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An Open Letter to Tourism Concern

Dear Patricia,

The reportage in In Focus of the Incredible India
 Second International Conference on
Responsible Tourism in Destinations was drawn to my attention by colleagues in India. Although
the report is written in the past tense it seems likely that this report went
to print before the conference took place. This may explain some of the
erroneous content.

The Kerala Department of Tourism does not promote the state as a leading
example of Responsible Tourism, the conference was not promoted on the Kerala
Tourism website – although there are links to the minutes of the meetings which
are being held at state and local level as Kerala seeks to address the
Responsible Tourism agenda.

In my view the government of Kerala is making serious efforts to address a
broad range of issues relating to the economic, social and environmental impacts
of tourism and is working with the panchayats to advance this agenda. The local
media highlighted the opening speech by Kerala Tourism Minister Shri. Kodiyeri
Balakrishnan. Kerala has committed to taking forward the concept of Responsible
Tourism into practice. Shri. Kodiyeri Balakrishnan asserted Kerala's
priorities: “Responsibility to Local Community, Responsibility to the
Nature and Responsibility to the tourists. To fulfil the responsibility to the
local community we should focus both on local economy and local culture.
Responsible Tourism is to avoid monopoly in reaping the benefits of tourism by
a group of capitalists and to assure nature conservation while ensuring private
participation in tourism development.”

During the conference groups visited a number of projects and their comments –
some positive some critical – informed the Kerala Declaration which was agreed
line by line on the floor of conference.  The declaration is available on the conference
website at
http://www.responsibletourism2008.org

The Conference was about Responsible Tourism internationally and the agenda
covered developments in many countries. This was not a local conference focussed
on Responsible Tourism in Kerala. There is a separate Keralan process which is
addressing the implementation of Responsible Tourism in Kerala -the minutes of
the multi-stakeholder meetings involving the elected representatives in the
municipalities and panchayats are available on-line at
http://www.keralatourism.org
– as are the views of the elected Minister of Tourism. Kerala's efforts cannot
be reasonably dismissed merely as hype.

The cost of the conference reflects the expense of organising an international
conference of this kind but I would point out that amongst the 500 delegates
were 20 elected peoples representatives(legislature, panchayats, municipal
bodies)from Kerala , 3 of them were speakers; there were 15 Kudumbashree self
help group members from destinations (not officials), 25 representatives from
NGO's/civil society organisations from Kerala and a further 40 representatives
of NGO's & CSO's from India. All the members of the 40 strong state level
responsible tourism committee and the 20 strong destination level committees (4
of them) were offered complimentary registration and accommodation, and at
least 50 attended. (the expenses for them were covered by a contribution from
Govt. of Kerala)

Angela Kalisch's comment about Kerala lacking “the political and economic
infrastructure to develop a truly democratic, transparent and socially
equitable system of tourism” is incomprehensible to me. Kerala has a
strong civil society and democratic structures of government. NGOs are not
necessarily representative.

I think that it is a pity that before the conference was held such a negative
account of efforts towards realising the Responsible Tourism agenda was
published by Tourism Concern. There is always scope for criticism, but it needs
to be well founded.

 

I was in Kerala to co-chair the Second International
Conference on Responsible Tourism in Destinations, I was not there to inspect progress
on Responsible Tourism, or to endorse or evaluate particular initiatives by the
government of Kerala or other stakeholders. I have no doubt that there are
other views of the Kovalam beach story and I understand that the public
consultations are ongoing on this issue. It is for Dr Venu
of Kerala Tourism to respond on this issue and I understand that he as already
written to Tourism Concern about  this.

I appreciate the work that Tourism Concern does on behalf of communities who
are negatively impacted by tourism but I do think that when serious allegations
are made you should offer a right of reply. You too have a responsibility to
get the facts right, please give Dr Venu a right of reply in In Focus.

Kind regards

Harold

 
Harold Goodwin
Co-chair 2nd International Conference on Responsible Tourism in Destinations
/www.responsibletourism2008.org/keraladeclaration.php

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