Existing research is neither comprehensive nor does it equally address all the principles of ecotourism in India, claims a new study.
Titled Trends and pathways for ecotourism research in India", the study identifies research gaps requiring immediate attention in terms of scientific data and analysis of the economics and conservation around ecotourism in India.
Authors Mahi Puri and Krithi Karanth, from the Wildlife Conservation Society India Program, analysed and reviewed 30 peer-reviewed studies on ecotourism published since 2005.
The studies were categorised into three broad themes - those that assessed the potential for ecotourism at specific sites, examined impacts of the existing tourism model, and those that evaluated ongoing ecotourism initiatives.
The authors also identified the prominent reasons to adopt ecotourism, evaluated whether principles of ecotourism had been incorporated in scientific research, and identified gaps in research.
"The study found that existing research is not comprehensive, nor does it equally address all the principles of ecotourism," it said.
It pointed out that there are major gaps in research regarding the impact on wildlife in terms of habitat use, populations and behaviour; research to quantify changes in land use pattern, among others.
It also found gaps in research regarding impact on habitat degradation, connectivity and resource consumption, research to ensure equitable distribution of economic benefits, social and ecological carrying capacities of sites, studies exploring means to move from tiger-centric tourism to ecotourism and implementation issues in ecotourism projects.
Puri, the lead author of the study, said India is endowed with some of the most diverse landscapes and biodiversity in the world.
"However, in comparison to countries like South Africa, Kenya and Costa Rica, India is not recognised as an ecotourism destination, and therefore misses out on a large share of international tourism.
"For India to gain a foothold in the global market, a huge shift towards responsible tourism models is required. Scientific research can provide the necessary impetus for policy legislation, consumer awareness, and avenues for financial investment. Our study is a step towards identifying existing gaps in ecotourism research in India," Puri said.
The study was published in the Journal of Ecotourism'.
In the conclusion, the study said India is one of the fastest developing global economies, growing at an average annual rate of seven per cent and yet, as of 2011, nearly 21 per cent of its population lives below poverty line challenged by associated problems of malnourishment, poor healthcare and illiteracy referring to World Bank, 2017.
While multiple reasons exist as to why ecotourism has not established successfully in India, a key aspect is due to limited scientific and management focus to develop ecotourism as a viable approach, the study pointed out.
"The potential to be a competitive ecotourism destination in the global market does exist largely due to the abundance of natural, cultural and wildlife resources. However, additional scientific research that can assist in the formulation of appropriate legislative policies, consumer awareness, and financial investments will be essential.
"Our study is an initial step with the aim to evaluate the trends and gaps in ecotourism research in India. Such reviews can help determine motivations behind ecotourism initiatives, and identify factors that have contributed towards success or failure of projects," the study said.
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