A Fragile Wayanad Needs Sober Policies to Retain its Charm

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Kerala’s least populous district, Wayanad, is suddenly hot property eliciting undue attention from everyone especially players from the tourism and real estate sectors. And the ‘green brigade’ led by Wayanad Prakrithi Samrakshana Samithi, as expected, is up in arms. As I pen this, reports are coming in that the Muthanga and Tholpetty ecotourism centres under the Wayanad Wildlife Sanctuary (WWS) will remain closed till March 31 to avert any calamity owing to possible outbreak of bushfires. Trekking expeditions to the Chembra peak and Sentinel rock waterfalls stand suspended after manmade forest fires destroyed the grasslands on the Chembra peak. The incident has brought to light the heightened safety risks posed by tourism activities in the 70-odd ecotourism centres, mostly home stays, within WWS where entire forest stretches have dried-up. The 32,000-hectre WWS is part of the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve, one of the most ecologically sensitive regions of India and the largest habitat of wild elephants in South Asia.

Environmentalists have demanded a ban on all ecotourism activities inside the forests till the end of summer. This certainly is not good news for tourism. But greater sensitivity and accountability among stakeholders are required to ensure sustainability of all legally tenable commercial activities performed within this fragile ecosystem. If Wayanad can learn some key lessons from Munnar, another sought-after tourist destination in the State which today suffers from indiscriminate commercial exploitation by tourism and real estate players, thanks to wavering government policies on land use and suspect enforcement of laws against illegal construction, then there is a future. Tourism in Wayanad should prefer quality over quantity and Responsible Tourism over mass tourism.

Responsible Tourism initiatives comprising boutique projects respecting and assimilating the rich biodiversity of the land, its natural inhabitants, their culture and cuisine, are what will retain the natural charm of Wayanad, marketable as a premium destination for high-value tourism.

Our cover story is about this bewitchingly beautiful place and why it should be on every adventure and nature loving traveller’s itinerary. As the global tourism industry congregates at Messe Berlin for the world’s largest travel trade fair, we will be proudly showcasing Wayanad this time. See you at ITB.

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