Down in Kumarakom, in Kerala, for their international conference reviewing the progress that has been made in the state since the International Conference on Responsible Tourism in Destinations launched their local economic development initiative in 2008. The focus has been on benefiting local communities by enabling them to engage more successfully with the tourism industry because that was the priority decided upon by the panchayat, the local government unit closest to the communities. Effectively local people set the priorities for making their village a better place to live in through tourism. The Kumarakom Panchayat President Ms. Dhanya M R, was a speaker on the Responsible Tourism programme at WTM in 2011. She talked eloquently, and with passion, about the difference which the government of Kerala’s Responsible Tourism initiative had made to her village.
It was good to see her again and to see the further progress that has been made in developing village enterprises and self-help groups which are now regularly supplying local produce to the tourist hotels, providing village tours, selling crafts to tourists and opening local cafes and restaurants. The programme has been particularly successful in Kumarakom, it has been less so in some of the other villages where the approach was also piloted. But what is perhaps most impressive about the Responsible Tourism programme in Kerala is the determination to learn from success and failure and to improve the practices so that there are more successful initiatives. The programme has survived a change of governing party and is now well established.
During the conference a representative of the Union Minister of Tourism form Delhi spoke about the importance of the Kerala experiment and the national interest in it. A member of the State Planning Committee announced that there would be funding from the government for the panchayats in the next planning period to enable and encourage them to engage with tourism – there are 200 or so destination panchayats in Kerala in each of which tourism could make a significant contribution to making them better places to live in.
The government has been certifying hotels against their local criteria for Responsible Tourism, reflecting local priorities in Kerala, and to encourage hotels to engage with the programme. It is the hotels in Kerala who are, from the industry side, best placed to deliver Responsible Tourism. More and more travellers and holidaymakers are booking accommodation direct and making their own travel arrangements in a state with a well regulated industry and where the vast majority of the tourists are domestic.
Coconut Lagoon Heritage Hotel is one of the CGH Earth Experience Hotels which demonstrates how much a hotel can contribute to making a better place for people to live in and a great place for people to visit. The driving force behind CGH Earth Experience Hotels has been Jose Dominic who was recognised by government speakers during the conference as having made a particular and very important contribution to the development of Responsible Tourism in Kerala. Jose will be speaking at WTM this year about his business model and why it is so successful.
Jose runs a group of hotels based on strong, and I would argue exemplary, Responsible Tourism values and the group is highly successful. In the monsoon season Coconut Lagoon has been running with occupancies as high as 90% and averaging over 50%. Jose will be speaking at 12:00 on Tuesday 5th November about his business model and why Responsible Tourism makes good business sense.
If you want to understand why Responsible Tourism works for business – do not miss this panel and discussion with three leading businesses talking about what their Responsible Tourism approach contributes to their success.