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Greening the mindset is the Option!

Friday, June 16, 2017, 17:27 Hrs  [IST]

At a philosophical level, there appears to be unanimity in embracing environmentally sustainable business model primarily owing to the growing concern and demand by all the stakeholders particularly the local host community and the guests.

Adoption of eco friendly and environmentally sustainable blue print for a greenfield project is now thankfully a compelling proposition both in terms of regulatory norms as much societal obligation. However, in the absence of a level playing field wherein approvals, licences, etc., are granted only on total compliance to stringent rules governing say zero discharge , quality of air sound, water, total waste management regime, etc., with proof of adoption of cutting edge technology and internationally benchmarked practices, there will always be a yawning gap between the voluntary adoption investors and those existing and new owners who skirt around the norms.

Additionally, the authorities in India sorely lack the work culture, the resources, checks and balances within the administrative system to bridge intend with enforcement and mystery audits with penalty or incentive clauses, often ignoring under dubious means. As a result non-compliance is more the exception than the rule across the board.

Under the circumstances, while the major corporatised entities both international or national with committed boards and brand image at stake, sustainable operations is now a norm whereas the majority of regional or local branded and unbranded family firms need to do a lot more at the ground level than the rhetoric.

Uniform Sustainable Tourism model
In a globalised world of which India is now an integral part, corporate governance and strict environmental laws in their home base mandate almost all international brands to strictly adhere to both “SHE” regulations as well as totally comply by the rules applicable in the country of investment and operation. The entire tourism industry comprising of airlines, travel agents, hotels/ resorts and all types of lodging besides transport have to be brought under one uniform set of sustainable tourism model. There has to be a total revamp of approvals of blue prints certification of projects and raising the bar on the management of business and operations of all the above segments of the tourism industry. Even fundamental and basic necessities like clean hygienic environment, non-toxic plastic pollution free operations is itself a big challenge in India even today due to non accountability and lack of punitive measures.

Ensuring Inclusivity
Among the most crucial of stakeholders are the local community and most often their representatives are never consulted at the planning stage leading to resentment among the socially deprived locals leading to conflicts during the project stage itself. Precious and depleting resources like water, waste management, Green cover (being cut off for construction) access to the resort, non locals’ migration for employment, etc., are all fodder for questioning social inclusiveness. Therefore, it’s extremely critical to include these factors into planning a well balanced and sustainable investment and operation in tourism destinations.

Pressure from the society
Tourism as an industry is relatively young and still in low priority considering that many other manufacturing and service industries get high priority attention and accompanying policy support. This is despite the fact that tourism in terms of economic and employment contributor ranks among the top sectors. Therein lies the challenges and road blocks of elevating this vital employment potential sector to an infrastructure status thereby making the sector attractive for investment in a sustainable way. Tourism being a state subject and hardly any leeway for the central government, there are no uniform policies leading to huge discrepancies which then adversely impact a Pan- India investor and a national brand. As a result almost all past and current builds are over built leading to compromises on operations. In this scenario among the initial casualties are those areas which are environmentally sensitive. Under the circumstances even mere adherence to basic norms is defined as responsible business practices which essentially mean a more minimum requirement regime rather than a more pro active sustainable tourism operations. It is high time that we bring in incentives and of course stringent penalties in the process of certification of these projects and involve the host and the guests (largely domestic) to get into active social media benchmarking of compliant and non-compliant tourism products in our country!

Pressure from the larger society, media and the self-sustaining model of marking themselves in or out for incentives on energy and other public utilities would bring about the required pressure for the players to be 100% compliant!

In India, what we need is a host of programmes and measures like HOST community participation in determining the capacity build in their locality, type and class of segments and tourism (like never MICE in an eco fragile locality) with green architecture concepts (Sri Lankan architects have collectively decided to develop self regulatory norms and comply uniformly across the island nation) green technology and complete retraining of the entire industry employees to shift over to total green practices through a transformational change in their mind, soul and body! Finally the other main stake holders, the promoters and the operators have to adopt the triple bottom line balance sheet for even getting the basic approvals for getting into tourism related business! Greening the mindset is the only option!

The views expressed within this column are the opinion of the author, and may not necessarily be endorsed by the publication.

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