Sharing the benefits of tourism with rural communities
Ecotourism, although relatively new and small, seem to be bringing significant development in the rural parts of the country. Careful regulation and promotion of ecotourism, therefore, needs to be worked so that the households can explore income-earning opportunities besides farming. At the time when villages are met with the growing issue of farmhands shortage, taking ecotourism or making the villages into attractive tourist market makes all the more development sense.
An evaluation by the Gross National Happiness Commission found that ecotourism has helped bring positive impact on the local communities. Income generated from home stay and campsites have helped improve household income. More importantly, it has led to efficient conservation of natural environment and preservation of culture and tradition.
At the core of the idea is to give the management of tourism-related activities and responsibilities of managing what can be sold to the people of the communities while providing means for them to augment their income from the farms. Most tourists do not go beyond Paro, Thimphu and Punakha because the agents do not plan programmes outside of traditional destinations. It is evident, however, that if we are a little more imaginative and open our rural communities as destinations there will be no shortage of visitors. And because it is an important source of income, communities feel encouraged to maintain the environment and to preserve what is unique about them.
Zhemgang is the dzongkhag that has witnessed least number of tourists, not because there is nothing that tourists can enjoy there but because tour agents do not take tourists there due to distance from the capital. Today, a home stay in Zhemgang makes not less than Nu 400,000 annually, perhaps by lot more than home stays in Thimphu, Wangdue, Lhuentse.
Close to 90 percent of respondents have said that ecotourism has helped improve the living standards of the people in the communities by boosting rural economy. It has been observed that 98 percent of home stays showcased traditional products, served traditional cuisines and traditions unique to the communities.
Today, when the rural pockets of the country are facing the ever-growing challenge of human-wildlife conflicts and rural to urban migration, promotion of ecotourism could be the most appropriate of interventions.