Sustainable Tourism

The Saha Astitva Eco-Farm is based in an ecologically fragile and culturally rich area. Sustainable Tourism is a subject that several volunteers considered during their time on the farm.

The following review was written by volunteer Jennie Bjorstad of Sweden in October 2010.

Sustainable tourism should respond to the local community’s social and ecologic needs in order to manage and maintain a sustainable development.

Based on eco- and sustainable tourism scientific reports from and organisations as well as on information provided by travel agencies, here follows a list of criteria for sustainable tourism from an ecologic, social and economic perspective which will be the point of departure in Saha Astitva Foundation’s sustainable tourism project.

The term eco-tourism is extensively misused and seems to be – above all – a marketing tool for tourism, so called “green-washing”. Travel agencies are using the eco-label on a wide range of journeys and often without any shown awareness of the environmental or social aspects of the tourism activities promoted1. Research has shown how sensitive many eco-tourism destinations are, and how devastating the development of so called eco-tours can be if not planned and developed properly.

Using the term sustainable tourism indicates a longer term perspective of a tourism structure that focuses on the future and is more inclusive in its attempt to create a tourism that sensitively considers environmental issues, social and cultural appropriateness and economic viable solutions – which is the definition of small-scale sustainable tourism (Haas 2003). The lack of a standardized code of conduct2 addressing tourism operators is in this small-scale project overcome by an awareness and deep knowledge about the community in which the foundation is operating.

Although the different perspectives are strongly connected to one another, the benefits from the sustainable tourism project for the local community as a whole will be outlined below by separately pointing out the overall social, ecologic and economic impacts.

Social and cultural aspects of sustainable tourism and possible outcomes for the local community

The importance of small-scale tourism from a social perspective

To minimize negative social impact
Keeping tourism small-scale is one of the most important factors to focus on when creating sustainable tourism (de Haas 2003). Tepelus (2008) emphasizes the need for socially responsible codes of conduct (CSR) in the tourism industry and Dodds & Joppe (2005) shows in a World Bank Report that tourism is lagging behind other industries in addressing CSR. From a social perspective, the small-scale form of tourism promises a slow controllable growth in the community – shaped by those primarily affected. Visitors who are aware of how they may affect the destination and thereby behave accordingly to local customs will have a lesser degree of impact on the culture. Minimizing the level of “westernization3” of the local destination means instead a higher appreciation and valuing of local tradition and culture and a meeting between hosts and visitors based on cultural respect.


To maintain transparency
When working with social responsibility issues, one of the most important factors to be fulfilled in order to be considered as a responsible company or project is the level of “transparency”. Transparency means the opportunities to acquire information on supplementary chains, factories and working conditions at all levels of production, or to conclude: to make information available to stakeholders and others who want to evaluate a project’s adherence to codes of conduct. Among bigger tour companies it’s many times hard to maintain a high level of transparency and insight in employment issues4. To run a smaller project where those involved are well educated about these issues will be a way of achieving the requirements for transparency. The small-scale tourism should focus on slow growth and to involve locals. This will in turn offer greater opportunities to control the whole chain, e.g. from the production level where commodities such as food and materials are purchased, to the employees working conditions.

Small-scale from a marketing perspective
The smaller scale of tourism means a difference from large scale (package) tourism. The distinctiveness of small-scale tourism is central to why travellers chose to pay for these particular experiences. Blom & Nilsson (2005) argues that tourists’ desire for new and different experiences shape their choice of destination. The term “small-scale” addresses travellers’ expectations of getting extraordinary tours that differ from those experienced by the big masses of tourists. “Small scale” promises the visitor to come closer to what’s marketed on the destination and to do it with a consciousness of how large-scale tourism often negatively affects popular places. It also invites the small-scale traveller to reach places where the big masses don’t go.

To be aware of regarding the smaller group of visitors
A genuinely interested small group of tourists might have a big interest in interacting with the locals and to discover ”untouched” places. The group may equally be visitors convinced that they by being “small scale” travellers don’t have a significant effect on the destination. The ecologically and culturally interested traveller often distinct themselves from the ordinary “tourist” with the conviction of themselves being more culturally understanding and “authentic” travellers (Richards & Williams (2004). Consequently there is a risk that this type of tourist tends to wish to go outside the “frames” for the tour since they desire a close and personal first hand experience (see Mowforth & Munt 2003). Saha Astitva Foundation is aware of need to manage the group and to inform that even their limited presence is being noticed in the community.

Participation of locals
Based on the desire to keep good relations to local community in which Saha Astitva Foundation is currently operating, the participation and involvement of locals will be one of the main focuses also in the sustainable tourism operation.

3 curious locals

Creating employment opportunities and sharing knowledge
Saha Astitva Foundation is already involving local labour in their organic farming project and this in fact is one of the main objectives of the development program. To start up a tourism operation would create new employment opportunities such as guides, service staff and interpreters. Saha Astitva Foundation will consider the conditions of employment and train and educate locals to get qualified positions in the tourism and organic farming project. Local support for tourism activities will increase if opportunities are created for them to get involved as entrepreneurs and owners in the project and not merely as employees in the service sector (Kamsma & Bras 2000).

In the long run, the aim is to give local population the opportunity to learn about organic farming and provide an alternative livelihood based on clean food and sustainable farming.

Valuing traditional knowledge
When making a living out of traditional agriculture no longer is economically sustainable and people to an increasing extent are pushed to migrate for part-time jobs as cheap labourers in industries in Mumbai and around, the local knowledge about nature’s species, herbs, trees and plants in the area seems to get lost. Preserving this knowledge by involving willing Adivasis as farmers and tour-guides and through creating a knowledge database are missions which will be carried out with the purpose of creating awareness about the nature in both the local community and among visitors.

Enhancing intercultural understanding
In order to value traditional knowledge, another of the sustainable tourism operation’s social visions is to enhance intercultural understanding. This can be done in several different ways where local people are being involved:

Traditional music and dance-shows will be organized when visitors so desire.
Learning to cook and tasting of culturally typical food can be a part of the program during the stay. The food shall be organic and locally purchased.
Visitors could be given the opportunity to take part in traditional sunrise/ sunset mantras.
Visitors could also occasionally be invited to a local Adivasi home for chai, accompanied by an interpreter and guide.
More ideas? Sprituality, yoga…

Knowledge sharing to visitors and others

Spreading “green” messages
A central aspect of the foundation’s work is to encourage organic farming as a sustainable way of making a profitable livelihood. This will be made possible through knowledge provided by local people and those employed in the project and through networking with other farmers in the area. To run a sustainable tourism project is therefore a further way of promoting the organic lifestyle to others than those in the local community area. By employing educated tour guides and staff with knowledge about organic farming, an overall aim of sending out “green” messages to visitors and others interested will be achievable.

Organic Farmers meeting Ganeshpuri Nov 2009

Sharing knowledge on tourism impacts
Saha Astitva Foundation will work to create understanding about tourism impact in order to manage and encourage sustainable tourism operations here and elsewhere. Several researchers mean that educating tourists is the most powerful way to create a sustainable future form of tourism (Lück 2003). Visitors will gain a deeper understanding on how even their presence in a small-scale tourism project affects the destination ecologically, socially and economically.

To reach out to others than visitors, a knowledge database will be created and published on the website. Through this, persons interested in starting up similar projects focusing on different aspects of sustainable development will be provided with useful information for free.

Seeing local connections to global issues
Many smaller tourism projects seem to lack a consciousness about how the tours are not just affecting the local community in which it takes place, but how it’s also connected to larger global social, ecologic end economic systems. Tepelus (2008) argue that the need to locally address social responsibility issues in the tourism sector is important. At the same time the author recognizes the need to perceive the tourism industry as a part of globally prevailing neo-liberal contexts in order to truly make possible a fair and sustainable future tourism.

Equally, the setting up of Saha Astitva Foundation’s sustainable development project is in itself a way of responding to the industrialisation of agriculture which have made many farmers forced into cheap labour in the cities. Moreover, indicating to tourists how their actions as western travellers affect the global economy and environment is yet a way of addressing the need of a sustainable development.


Issues regarding the presence of small-scale tourism

Even fewer visitors and thus a reduced need for new infrastructure that meet tourists’ demand will have an impact on the destination. In fact, the need for a conscious tourism itself signifies the level of community sensitivity. In order to minimize negative cultural outcomes of tourists’ presence, the managers will focus on several aspects to maximize cultural respect and understanding.

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Public and private zones
In each and every person’s life, there are private and public zones in which we act differently in order to manage the impression we make on others5. The public places are those where we expect to meet and interact with others and therefore dress, talk and behave accordingly. Our private zones are in contrast the zones where we find ourselves more laid-back and our social behaviour is different. In our private zones, we do not to the same extent need to perform socially since we know whom we can expect to meet, but also here we are social individuals. Based on a conception that we are social actors in zones which constitute the scene work of our lives, the zones are comparable to backstage and frontstage behaviour. The viewpoint of private and public zones offers us an awareness of how we behave and interact in different contexts.

This conception could help us realize how visitors even in a small scale actually affect the everyday life of locals. Many tourists will probably expect to see how Adivasis live as a part of the cultural tourism experience and this theory emphasises the necessity of reflecting on what are appropriate places to take the visitors. For example, bringing visitors to Adivasi homes as a part of the regular programme could be a sensitive issue in the long run from a social perspective, even though the hosts will be profited economically. Keeping a dialogue with those affected and involved is fundamental since they need to find the development acceptable in order to tolerate the tourism operation (Kamsma & Bras 2000).

Implementing tourism etiquette
As mentioned above, one of the sustainable tourisms key focuses will be for the tour operators to create opportunities for tourists to reflect on their impacts and to implement an understanding of the consequences of tourism at local destinations. The perception of tourists as visitors in a host community will be the point of departure when managing a tourist demand which responds to and respects the host culture. Visitors will have to beware of local customs and behave accordingly. Following information will in advance be provided to visitors by the tour operators who are managing a respectful form of tourism in the Adivasi area:

Traditional clothing. Women especially should preferably dress accordingly and cover shoulders and legs.
Considering visitors wealth; the visualisation of vehicles, clothes and items brought can be confrontational to those struggling for their livelihood. The visitor will in the long run be a contributor to the development of the community, but the direct interaction and meeting between visitors and hosts should be followed by a consciousness regarding global and local inequalities.
The camera is an attribute signifying that the possessor is there to admire and watch. In some extreme cases tourists photographing local people in exotic places could be regarded as a socially exploiting activity where the people in the pictures are almost being victims of a “virtual slavery”. Many Indians appreciate having their picture taken, but the visitor should always ask before photographing people.

Saha Astitva Foundation will publish a tourist etiquette guide on the website with open availability, based on several aspects of sustainable tourism.

Respecting local culture
The visitor and tour operators will be sensitive to the everyday life and activities in the local community. Considering the fact that the Adivasi area today is seldom visited by others than the local tribal people, the tourist group will have to be sensitive when visiting the forest. Adivasis today recognize the forest as a source of income in which women go picking vegetables and fruits to sell in the village market. In addition, the forests resources are being used as fuel for cooking. Even though the objective of Saha Astitva Foundation is to create sustainable farming and today’s forestry activities don’t respond to that vision, taking custody of the forest will naturally generate reactions from those using it today. Being aware of these issues and dealing with them with respect and in dialogue with locals is essential to the sustainable operation of tourism activities in the area (Kamsma & Bras 2000).

Marketing issues
The method of marketing destinations is an important tool to manage visitors’ expectations of the tour. Bearing in mind above discussed issues on social impacts of tourists in the local community, a consciousness regarding perceptions of different cultures and how our views has an influence on our behaviour should be reflected upon when marketing the destination. Tourists often expect to see and experience exotic places and cultures, which in turn regularly leads to social exploitation of cultures in commercial. Based on a wish to promote and highlight colourful people and places different from tourists’ everyday life experience, the perception of exotic cultures promoted in tourism commercial often becomes that of something that is not a part of our time and our world. Richards & Hall (2000:301) argue that rural communities are at times being “literally sold” as a tourism product through marketing, and that modernization is not expected to interrupt the tranquillity of those communities. In order to meet tourists’ expectations cases has been reported where destinations are being restored.

The sustainable tourism operator will therefore enhance an understanding of cultures that empowers the locals instead of excludes them. This could be done through knowledge sharing, employment of locals who also shapes the development of tourism activities, and by making local culture a self-evident part of the project. Through this, the Adivasis will not only be those exotic people who occasionally are showing in the background surroundings or in tourism “shows”, but also individuals who are deeply integrated in the developmental project.


Sustainable tourism and ecologic issues in the local community

An ecotourism destination needs rich natural resources that can attract visitors. The biodiversity of the Konkan coast, trekking opportunities in forest areas and surrounding mountains, birdwatching and organic farming are just a few of nature’s offerings here.

The importance of small-scale tourism from an ecologic perspective
This “untouched” area is very sensitive and tourism has to be developed with consciousness about possible ecologic outcomes. The use of natural resources is the main attraction in the tourism project and several eco-tourism cases have shown that over-use of the destination which in turn destroys the resource base for the tourism operation is a dilemma to carefully consider (Kamsma & Bras 2003). Even small-scale tourism impacts to different degrees the environment and in this section will be discussed how to manage these issues.  The authors further point out several factors to consider when operating small-scale community tourism:

The involvement of infrastructure specifically for tourist use should be limited. The structure “should instead rely as much as possible on facilities already available for local use”.
The development should be environmentally sensitive

Additional criterias for an ecologic small-scale tourism is that the operation should incorporate locally owned activities in order to minimize the need for building new infrastructure to answer to tourist’s demands for facilities. Eagles (2002) stresses the necessity for minimizing production and use of water, energy, waste, noise, light and other emissions.

Minimizing environmental impact

Climate compensation upon arrival
When discussing sustainable tourism, the Saha Astitiva Foundation is sincerely aware of the difficulties regarding travelling by air. Many of the visitors will come from other continents with flights. The foundation is reflecting on the environmental sustainability and whether it is justified to talk about sustainable tourism when going by air. Therefore visitors will upon arrival be encouraged to plant trees as a way to “climate compensate” and enhance consciousness about ecologically sustainable travel.

58 volunteer planting 2

Minimizing waste
To operate a sustainable tourism means an incorporated understanding of how human consumption affects the environment. Waste from visitors will have to be dealt with and Saha Astitva Foundation will before starting up the tourism project carefully research how to minimize waste through recycling and composting. Currently natural waste is being composted on the farm in order to use it as nutritional soil. Saha Astitva Foundation will find its way to recycle and minimize waste. Buying low package products is one preferable solution.

Saha Astitva Foundation will also work to create a concern of how much water is being used. Through using water from bore wells on the farm, the necessity to buy water in plastic packages will be overcome. Before welcoming tourists, research will also be made regarding how to re-use wastewater and other waste products that will come out of the tourism activities.

Considering what food to be served to visitors, a self-evident aim will be to serve locally produced organic food. Saha Astitva Foundation is networking with other farmers in the area and working to develop distribution chains for selling organic products in Mumbai. The tourists will be consumers of crops produced at the visited and surrounding farms. Food will be bought in bulk and in low packages in order to decrease levels of waste.

12 mangle's house

The bungalows/ service facilities

Since one of the small-scale sustainable tourism’s main objectives is to minimize the necessity of building new infrastructure in order to create a “natural” tourism (de Haas 2003), a lot of effort will be put on how the facilities that are to be built can contribute to the local community. Renewable energy resources will be used. Saha Astitva Foundation is currently planning a solar system on the farm which will produce ecologically sustainable energy.

The bungalows will be designed in a style that fits in to the natural environment and are appropriate to the area. In this case, building modified versions of traditional Adivasi huts will be considered. Clearly, purchasing material from the local community will be prioritised. The material shall be in natural and organic material, indigenous and involve low maintenance. When natural material is not available or suitable, the choice will follow on recycled material. Eagles (2002) points out the need for “sourcing” material to make sure it comes from sustainable production systems. The author also emphasizes the application of a “no waste” condition, meaning that material brought onto the construction site will be used. The presence of tourists and building of facilities should not scare animals nor disturb nature activities.

10 mangles house

Sharing knowledge among stakeholders about ecologic issues

Local people
A small-scale tourism operation will support the ecological development of the community. The long term objective of Saha Astitva Foundation’s work is to make possible a livelihood out of organic farming by researching which crops are most suitable for farming in the climate and soil of the area. This means, once the project is running, to share knowledge to local people and labour hired in the project in order to provide new opportunities to make a living out of the natural resources.

One of the aims with starting up a sustainable tourism in the area is besides the financial issues to create awareness among visitors and travellers about ecological aspects of travelling. This will not just gain the local community, but will also be a way of contributing to the minimizing of negative tourism impacts as well as to maximize ecological awareness globally. The knowledge sharing among visitors will have several different focuses:

In order to promote Saha Astitva Foundation’s organic farming project and its future vision regarding providing clean food, the visitors will through guided visits on the farm learn about organic agriculture and ecologic issues of the area.
Visiting the farm and staying here will automatically mean gaining awareness about ecologic issues and organic farming. Knowledge-sharing regarding these aspects will be implemented all through the visitor programme. Interested visitors may also occasionally be given the opportunity to participate in basic daily farming work.
As a part of the experience, tours in the forest will be held by guides with knowledge about animals and vegetation.


Sharing information to others
The online knowledge database will be one of the most important ways for Saha Astitva Foundation to spread their through farming practice profited ecologic and sustainable development messages. In addition to today’s website where general facts about Adivasis and India’s environmental issues is being published, a regularly updated information site about the organic farms progresses, tourism concerns and so forth will be developed.

The farm and tourism operators will through networking with neighbouring farmers and locals share knowledge about a sustainable ecologic livelihood.
Another idea that currently is being discussed is the possibility to invite young students from Mumbai schools for guided day trips to the farm.
In cooperation with a local learning community, yet another possibility is to provide supplementary organic farming education to children in the learning programme.

Sustainable tourism and economy

A sustainable tourism project will contribute to the financing of Saha Astitva Foundation’s work in the local Adivasi community with the purpose of creating future opportunities for a livelihood made from organic farming.

Stakeholders’ economic benefits from the sustainable tourism operation

To improve relations to local community and make tourism sustainable, it’s vital to make sure that the profits made from tourism gains the local community. Agencies are often advised to donate surpluses to local causes and to involve locals in the project. This could be done through maximizing employment opportunities in the local community and by providing exercises or local training programmes. The economic advantages for different stakeholders are all interconnected:

The foundation: A small-scale tourism operation will finance the foundation’s continued work to develop sustainable farming possibilities in the community. The giving back to society is in this case not just a positive outcome of setting up the tourism project, but the fundamental idea and the main objective of the foundation’s work itself.

The community will through the foundation’s development progress in the long run get the knowledge about organic farming techniques and what crops are most suitable for farming. Goals that are sooner achievable and that will strengthen the local community’s economy will include:

New employment opportunities are created as local labourers will be hired to support the tourism and farming project.
Saha Astitva Foundation will encourage visitors to spend time and money locally in order to benefit local farmers and businesses. The tour operators will also spend money on local products.

To strengthen economic equity within the community the employers will consider who will be provided work for. Based on prevailing local economic structures, young people is a group who will be particularly addressed as labourers within the projects. This will help the community’s future economy to grow steadily.

Financiers: Setting up a sustainable tourism project will mean a reliable future source of income for Saha Astitva Foundation’s development work in the community. The financiers will be regarded as contributors to the development of a society in need of future livelihood opportunities. Supporting social development project as a way to address CSR issues can be regarded as a marketing tool for corporations and foundations as clients increasingly demand this certain activities that work to empower and strengthen local communities worldwide (Hopkins 2003).

The visitors/tourists themselves will through spending money in small-scale tourism projects worldwide also be a part of the growing concern about sustainable development issues. Through participating in sustainable tourism operations as consumers or volunteer workers, the identity of this “new” consumer group is being created. Mowforth & Munt (2003) shows how a group of young “new intellectuals” seeks to go on a type of journeys pleasure is combined with educational aspects. The number of stamps in the passport work as a “professional certificate” as these achievements is an indicator of desirable attributes in many new professions, such as in the international developmental sector (ibid.). Experiences of and participation in sustainable development projects means for the individual a process of attaining knowledge and social networking that could affect potential future employment opportunities, and therefore also the economic capital.

The visitors will whatsoever be contributors to developmental work and the educative aspect of the visit will also increase the spreading of environmental and social consciousness worldwide. Saha Astitva Foundation states that “each helping hand makes a difference”.

Building bungalows

Benefiting the local community is as above mentioned one of the most crucial aspects in sustainable tourism operations. Spending money locally is fundamental and the necessity of building facilities to meet consumer (in this case tourism) demand will be minimized. Service facilities will however need to be created to house and host visitors and Saha Astitva Foundation will answer to these demands in a conscious way through using local materials as much as possible. Local labour will also be employed to set up the buildings.

Economic aspects of tourism to be aware of:

Tourists’ economic impact
Tourists impact beyond doubt the societal economy. The visitor is a consumer and will always be considered wealthy. A common consequence in tourism destinations is that beggars receiving money encourages yet others to start begging. In some cases children end up quitting school because of the profit made from begging. Saha Astitva Foundation will address these issues through providing information on the website in a “tourism etiquette guide” and visitors will upon arrival be reminded about these issues.

Considering economic profit and small-scale tourism
Small-scale, ecologically and culturally sensitive tourism can not sustain many visitors. Nor can it be a big money maker (Luck 2003:148). The non-governmental organisation Saha Astitva Foundation aims to create development opportunities in the local community. The foundation will not work on economically profitable grounds for the foundation itself but for the foundation as a developmental contributor to the community. Therefore, the tourism operation’s economic gaining will be limited by the ecological and social sustainability codes of conduct that has been discussed in this paper. The local community won’t become a destination for mass tourism. A small-scale tourism operation will conversely mean long term economic opportunities to finance the development of a self-sufficient community based on organic farming.

local women 2


The tourism operation will fulfil several aims apart from financing the ongoing developmental project, including:

sharing knowledge about organic farming to locals and visitors in order to provide alternative opportunities for a sustainable livelihood

  • sharing knowledge about India’s current environmental issues
    spreading “green messages”
    sharing knowledge about and promote consumption of clean, organic food
    create new employment opportunities for locals
    invite school children from Mumbai to a day on the country side
    enhancing intercultural understanding
    creating awareness about tourism environmental and social impact


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