There’s a tocsin tolling.
From the four corners of the earth there are warning bells ringing. From the UK where a great and unprecedented storm raged. From our East coast ravaged by a monstrous typhoon. From our own state, Uttarakhand, where the so-called Himalayan tsunami wreaked havoc with unaccounted lives. That titanic tragedy had an impact all across our tourist-centric state: there were mass cancellations of bookings, hotels ran empty, shops and businesses, depending on an influx of tourists at this time of the year, waited helplessly for customers who never came. But the politicians came, flocking in like vultures, seeking to feast on our misery.
Many of them blamed tourism. “Why did they build their hotels and tourist facilities on endangered river banks and in the flood plains?,” they asked in wise hindsight. They didn’t have the vision to place the blame where it really lay: carbon emissions pumped out by the world’s greatest polluters, the USA and China.
Climate change is a real and present danger. It is not something restricted to debates in the energy-guzzling offices of the United Nations. It is something that is going to hit our industry, year after terrible year, all through this century.
Tourism depends on disposable income. People travel for leisure only if they have the money to do so. It has the lowest priority in their hierarchy of needs. When their livelihoods are lost because of floods, storms, droughts and famines, tourism movements, globally, will fall. Netas of all types, all over the world, will do very little about it. They have shelf-lives of five years, or less and, in that time, they have to make most of their equivalents of our Black Cats, Beacons and British-era bungalows, amassing wealth for a rainy day. They don’t really believe that the Rainy Day will come, as it has come throughout the history of the human race. Noah experienced it in the Biblical lands. Manu’s ark survived the deluge in our Indic region. The ancient American civilisations also have their legends of great inundations. In those days, the cataclysms were brought about by large-scale destruction of forests and grasslands. The spreading water restored the balance, changed the contours of the old empires.
At that time, however, the world was a patchwork of fiercely independent tribal conglomerations, suspicious of each other. Today, for the first time, we have the makings of a truly global, frontier-bridging, w.w.w. network of communications. We, in the tourism industry, owe our success to this. It is time we began paying back our debt to the earth, and safeguarded our future.
Some have already begun. The Welcomgroup, with the very dedicated Niranjan Khatri blazing new trails, is committed to diminishing its impact on the earth. The Dominic’s CGH Earth has led the southern charge on enviro-consciousness: they conserve, restore, rediscover the old responsible folkways. While researching our latest book on the ITDC’s iconic Ashok Hotel in New Delhi we were delighted to learn that they have far-seeing re-cycling policies aiming for an eventual, zero-impact on the environment. Sadly, very sadly, many other hotels treat environmental concerns with contempt as if their stature isolates them from such concerns. They refuse to see the writing on the wall. They will learn when increasingly aware travellers begin to shun them for their arrogant extravagance, and climate change slams into their earnings.
Tourism is the world’s most high-profile real-life industry. Bollywood, Hollywood and the rest of the entertainment industry are dream-time escapes into fantasy. No one really expects to live The Life of Pi or soar like super-hero Krrish. But everyone can aspire...we are a young, aspirational nation...to take a tour to those far-away places with their strange sounding names, and live in a hotel. It is our job to tap those dreams of a better life. It is also our duty to show our guests that we are concerned about the environment. If this awareness is associated with the upward mobility that is the main driver of tourism, then it will become a fashionable trend. We must use the status associated with tourism to make conservation, the protection of the earth, a status-enhancing activity.
And so, if you run a green-energy coach, proclaim it loudly and repeatedly. If your hotel uses solar power, harvests and recycles water, conserves energy, asks guests to re-use towels and sheets, has a vermi-compost waste converting system, uses natural light as much as possible, trumpet it. Tell your guests that they are helping to curb, and possibly reverse, global warming. More and more people across the world are becoming enviro-conscious. If they have a choice between two facilities, one that is extravagant and another that protects the earth’s resources, they will choose the protector.
They have heard the tocsin tolling.