Rural Tourism in India

Rural Tourism in India – India with all its geographical and cultural diversity has always been an attraction for tourists. The mighty Himalayas, vast deserts, lush green forests and beautiful beaches intertwined with ancient temples and the majestic forts of Rajasthan make India truly an ‘Incredible’ destination. The great monuments range from the symbol of eternal love, the Taj Mahal to the great temples of South India.

The majestic forts of Rajasthan as well as the wide and varied landscape of snow-capped mountains, golden beaches, rich forests, and verdant deserts all make India an ‘Incredible’ destination. India also has many products to offer to the tourists who travel keeping a special interest in mind, be it Medical and Wellness Tourism, be it Golf courses, or be it Adventure Sports, India has it all.

However, India has much more to offer than just being the ‘land of tigers and temples. Spread across its lakhs of villages lie untold venues in all their myriad colors and hues. If explored and developed as rural tourism sites, these venues could be instrumental in bringing out the much-needed turnaround of rural communities and at the same time providing a visitor wholesome tourism experience.

Rural Tourism

Rural tourism holds immense promise for India. When developed to its fullest potential, it could provide jobs to many young men and women in villages who otherwise are increasingly migrating to cities. Rural tourism can revive many of the arts and crafts traditionally being practiced in rural communities but dying a slow death. Socially, it can open rural mindsets to new thoughts and ideas from the outside world. On the other hand, for the urban citizen, a few days spent amidst a traditional rural lifestyle may prove to be a great stress reliever.

Conscious of the potential gains, the Prime Minister has been laying a lot of emphasis on developing the tourism sector in India. With a keen focus on rural India, a Rural Circuit has been included among the thirteen thematic circuits identified for development under the Swadesh Darshan program. This will be crucial in developing tourism infrastructure and improving connectivity to rural sites.

Rural Tourism in IndiaRural Tourism ResourcesPromoting Rural Tourism
National Tourism PolicyCircuit Tourism for IndiaBenefits of Rural Tourism

Similarly, efforts are being made for capacity building at the village level and skilling the rural youth for tourism activities. Traditionally Indian society is known for its hospitality; however, some basic training on soft skills to engage the tourists will certainly be helpful. Also, education and awareness at the community level will be very crucial for developing sustainable tourism practices in villages. Panchayats, NGOs, and community organizations have an important role to play here by way of engaging both communities and tourists to promote responsible tourism.

In this whole process, a weak link is the marketing of rural tourism products. For rural tourism to become a success, the outside world needs to be made aware of such tourist places first. Public -Private Partnerships may be of immense help in this regard. Various companies under their CSR commitments could join hands with academia and local institutions to create awareness and market rural tourism in an effective manner. Most Indian villages have one or more traditional entities/crafts that make them unique. This can be leveraged effectively to attract tourists. Further, rural artisans and their crafts need to be promoted through other innovative methods such as-Dilli Haat.

The government agencies at the national and state level have been doing their bit to promote rural tourism in India. However, a holistic approach through the convergence of a number of schemes under various ministries like rural development, culture, environment, and tribal welfare may be more rewarding. Draft National Tourism Policy -2015 is the right step in this direction and when finalized, it would go a long way in the holistic development of the tourism sector in India.

Concept of Rural Tourism

Any form of tourism that showcases the rural life, art, culture and heritage at rural locations. Thereby benefitting the local community, economically and socially, as well as enabling interaction between the tourists and the locals for a more enriching tourism experience can be termed as rural tourism. Rural tourism is essentially an activity that takes place in the countryside. It is multi-faceted and may entail farm/ agricultural tourism, cultural tourism, nature tourism, adventure tourism and eco-tourism. As against conventional tourism, rural tourism has certain typical characteristics like-it is experience oriented, the locations are sparsely populated, it is pre-dominantly in natural environment, it meshes with seasonality and local events and is based on preservation of culture, heritage and tradition.

Government of India on Rural Tourism

The Ministry of Tourism in India has laid a great deal of emphasis on the development of such rural tourism sites which boast of rich art, culture, handloom, heritage and crafts. These villages are affluent in both natural beauty and cultural splendor. Rural tourism is supposed to generate increasing benefits to rural areas in terms of rural productivity, conservation of rural environment and culture, local people’s involvement and a suitable way of adapting traditional beliefs and values to modern times.

Major types of Rural Tourism in India

Rural tourism helps to remove myths about a rural lifestyle that may exist in urban minds like villages being unhygienic, rural life being unsafe, etc. Rural tourism will help a person to explore the vast diversity that breathes in the interiors of India.

  • Agricultural Tourism: To explore more about the agricultural industry and how farmers work with crops. Cultural Tourism: To allow tourists to be immersed in local culture-related activities, like rituals and festivals.
  • Nature Tourism: Responsible travel to natural areas, which conserves the environment and improves the welfare of local people.
  • Adventure Tourism: Any constructive activity which tests the endurance of both a person and his equipment to its extreme limit is termed as Adventure.
  • Food Routes: Where wanderlust meets the variety that persists in our cuisine. This tourism is all about food and knowing more about different staples of different places.
  • Community Eco-tourism: Where tourism is for a purpose. It is rather responsible to travel to natural areas that conserve the environment and improves the well-being of local people.
  • Ethno-tourism: To expand the horizons to view different cultures. It is essential to know more about various ethnic and cultural lifestyles and beliefs.
  • Increasing Interest in Rural Tourism: Rural tourism helps to garner knowledge on agriculture, farming, local governance, etc.

Different Schemes of the Government of India

Ministry of Tourism has identified many spots. which are being developed as tourist destinations in rural areas. These sites are still unexplored. To help in the holistic development of such tourist places, the Ministry has introduced certain schemes, which are detailed below:

Swadesh Darshan- Scheme Guidelines for Integrated Development of Theme-Based Circuits

India’s rich cultural, historical, religious, and natural heritage provides a huge potential for the development of tourism and job creation. In due recognition of this potential, the Union Government. in the Budget Speech of 2014-15 decided to create tourist circuits around specific themes.

PRASAD- Pilgrimage Rejuvenation for Spiritual Augmentation Drive

Pilgrimage tourism is a form of tourism motivated partly or wholly by religious sentiments. India is a land of many religions like Hinduism, Islam, Buddhism, Sikhism, Christianity, Jainism, and Sufism, having their major pilgrimage centers in different parts of the country. Religion and spirituality are common motivations for travel, with major tourist destinations having developed largely as a result of their connections to sacred places, persons and events.

Special Tourism Zones

The Union Budget of 2017-18 has announced that Five Special Tourism Zones, anchored on SPVS, will be set up in partnership with the States. This would help in introducing Incredible India’s second global campaign to strengthen India’s position as an attractive tourist destination.

e-Tourist Visa Facility

To facilitate the arrival of international tourists, the Ministry of Tourism has been working very closely with the Ministry of Home Affairs and the Ministry of External Affairs for easing the Visa Regime in the country over a period of time. In order to make rural tourism attractive, the Ministry of Tourism is promoting Farm Tourism as a niche product. Ministry is also encouraging Home Stay Facilities in rural areas.

Rural Tourism in IndiaRural Tourism ResourcesPromoting Rural Tourism
National Tourism PolicyCircuit Tourism for IndiaBenefits of Rural Tourism

Impact of Rural Tourism

Positive Impact

  • The most important impact of increasing rural tourism is the impact on the economy. With the increased number of tourists visiting the countryside, there will be a boost in the income level of the people due to the increased level of trade among the people. This will also generate jobs among the youth.
  • The traditional handloom and handicrafts of any place are a matter of pride for the local people. Through tourism, the visitor can have the benefit of directly buying the finished products from the local people. This in turn will have a positive impact on the overall economy.
  • The exchange of ideas with the tourists will create a new ideas among the villagers. This entails increasing interest in education, preventive health care, modern gadgets, etc. That will help in universal literacy.
  • With more tourists visiting the villages, there will be an improvement in connectivity by means of roads, an increase in public transport, etc.
  • Villages that are close to sanctuaries and reserve parks can teach the idea of preserving nature to their urban counterparts. Living by the side of nature for centuries, they will have more knowledge about how to preserve nature. Tourists may develop an interest in the local religion and traditional rituals. that act as catalyst for social harmony.

Negative Impact

However, rural tourism may have certain negative impacts. To facilitate tourism, there would be an increase in the infrastructure development of the countryside. This may lead to concretization of rural areas and may distort the natural beauty. Besides, the influx of tourists may lead to the exploitation of natural resources.

Tourism may have an adverse effect on the traditional livelihood of people. The village people may shift from agriculture and other traditional livelihoods to lucrative livelihoods related to tourism. This may, in turn have a negative impact on rural tourism.

Scope for Improvement of Rural Tourism

Every aspect of life has both positive as well as negative views. For sustainable development, it is essential to optimise the positive impacts and minimise the negative impacts. The same is true for popularising rural tourism also.

In order to make tourists feel comfortable while visiting any place, they may be provided detailed information regarding their place of visit in advance. They may also be informed about any particular custom prevalent in that region so that the tourists may prepare themselves accordingly.

There is a necessity for having good infrastructure and logistic support in villages. Roads connecting to the nearest railway station or highways would improve accessibility to the villages. That would benefit both the tourists as well as the villagers. However, instead of having more hotels or guest houses in rural areas, it is better to encourage homestay. The tourist can have a taste of the traditional practices along with local recipes prevalent in rural India. This would help the tourists to connect to the villagers in less time.

The exotic flora and fauna of rural India can be a huge source of learning for students. Student excursions can be allowed with proper permission from competent authorities. The students will learn to value nature in this way. Language may be an important issue when it comes to tourism. Hence, tourists may be given the option of interpreters in case they face any difficulty. There is a need to have trained and qualified interpreters for this purpose.

Most villages of India have a traditional entity that makes them unique. Many such traditional products are recognized by conferring Geographical Indicators or GI tags. These may be agricultural products, handicrafts, textile products, sweets, natural goods, manufactured goods, holy goods, etc. All these GI tagged products are always showcased on the national as well as international platforms and have a huge market demand. The Government may take steps to ensure that tourists get a first-hand experience in seeing how these products are being made, packed, and showcased. That may lead to increased interest among tourists and eventually a rise in the number of tourists in these rural regions.

Many states of India are blessed with medicinal herbs and other ayurvedic products which have strong medicinal values. The Government can develop suitable infrastructure to capture such tourists who can avail medicinal facilities in such villages of India.

The role of State Governments is very important when it comes to rural tourism. Each State has a different potential to attract tourists. Hence, it is necessary that State Governments identify this potential and work in close coordination with the Union Government to promote rural tourism. That will benefit the tourism sector of the country on the whole.

Tourists may be advised well in advance not to get involved in any local issues which may lead to law and order problems. The Government may conduct a survey among the tourists and get to know their feelings regarding the place of their visit. Based on their feedback, measures may be adopted to improve tourism.

Some Popular Rural Tourism Destinations

  • Kutch Adventures India: Community Tourism in Kutch: Forays into Rann of Kutch of Gujarat to visit artisans’ villages as well as the salt desert.
  • Itmennan Lodges Punjabiyat: Farming in Rural Punjab: Gives the tourist a taste of various farming activities
  • Ecosphere Spiti: High altitude rural tourism: Visits to Buddhist monasteries, yak safaris, treks to villages, village homestays, and cultural performances are some of the possible activities.
  • Lachen, Sikkim: It is located at 8500 feet against the backdrop of snow-capped peaks, glaciers, and rock cliffs, amidst mixed conifer and Rhododendron forests. Made accessible to tourists only a few years back, it retains an unspoiled freshness.
  • Ballabhpur Danga, West Bengal: Ballavpur Danga, 3 km from Shantiniketan, is a Santhal Adivasi tribal community in the pastoral beauty of rural Bengal. The Sonajhuri forest lies to the east and the Ballavpur Avayaranya forest area and bird sanctuary are to its south. Santhali art, craft, and culture are closely knit into the community’s life.
  • Sunderbans Village Life: The UNESCO World Heritage Site with the largest mangrove vegetation in the world is a great attraction for tourists.
  • Majuli in Assam: The largest river island on the Brahmaputra river in Assam is a popular tourist destination
  • Pochampally, Telangana: Tourists can have a look at the weaving of the famous silk sarees known by the same name.

There is more to the list, which still remains unexplored by tourists.

Rural Tourism Industry

The tourism industry world over is going through a great shift in ideas and beliefs. Today, fuelled by a massive increase in purchasing power and the development of faster and cheaper modes of travel, more and more people are traveling across the world. The purpose of travel now tends to be more of leisure and increasingly so, for getting to know new things and experiencing cultures, cuisine, traditions, etc.

This kind of travel is called ‘experiential travel’. Today, the discerning traveler is prepared to go greater distances and to previously unknown places to get unique experiences and also to cater to her own special interests. The tourist is also looking at being a responsible traveler, giving back to the community, and interacting with the host community so that he has a visible stake in the whole development of the region.

India’s tourist attractions, as we know, are large and varied. Our culture, which is both syncretic and dates back to ancient times, is our most visible attraction. The great monuments ranging from the symbol of eternal love, the Taj Mahal to the great temples of South India, the majestic forts of Rajasthan as well as the wide and varied landscape of snow-capped mountains, golden beaches, rich forests, and verdant deserts all make India an ‘Incredible’ destination. India also has many products to offer to the tourists who travel keeping a special interest in mind, be it Medical and Wellness Tourism, be it Golf courses, or be it Adventure Sports, India has it all.

Mahatma Gandhi had once said that “India lives in its villages”. The village life in India is where you meet the ‘Real India’. The villages are also repositories of the country’s culture and tradition. The slow pace of life in the village, far away from the hustle and bustle of the big city, is an experience that can rejuvenate one. The villages and the rural economies also have practitioners of unique arts and crafts in their original forms that are hard to come by in the cities.

However, one knows that inhabitants of rural areas are mostly farming communities and in many cases, the incomes are not as good as they are in cities. In many cases, there are not enough jobs available in villages and many young men and women are increasingly migrating to cities looking for better opportunities. This has also led to some of the arts and crafts traditionally being practiced in rural communities dying a slow death.

Rural Tourism is one of the solutions which can cater to all the above questions. This form of tourism focuses on the visitor actively participating in a rural lifestyle. The tourist travels to a rural location and experiences life while taking part in the daily activities of the village. The tourist also gets a chance to imbibe the traditions and culture of the area. Rural tourism may also include an overnight stay in which the visitor also gets to know the unique lifestyle of the village at much closer quarters.

The local community also benefits as this is a way of supplanting their incomes which are mostly dependent on agriculture or low-skill jobs. They can also imbibe the cultures of the visitors and thus expand their knowledge and horizons. Many cases of rural tourism also include voluntourism in which the tourists spend some time volunteering and giving back to the community they visit in the form of teaching at local schools, helping out in farming activities, etc..

The Ministry of Tourism recognized Rural Tourism as a very effective way of providing experiential travel and diversifying the tourism product as well as helping rural communities by increasing their income levels and preserving the dying art forms. The Endogenous Tourism Project was launched with the help of the United Nations Development Programme with a pilot project of 31 villages spread across the country way back in 203-2004.

The locations were selected on the basis of their proximity to well-established tourist circuits and the presence of unique art/craft or culture that could be marketed as a USP. Even after UNDP withdrew from the project, the Ministry of Tourism has continued to fund such projects through various schemes including the earlier scheme for Product Infrastructure Development and now through the Swadesh Darshan scheme.

There is, therefore, immense scope for the development of the concept of Rural Tourism and Village Life Experiences across the country However, some challenges still remain. Chief among the challenges is that of marketing. The communities by their very nature have very few avenues for marketing the products both nationally and internationally. Therefore, with the lack of sufficient marketing infrastructure, those projects which are not very well linked with the traditional tourism circuits have not been able to do well.

The Ministry of Tourism has contributed to the marketing efforts by displaying the rural tourism sites on the main website of the Ministry quite prominently. The Rural Tourism Kerala Mission is also another example of a successful marketing effort by the State Government of Kerala. These sites have to be ultimately patronized by the tour operators and included in their itinerary to be financially viable. Therefore, more such efforts are required both at domestic and international levels.

“To other country, may go as a tourist. But to India, come as a pilgrim”, the words of Martin Luther King Jr. have their resonance in the words of Mahatma Gandhi, “We are inheritors of a rural civilization. The vastness of our country, the vastness of the population, the situation and the climate of the country have, in my opinion, destined it for a rural civilization.” Rural India has a lot to offer to people. It would need concerted effort from both the Union Government and State Governments to identify these areas and explore tourism potential in this sector. That is of utmost importance to promote rural tourism in the country. Then only rural tourism can develop and flourish.

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