“Increasing numbers of domestic tourists are looking to traverse so-called ‘offbeat destinations’ such as Tirthan Valley, Spiti Valley or even Ladakh. However, a large chunk of these travelers are not keen on adventure or outdoors with most of them simply opting to reach the place, find a cool accommodation and chill. Otherwise, they plump for trips with fixed itineraries overloaded with destinations rushing to complete it in 5-6 days. Such an offbeat tourism calls for the need to inculcate new travel attitudes and behaviors by the destination promoters itself,” he says.
Although a heterogenous mass of people from the cities and urban centres are travelling to hills for short vacations, the people looking for an adventure, for a real travel experience, conscious of sustainable tourism are still a small minority, says Marchal.
Marchal who believes in nurturing the ecosystemic development with community support, sees a real danger looming as these tourists over-exploit, pollute and dump waste haphazardly in a terrain like Himalayan which is a climate change hotspot.
“Irresponsible tourism without eco-consciousness and awareness needs to be regulated,” he says. However, operators alone cannot contain this menace. Destination promoters and tourism practitioners have to pitch in, join hands and play an active role in it, feels Marchal. “Changing the tourist’s attitude is not something that is at the reach of the operators. It is the responsibility of destination promoters and tourism practitioners to organize the activities in such a way that the impact on the environment is as close as possible to zero. This may increase the cost of operating the tour for them and domestic tourists are always looking for the cheapest options, so they are worried as they need to face the competition.”
Machal explains the predicament better by citing how the villagers in some of the villages in Leh-Ladakh feel forlorn after international tourists flow stopped due to the covid19. Ladakh was a destination dominated by foreign tourists. These tourists were looking for real travel experiences – treks, nature, homestay, spirituality, etc. They used to travel to each and every corner of Ladakh on foot. This was good for rural tourism. Some of the economically disadvantaged farmers had a substantial income from this tourism, and the tourists were conscious enough to keep the place clean.
Now, there are no foreigners, but there is a huge number of domestic travellers reaching Leh by flight. They stay in Leh in a comfortable hotel and go for short visits to Nubra and Pangong lake for clicking a selfie. That is it. No more benefit for the rural Ladakh. Only privileged citizens of Leh, owners of big properties make very good money. The rest of Ladakh is forgotten, Marchal says.
Marchal has solutions to offer to this new menace of revenge travel and the issues that create in sensitive ecosystems. “We need to make sure that the tourism infrastructures remain at a family level – homestay, guesthouses with a couple of rooms only. The authenticity of the place has to be preserved, and that means that the comfort level should not try to match with what is available in the tourist hubs. That will keep the careless travellers away from these places but it will surely attract mindful and conscious travellers looking for an experience, an encounter with the locals, their culture and natural environment.”