“Travel makes one modest. You see what a tiny place you occupy in the world” – Gustave Flaubert
September 27 every year is observed as World Tourism Day and this year’s theme is “Tourism and Rural Development” (UN World Tourism Organization). The theme for World Tourism Day 2020 is “Tourism and Rural Development” as countries across the world depend on the sector to drive recovery. This year’s theme will observe the importance of tourism in providing jobs and opportunities for women and youth, particularly in rural interiors as well as in big cities and in preserving cultural and natural heritage all around the world (Shiraz, 2020).
With the passage of time, people travelled more. They travelled for various reasons ranging from commercial purposes to educational to official and or religious purposes. With consolidated governments in different central locations established as early as the Egyptian Kingdoms (4850-715 BC), travel became a necessity (Stainton, 2020). And because travel was a necessity, so too were basic necessities. Lodging and food needed to be provided to those visiting from other areas, which likely gave way to a realisation that you could travel to another place.
At present, the tourism industry in India deals with aspects of travel and accommodations and has become an emerging sector growing rapidly and employing a large number of people both skilled and unskilled. While employment still remains a key challenge for all economies, the tourism industry has been one sustaining platform whereby individuals have been able to make a living out of it, making it the leading employer and economic pillar.
Unfortunately, the Covid-19 pandemic has resulted in the closure of all the businesses in the country and the tourism sector was also badly affected. According to the UN World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO), about 100 to 120 million jobs working directly under tourism are at risk. The purpose of this day is to raise awareness on the importance of tourism in affecting the social, cultural, political and economic values of the international community. In current times, it is important to raise awareness about the tourism sector given that 90 per cent of World Heritages Sites closed as a result of the pandemic and young people in rural communities are three times more likely to be unemployed (Hindustan Times, 2020).
In the recent past, rural tourism has also picked up in Meghalaya to promote and develop the tourism industry at a village level with its prime objective. In such a scenario, villages are to provide simple infrastructure built by using local materials and by local artisans and craftsmen to ensure a comfortable stay and to enable the travellers to soak themselves in all that the village has to offer. The activities suitable for different age and interest groups like mountain biking, kayaking, hiking, angling, swimming etc., have been mapped out in the village and are conducted by trained local guides.
The villages in North-Eastern India are accustomed to different kinds of occupations which have been in practice for generations together and some of such practices have attracted the tourists from all over. Rural tourism and legend tourism has encouraged tourists to visit the villages, stay there and spend time in the peaceful environment of the villages and familiarise themselves with the unique culture of the villages.
Fortunately, there seems to be a changing trend that is happening in our State off late. Many individuals and youth, in particular, have stepped out of their comfort zone to travel and explore places which are situated in far off villages. The word of mouth has gone to the tourist through social media sites which in turn has popularised these unexplored locations.
The initiatives to set up guest houses, bed and breakfast, cottage rooms, resorts with swimming pools are some of the common services that have sprung up across the State of Meghalaya. It may be mentioned that these initiatives are mostly done by those from Shillong city who perceived these opportunities as a source of providing employment to the community. Urban-rural migration and not otherwise as used to be popularly discussed has come as a revolution. The educated urbanites seemed to have shifted gears by going back to their roots to revive the dying cultural/traditional practices because of job saturation and perhaps because they have realised that they can have a livelihood out there too.
The villages in our North-Eastern region are associated with myths and legends, and promotion of folklore for reciting legends, myths, folktales etc is what has attracted the tourist in a big way. Hornbill Festival in Nagaland is a simple example of tourists travelling from various places to witness a glimpse of Naga culture and heritage. In return, the Nagas returned the favour with warm hospitality; a jovial feeling of home away from home.
The youth are the pinnacle of success of the festival where their skills and knowledge are required at utmost at every angle. Similarly in Meghalaya, the age-old culture has been handed down to the present generation by our forefathers. Villagers in rural areas are still holding on to their ancient customs, usages and traditions. This can provide a tremendous opportunity for tourists to be exposed to the culture and tradition of the State (Meghalaya Tourism website).
After much awareness and training provided by various government institutions, individuals and NGOs, the manpower in the villages seem to have improved drastically. Capacity building of local youth has resulted in better employment across the State. The approach towards tourists is no more perceived as a tread or an invasion of space and privacy but is seen as an opportunity to sell their finished goods and produce, or to accommodate them in their home stay.
Apparently, one of the biggest challenges which the State is witnessing prior to the pandemic is the failure in involving the locals in providing transportation to the tourists. The transportation made available to the tourists is all from outside Meghalaya and in turn, the drivers of such vehicles also act as ‘tourist guides’. We are not sure as to the kind of guidance and explanation provided to them, which is crucial when it comes to certain tourist spots and folktales.
The actual purpose of any visit is lost if the information provided is misinterpreted and misquoted by someone who acts as a tourist guide, while not properly trained and rooted in the land. The State can earn a lot of revenue from the vehicles that enter the State which results in thousands of vehicles in a day.
However, a mechanism may be looked at to involve the locals to earn the livelihood from tourism in terms of transportation, otherwise, the tourist would pack food and hire vehicles from elsewhere, visit tourist spots in our rural interiors, scatter the packets and bottles and return back to their destination. What is left for the State is nil revenue, perhaps except for the small vendors selling pickles and vegetables. (The writer can be reached at [email protected])