Comments on Draft Sikkim Tourism Policy 2016

Adventure tourism, especially large-scale adventure tourism in the Himalayas, is vulnerable to fragile geological structure of the mountain. This very structure creates enviable adventure destinations. Smart planning is therefore required before unplanned adventure tourism forces a long-term closure of the challenging and scenic landscape for natural repair and recovery work.

Here are some comments and suggestions for the adventure tourism segment covered in the draft Sikkim Tourism Policy 2016.

Comment 1: Porters…

As rightly mentioned in the policy, mountain adventure tourism is labor intensive. Most of the adventure trips cannot be completed without the help of mountain guides, pack animal owners, and porters. However, porters are mentioned in the policy briefly. The policy suggests to create a database of certified porters. But it does not consider related practical problems and the solutions.

Standardize inter-state adventure tourism product classification. At least all Himalayan states should agree on and follow one standardized adventure tourism product classification. This will help in collecting comparable statistics.

Porter Related Problems Faced by Thrill Seekers

A common problem is that the porters disappear from the trail without informing, leaving the visitors high and dry. I have personally experienced this. I have read and heard about these type of incidences from other thrill seekers. Many porters disappear even when they are paid the price quoted by them or current market rate.

 

Problems Faced by Porters

The common cited problems are: The porters are not treated well. Porters are paid less. But how much is less or more? A capping on porterage and regular revision may help in resolving the issue. And what perks they deserve should also be clearly spelt out.

And the same is true about packed animal owners because they are also involved in the business of porterage.

Suggestions

Unorganized adventure-activity-porter market requires ground level work if we want to reap the benefits of the large scale adventure tourism. So the Himalayan-state tourism policy, especially a dedicated adventure tourism policy, must elaborate on this aspect.

Ethics and Training for Porters

For example, we always talk about ethics for trekkers, mountaineers, paragliders, rafters… But do we ever talk about ethics for porters? Probably never.

Curriculum of porters’ training module may focus on acquiring professional attitude and learning about commitment to attract regular repeat sales that will bring them regular income.

Classification of Porters

Low altitude

High altitude

Activity specific

A Regulatory Framework

While a general visitor’s feedback and complaints redressal mechanism is envisaged for tourism industry, setting up an easy and efficient mechanism to resolve disputes between porters and thrill seekers and to prevent these disputes would encourage adventure activity.

How Will Suggested Changes Help in Achieving Policy Goals?

This will help in meeting the Goal 5 of the policy: To increase the number of re-visiting tourists and positive feedback.

Comment 2: Ambiguous Classification of Adventure Tourism Products

While comparing policies 2010 and 2016, I found that the classification of adventure tourism product is not uniform.

Sikkim Tourism Policy 2010: Tourism Products Classification
Draft Sikkim Tourism Policy 2016: Tourism Products Classification
Nature & Trekking Tourism
Nature based tourism or Ecotourism
Eco-tourism & Wilderness tourism
                      
Adventure Tourism
Adventure based tourism

 

Overlapping

For example, trekking is adventure tourism. If this is true, why adventure tourism and trekking tourism are two separate categories.

Suggestion to Avoid Overlapping

Main Category: Adventure tourism

Sub Category 1: Trekking tourism

Sub Category 2: Wilderness tourism

 

Relationship between Adventure Tourism and Nature Tourism

Nature tourism may or may not be adventure tourism. For example, natural areas connected with mechanized transport network may not offer many adventure opportunities. But trekking and mountaineering are always done in natural areas. Both these activities are also thus nature tourism.

The Goal 3 of the policy is to develop the State as a major domestic and international destination for culture- and nature- based tourism. In this goal, adventure activities like bird watching, hiking, mountain biking, nature walking, and trekking are proposed as nature-based tourism itineraries.

If we consider real life examples, popular hill stations were initially developed for their natural assets. But with the development of mechanized access channels, the natural assets have taken backseat and asymmetrical jungle of manmade assets have created all kinds of pollutions. So the point is well connected destinations cannot cash in on natural assets. So these cannot be categorized as nature tourism products. These in fact become conventional leisure tourism products catering to the masses.

 

Relationship between Adventure Tourism and Eco Tourism

The International Ecotourism Society defines ecotourism as

“Responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment, sustains the well-being of the local people, and involves interpretation and education.”

If we go by this definition, adventure tourism is also eco-tourism. Because adventure tourism, especially mountaineering and trekking, is mainly to natural areas. And adventure seekers depend on local people for various tasks.

 

Problems in Data Collection for Reliable Adventure Tourism Segment Balance Sheet

So how do we segregate data for calculating and estimating earnings, losses, and profits to create an adventure tourism segment balance sheet for future planning and carrying capacity assessment for different tourism products?

Without data, how will we assess the adventure market size?

In fact, every type of tourism shall be eco-friendly. Even urban tourist areas need to follow the guidelines for eco-tourism to save cities and towns for next generation and make them better places to live in the present.

 

Lack of Standardized Adventure Tourism Product Classification Will Lead to Difficulties in:

  • Creating an adventure tourism balance sheet that gives true picture of the segment
  • Calculating carrying capacity of the adventure destination (s) and then the facility development
  • Finding which Himalayan state and / or non-Himalayan state is doing better in the segment
  • Doing destination competitive advantage analysis.

 

Suggestion

To begin with, at least, standardize intra state adventure tourism product classification.

Standardize inter-state adventure tourism product classification. At least all Himalayan states should agree on and follow one standardized adventure tourism product classification. This will help in collecting comparable statistics.

 

Comment 3: Negligible Share of Sikkim Himalayas in Mini Indian Mountaineering Market

The Indian mountaineering market analysis shows that mountaineers from West Bengal, the neighbor of Sikkim, prefer Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Jammu and Kashmir for mountaineering holidays. Sikkim is the last choice. The analysis also shows that West Bengal is the biggest market for these holidays.

During the study period (2010-14), only three peaks were attempted in the Sikkim Himalayas: Jongsong, Tingchen Khang, and Unnamed-6078. Only five attempts were made on these three peaks.

 

Comment 4: Mismatch in Key Tourism Product and the Policy Goals

Casinos as a tourism product contradicts Goal 3 of the policy that recommends culture-based tourism itineraries. Casinos have never helped in conserving and preserving cultures. In fact, lure of quick buck from casinos and the related liquor culture will ruin the historic cultural heritage of the State.

This product also contradicts Goal 2 that focuses on low impact tourism. The casinos are high impact tourism product and will have long term social implications.

The idea of casinos does not match with the Objective 1 that emphasizes responsible tourism.

One example will illustrate the point, today you may find it “high value / rich” source of quick revenue. But when society will start complaining and adverse impact will become apparent, advocates of casino culture will argue that if you shut casinos, they will lose some crore in revenue, leading to unemployment. Shutting will be difficult like Goa Chief Minister said in 2013:

“And then the all-too familiar U-turn: “I depend on casinos to the tune of 150 crore which I get it as revenue to run the finances of the state. If I close it (casinos) overnight who will replace 150 crore?” “ (TOI. http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/goa/Casinos-in-Goa-The-disaster-factor/articleshow/24956050.cms)

So why to set up them in the first place.

 

A Question

And I have one question, why does everyone charge more to foreign visitors than to Indian visitors? For example, Sikkim charges high trekking fee to trekkers from the foreign countries vis-à-vis the fee charged to the Indian trekkers.

Are we offering anything extra to foreign visitors?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *