Hon’ble Chief Minister of Sikkim, Shri Pawan Chamling released the long awaited state tourism policy last week.Gangtok: Lying in the shadows of the towering Khangchendzonga peak, the state of Sikkim is on the list of the world’s 10 most critical centres for biodiversity. With its diverse flora and fauna, culture and traditions, the state has emerged as a popular tourism destination in the last few decades with an annual tourist footfall of 14.25 lakhs, in 2017. Identified as one of the potential sectors for growth and livelihood creation by the Sikkim Human Development Report, 2014, tourism is now a key sector of the state economy. With this in view, a tourism policy that looks into the future growth and direction of tourism in the state for the next few decades was launched recently in Gangtok by Shri Pawan Chamling, the Chief Minister of Sikkim. The much awaited sustainable tourism policy which seeks to make the state a highly valued responsible tourism destination with tourism contributing significantly to the state economy while conserving its natural and cultural heritage has been drafted on the principles of environmental sustainability, cultural integrity, equity inclusiveness, and social justice.
Following a stakeholders’ workshop on sustainable tourism in 2014, a Steering Committee was formed in 2015 by the Department of Tourism and Civil Aviation comprising of representatives of the tourism industry and the Department which was spearheaded by WWF and ECOSS. The policy is an outcome of a participatory process comprising of a series of brainstorming and successive meetings with the tourism stakeholders, scholars, experts and officers from various line departments and the public at large. The key goals of the policy are i) developing tourism as a key sector in Sikkim’s economy, ii) promoting low impact sustainable tourism iii) making Sikkim a prime ‘round the year’ destination for nature, adventure and culture based tourism within India and globally iv) ensuring tourism benefits are broad based to support local, social and economic development and also ensure social justice v) ensuring all tourism infrastructure and services shall be of the best standards and quality delivering aconsistent high level of satisfaction and hospitality to tourists.
The policy goals of promoting cultural and natural heritage of Sikkim recommends focus on the following sectors a) Conventional leisure based tourism, b) Nature based tourism or Ecotourism c) Adventure based tourism d) Culture based tourism & village homestays e) Religion based tourism f) MICE tourism (Meetings Incentives, Events, Conferences and Exhibitions) and g) Health and Wellness Tourism. It spells out modalities for managing tourism destinations, infrastructure and amenities created by the department, and strongly recommends carrying capacity exercises for certain ecologically sensitive areas that are fast developing as mass tourist destinations. The policy also talks about promoting sustainably managed tourism destinations by addressing overcrowding in ecologically sensitivehigh altitude wetlands such as Gurudongmar and Tsomgo. Present tourism trends indicate a doubling of tourism footfalls by 2020 which shall put tremendous pressure on existing infrastructure and local natural resources.
The policy further recommends that the state should look at high value and high quality tourism products to have lower impact on these areas, which has also been recommended in the Sikkim EcoTourism Policy earlier. Overall, the policy also seeks to facilitate inter-sectoral coordination and convergence with all other relevant departments, and to that end, the establishment of the Inter- Departmental Coordination Committee as mandated by the National Tourism Policy shall be the first step towards policy implementation.
WWF-India seeks to utilise the tourism policy to further the efforts of the state government towards biodiversity conservationand maintaining cultural integrity,in partnership with government agencies, NGOs, tourism service providers and other local CBOs.
The policy document can be accessed at the official website of the Tourism and Civil Aviation Department-