Involve local communities: Message from India’s tourism conference

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The 5th International Conference on Sustainable Destination Excellence organized in Jammu, India, on February 23 and 24 by the School of Hospitality and Tourism Management and the University of Jammu, generated several ideas on how to boost tourism. The overwhelming focus was on nature, sustainability, and community involvement.

As many as 180 research papers were submitted for the conference where delegates from Nepal and Malaysia were also present. The sub-theme of the meeting was transforming social communities through tourism entrepreneurship.

Ms. Priya Sethi, Tourism State Minister of Jammu and Kashmir, and R. D. Sharma, Vice Chancellor, set the ball rolling by saying that sustainability will be possible if the local communities are involved.

Prof. Manoj Dixit, Vice Chancellor of the University in Faizabad, in his valedictory address, went a step further, pointing out that no tourism project can succeed unless it comes from below and IS not imposed from above.

He quipped that while domestic tourism was 90 percent, the focus was on 10 percent foreign tourism.

Dixit, who earlier headed the Tourism Department at Lucknow University, gave several examples where government efforts have failed in sustaining projects and those with community participation have succeeded.

While some attractions and destinations welcomed tourism marketing, this had its limitations, and some did not want too much interference. This was particularly true of some pilgrim and spiritual attractions in West Bengal, said Dr. Dev Malya Dutta and Supriya Sikari, in the paper on achieving sustainability through community-based tourism practices – opportunities and threats.

The need to do destination marketing for the Manda National Park in Jammu was emphasized by Anju Thapa.

The wide range of topics covered in the 12 sessions included total quality management, travel motivation, perception, ecological imbalance, and adventure destinations.

The papers showed that there is much interest in the subject. But perhaps the most important part of the deliberations at the conference was the presence of the about 40 alumni of the SHTM, who had passed through in the last four or five years, and were now entrepreneurs, which is the end product of all these efforts.

Students were honored with mementos at the conference. This is sure to encourage future students and scholars in the years to come.