygiene and sanitation deter sensitive tourists from making India their destination of choice.
Even spots of cultural interests, such as temple towns, lack basic facilities like safe drinking water. Varanasi is a typical example. The city has tremendous tourism potential.
What Jerusalem is to the Jews, the Muslims and even the Christians, Varanasi is to the Hindus and particularly for those wishing to revel in the spiritual bliss of this great religion.
Although, here tourists from various countries can be seen in large numbers, this number can become greater only if the state and city administrations take care to make the city more clean and tourist-friendly.
The piles of garbage everywhere, absence of good hotels and unhelpful city administration make tourists’ stay in the holy city a virtual nightmare.
To overcome the problem of low finances, private sector •participation is being promoted. The return on investment in hotel projects will make private investment an easy solution. A classic example of the private sector performance is in the case of Goa.
The work by the Tatas and others has converted Goa, which was hardly known to foreign tourists till the mid- 1970s, into one of the major attractions in Western India.
Tourism has also suffered from poor packaging and promotion. Marketing tactics in India have not been employed to project the outstanding appeal of India in an attractive way. Greater market segmentation and targeted marketing are required to yield greater benefits for tourism.
These problems must be faced and clear-sighted solutions sought to make India an attractive tourist destination. Tourism is undeniably a major source of income—national as well as individual—and its potential to encourage development in various regions should be sensibly put to use. It offers employment, boosts creativity and makes the world a small place.