Kottayam: Fourteen months after the Kerala government launched ‘PEPPER’ under its innovative Responsible Tourism Mission, the pioneering community project received praise from the world’s original conceiver of sustainable travel destinations.

UK-based Responsible Tourism Partnership’s managing director Harold Goodwin, who is currently on a visit to Kerala, hailed the people-centric initiative that is benefiting the residents of coastal Vaikom region in this district. The change has been a result of the innovative People’s Participation for Participatory Planning and Empowerment through Responsible Tourism (PEPPER) that was launched in November 2017.

A major catalyst for its success is Kerala’s strength of administrative set-up at the grassroots level, the expert said, referring to the panchayats and similar local self-governing (LSG) bodies. Barcelona in Spain has been the only other place in the world to find great success in Responsible Tourism (RT), also because of the close-knit nature of its civic administration and the resultant efficiency, added the expert who is an emeritus professor at Manchester Metropolitan University.

In an interaction this weekend with a range of stakeholders of PEPPER, Dr Goodwin noted that Kerala has been the first place on earth to weather the problem of “over-tourism”. South Africa, since the end of the apartheid regime in 1994, has been striving to boost RT since the turn of the century, but the country is yet to show encouraging results, the speaker told a conference of 78 stakeholders of PEPPER in Vaikom where the project was piloted in Kerala.

The two-hour session, which was moderated by Rupeshkumar K, coordinator of the Kerala RT Mission, featured the staging of two traditional Kerala performing arts.

Dr Goodwin, who has been visiting Kerala regularly since 2007 when it decided to implement RT, said the south Indian state has succeeded in countering its two major challenges: rising rubbish and lack of tourism benefits to local populations. “Things are much better now,” he said with reference to RT. “Gone are the days when tourism meant lazy spending of days elsewhere, as it was, say, in the days of my parents,” added Dr Goodwin, who is advisor to the World Travel Market on its RT programme at London.

Rupeshkumar, referring to PEPPER which has completed its milestone task of resource mapping in Vaikom which has nine LSGs, noted that the place has been the first in the world to implement community-centric tourism without it having been a travel destination. Today, PEPPER initiatives have spread to other parts of the state, involving 22 LSGs in total.

PEPPER in Vaikom has led to taking stock of its potential segments of tourism development. This has enabled the formation of travel packages for the region, development of accommodation facilities (with focus on homestays) and launch of promotional videos that show the place’s diversity in a range of subjects. Already, more than 700 people have been trained as resource persons after the formation of a village communities called gramasabhas.

By Manoj

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