Kerala has been hit by flooding, a resilience challenge well beyond the capacity of tourism to address

Kerala has been hit by flooding, a resilience challenge well beyond the capacity of tourism to address

At best, the tourism sector can address its own resilience. We often hear talk about the resilience of a destination, its ability to bounce back from adverse circumstances. In the “good old days”, this often meant improving food hygiene or addressing the impacts of crime on tourists. The sector is well-practised at reassuring the industry, travellers and holidaymakers that the problems have been addressed, that the destination has returned to normal and that business and holiday-making can resume.  The industry has developed good crisis management skills, contributing to destination resilience. The UNWTO has worked with the sector to develop crisis management capacity through travel advisories and health information – we addressed these issues at WTM London last month.

However, the real challenges of resilience are deeper and, to be frank, well beyond the control of the industry or tourism boards. The UNWTO places “very high importance [on the] the integration of travel and tourism into the national emergency structures and procedures”. The industry is unable to address the challenges of reducing terrorist risk or climate change. ABTA’s 2014 tourism market report, found the popularity of a “number of popular holiday destinations were affected by political, social and economic unrest”. Egypt has experienced several years of political unrest, and an average annual decline in UK visitor numbers of 18.5% from 2010 to 2014.  Terrorist attacks on tourists have impacts which may be more or less short term, but they are often severe and intractable. Read more

In Delhi for the judging of the India Responsible Tourism Awards last week it was clear that there are growing numbers of businesses and organisations taking responsibility to make tourism better and to address a range of issues and some state governments beginning to adopt Responsible Tourism policies. At the International Conference on Responsible Tourism Practices in India academic conference at Pondicherry University Vinod Zutshi, until 2017, Secretary in the Union Ministry of Tourism described Kerala on Monday as “the role model for India”, a “global leader in Responsible Tourism”. He affirmed the importance of “the spirit of Kerala” and acknowledged how much has been achieved by people working together to develop a sustainable destination with support from state and panchayat government units.

Vinod asserted that governments have the biggest responsibility and that has been evident in Kerala since 2008 when Dr Venu brought the 2nd International Conference on Responsible Tourism in Destinations to Kerala. Successive Kerala state governments have continued to develop tourism to benefit local communities through the development of Village Life Experiences sold to tourists and engaging producer groups of local people in the supply chains to accommodation providers, restaurants and tour operators. Rupesh Kumar, the leader of the Responsible Tourism Mission in Kerala has launched a movement which has made Kerala the world’s leading Responsible Tourism destination. Over the last decade his work has been supported by successive ministers, secretaries and directors including Rani George, P Bala Kiran and Suman Billa who after service in Kerala moved to the ministry in Delhi and is now at UNWTO in Madrid.

Responsible Tourism in Kerala has been a major success. However, Kerala now faces a resilience challenge well beyond the capacity of the sector to address. While at COP 25 in Madrid very little progress has been made in addressing climate change, in Kerala the state government is struggling with the consequences of the failure of the world’s governments to achieve the change necessary to avoid storms, floods, fire and drought.

In August 2018 the entire state of Kerala was in the grip of a massive, unprecedented flood: the last time anything like that had happened was in 1924. The sector showed great resilience and there were no reports of tourists being holed up or trapped. Roads were rebuilt, hotels and homestays reopened and tourists began to arrive again in October.

Kerala is famous for its backwaters, the state is wedged between the Western Ghats and Arabian Sea. The 2018 August floods, the worst in about a century, destroyed Rs 31,000 crore worth of infrastructure and livelihoods and killed 453 persons. In 2019 the southwest monsoon massive landslides have been reported in Wayanad, Palakkad and Malappuram districts and Cochin, the state’s commercial capital, was flooded during the northeast monsoon, a phenomenon never experienced in the past. For the second year running there have been hundreds of fatalities.

“The India Meteorological Department data reveals that the 2,309.8 mm rainfall the state received was 13 per cent more than normal for the southwest monsoon and the 326.5 mm rainfall the state received from October 1 to 23 was 40 per cent above normal. This year, the southwest monsoon overran to mid-October and the northeast monsoon set in without a break. The monsoon calendar has changed and its intensity too.”

The loss of life and economic impact of the more ferocious monsoons are serious for the state. Agriculture, fisheries and tourism, which together account for 30 per cent of the state’s GDP, are the worst-affected sectors. Kerala, with a revenue deficit of Rs 12,860 crore and annual fiscal deficit of Rs 23,957 crore, has already spent an extra Rs 6,500 crore on disaster management since 2018. more

Meteorologists fear that as a result of global warming frequent seasonal calamities of flood and drought. In addition to climate change there has been massive deforestation, topographical changes adversely affecting land use pattern, urbanisation without minimum restrictions and encroachments in riverbeds and soil piping has led to further erosion. more

The flooding has been disastrous for Kerala and the tourism sector is reliant on the state’s capacity to cope with two successive years of major flooding and the concern that this may become a more regular occurrence.

Tourism is dependent on the resilience of the places it operates in – destination resilience is beyond the capacity of the tourism sector to deliver.

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Harold is WTM’s Responsible Tourism Advisor, he puts together the flagship Responsible Tourism programme at WTM London which attracted 4000 participants in 2020 and the programmes run at WTM Africa, WTM Latin America and Arabian Travel Market. Harold has worked on 4 continents with local communities, their governments and the inbound and outbound tourism industry. He is Managing Director of the Responsible Tourism Partnership and chairs the panels of judges for the World Responsible Tourism Awards and the other Awards in the family, Africa, India and Latin America. Harold works with industry, local communities, governments, and conservationists and undertakes consultancy and evaluations for companies, NGOs, governments, and international organisations. He is also a Director of the Institute of Place Management at Manchester Metropolitan University, where he is an Emeritus Professor, and Founder Director of the International Centre for Responsible Tourism promotes the principles of the Cape Town Declaration which he drafted.

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