‘Stepping on the heads of our Gods': Community Action and Learning in Response to Tourism Development in Manali, India

‘Stepping on the heads of our Gods': Community Action and Learning in Response to Tourism Development in Manali, India

Yangji Doma Sherpa (University of Manitoba, Winnipeg, Canada), A. John Sinclair (University of Manitoba, Winnipeg, Canada) and Thomas Henley (University of Manitoba, Winnipeg, Canada)
DOI: 10.4018/ijsesd.2015040103


The Himalayan region of India is experiencing rapid development in tourism, agriculture, highway construction and hydroelectric dam construction. This research considered the role of the public both within and outside of development decision-making processes in these high mountain environments using the proposed Himalayan Ski Village (HSV) in Manali as a case study. The qualitative data revealed that there has been an extensive array of public participation activity related to the HSV project over approximately 10 years. Very little of this activity has evolved, however, through the formal decision-making process. Rather, most participation activities, such as general house meetings, objection letters, public rallies, court cases against the proposed project, and a religious congregation were instigated by the public to protest the proposed development. The findings also show that involvement in the participatory activities undertaken by the public and project proponent fostered instrumental and communicative learning outcomes.
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For many developing countries, tourism is one of the main sources of foreign exchange income and it creates a wide range of tourism-related employment opportunities (WTO, 2012). In these countries, tourism has continued to emerge as one of the main drivers of economic growth and societal change, particularly in remote mountain communities. While tourism has been widely acknowledged for its contribution to economic development, the industry also brings associated adverse environmental and social impacts, which are not as benign as had been predicted (Berno & Bricker, 2001; Genelitti & Dawa, 2009). In the face of rapid tourism development, the notion of sustainable tourism development has emerged to describe development that strives to contribute to the sustainability of the environment, society, and overall socio-economic development of a tourist destination (Choi & Sirakaya, 2005; McCool, 1996; Neto, 2003).

Community participation is central to the notion of sustainable tourism development (Choi & Sirakaya, 2005; Liu, 2003; Timothy, 1999). In this regard, participation should be viewed from two perspectives: involving the public in tourism planning and development decision-making processes, and/or involving the local community in tourism benefit sharing (Timothy, 1999; Tosun, 2000). The literature indicates benefits and justification for involving the public in tourism decision making and planning, such as building trust and understanding at the local level, creating transparency and accountability, minimizing the potential negative impacts on the society and environment, ensuring benefit sharing, and increasing efficiency and acceptability of tourism policies and proposals, etc. (Kapoor, 2001; Kent et al., 2011; Sinclair & Diduck, 2009; Timothy, 1999). In addition, some research recognizes the potential for broad-based individual and collective sustainability related learning outcomes of public participation programs (e.g., Fitzpatrick & Sinclair, 2003; Sinclair et al., 2008; Sinclair & Diduck, 2009; Webler et al., 1995).

In India, tourism is the largest service industry and contributes extensively to the country’s economy by generating income and employment (Kaur & Sharma, 2012). According to the World Tourism and Travel Council (WTTC), in 2011 India’s tourism sector made a total contribution of about 6.4% to the Gross Domestic Product and accounted for 7.8% of total employment. These statistics also indicate that India has experienced a steady growth in both international and domestic tourist arrivals. The number of domestic tourists within India, however, is very high compared to foreign tourists’ numbers. The total number of domestic tourists recorded in 2011 was 850.86 million whereas foreign tourist arrivals were estimated at 6.92 million for the same period (Government of India, 2011).

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