Tourism in India, amid climate challenges, calls for stringent policymaking

Adopting resource management technology, creating resilient infrastructure and promoting off-season tourism are key to alleviating environmental pressures during peak hours

Climate change is not only a global problem, but also a local problem. Its effects are being felt worldwide, and India is no exception. The problem of climate change is being exacerbated by rising temperatures, erratic monsoons and an increase in the frequency of extreme weather events, reshaping not only landscapes but also travel preferences and business strategies across the country.

A 2023 report by Delhi-based think tank Center for Science and Environment indicated as much India experiences extreme weather conditions almost every day in the first nine months of the year, resulting in nearly 3,000 deaths.

Climate change is having a direct impact on the landscape, from the picturesque heights of Kashmir to vibrant cities like Delhi and Mumbai, necessitating a rethink of both destination choice and tourism practices. By 2023, India had its second warmest year in 122 yearswith temperatures above normal in February, July, August, September, November and December.

This puts historically favorite destinations at risk of extreme weather events; As of July 23, 2023, statistics from the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare showed that heatwaves have killed 264 people in 14 states between 2015 and 2023.

Summer has not yet started this year, but several Indian states, including Maharashtra, northern Karnataka, Saurashtra, Kutch, Bihar, West Bengal and parts of Rajasthan, have already experienced heatwaves.

Extreme rainfall has also increased significantly. A study published in the journal Nature communication in 2017 revealed that extreme rainfall over central India tripled between 1950 and 2015, affecting about 825 million people, leaving 17 million homeless and killing about 69,000.

The devastating floods in Kerala in 2018also known as God’s Own Country, affected more than a million tourists and showed the vulnerability of tourism hotspots to climate-related disasters, with the state suffering economic losses of up to $4.4 billion.

As climate change alters geographic and seasonal tourism maps, business strategies for sustainable travel need to be reconsidered. Urban areas such as Delhi, Jaipur, Mumbai and Hyderabad become ‘heat islands’with temperatures remaining higher for longer periods of time, prompting tourists to plan their trips accordingly.

This evolving climate scenario is not just an operational challenge for travel companies, but an indicator that necessitates transformative shifts towards sustainable tourism practices.

Source: IndiaStat

Northern Indian states, traditionally popular for their summer retreats, face a double threat from the impact on the climate: declining snowfall is impacting winter sports in regions like Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand, while rising summer temperatures are making cities like Jaipur less attractive during what was once its peak. tourist seasons.

Similarly, coastal areas, which are a major draw for both domestic and international tourists, are facing rising sea levels and intensifying cyclones, posing risks to infrastructure and future viability.

India Tourism Statistics 2023 reported that the country ranks 14th in the world in international tourism income, with total international tourism income reaching US$131.4 billion in 2022, representing an annual growth rate of 45 percent.

The number of domestic tourist visits to all states and union territories in India has reported a negative growth rate 2,321.98 million visitors in 2019 and 1,731.01 million visitors in 2022. Is climate change responsible?

The Himalayan ski industry faces existential threats from climate change as predictable winter seasons become more unpredictable.

Over the past two decades, India’s Himalayan region has experienced a consistent decline in snow days, which has seriously affected destinations such as Gulmarg and Auli, where the number of ski tourists has declined and seasons have become shorter, leading to to lower incomes and local economic tensions.

The decline in snowfall is linked to western disturbance activities over northern India, raising serious concerns over water security, agriculture and tourism.

The coastal tourism sector, which contributes significantly to the country’s economy, is also at risk. The aftermath of Cyclone Fani in 2019 and Tauktae in 2021, which caused significant destruction in Odisha, Gujarat and Maharashtra (costing approximately $9.67 billion in economic losses), highlighted the escalating threats to coastal infrastructure, which is critical for tourist activities.

The country’s travel industry is a microcosm of global issues, necessitating a joint effort from all stakeholders – governments, businesses and tourists – to chart a course for sustainable and responsible tourism. As the number of travelers grows, so does the pressure on the environment; More facilities such as power, water and goods are needed, and more waste is generated.

The Indian tourism industry can grow and expand by developing and implementing sustainable policies and appropriate measures using the carbon footprint calculator.

Around the world, several countries have implemented clear sustainable tourism policies tailored to their unique environmental, cultural and economic contexts. For example, Costa Rica’s Sustainable Tourism Program evaluates the sustainability efforts of local tourism businesses, while the European Union uses the European Tourism Indicator System to manage tourism sustainability at the destination level.

In Australia, the eco-certification program promotes tourism with minimal impact on the environment, allowing tourists to make responsible travel choices. South Africa supports ethical tourism through its Fairtrade tourism certification, which guarantees fair wages and working conditions in tourism businesses.

Bhutan has adopted a ‘high value, low volume’ policy, which serves a dual purpose and involves a daily fee paid by tourists, which helps fund local community services and limits tourist numbers to prevent overtourism. Bhutan’s daily tourist tax for 2024 is $100 per night, down from $200 per night in 2023.

This fee is solely a sustainable development fee that can be invested back into the community to fund local infrastructure, conservation efforts and social programs, ensuring that tourism contributes positively to the development of the region.

By learning from the examples of Bhutan and the rest of the world, and tailoring policies to India’s unique context, the country can ensure a resilient and sustainable future for its tourism sector.

Furthermore, the adoption of new technologies for better resource management, resilient infrastructure designs, and the promotion of off-season tourism are crucial steps toward reducing environmental pressures during peak tourism seasons. According to global climate law and policy document analysiscountries, including India, need to urgently align themselves with global and national sustainability goals to reduce carbon footprint and promote eco-friendly tourism practices.

As climate change redefines India’s tourism landscape, policymakers must implement strong and effective sustainable tourism policies.

This strategic pivot is essential not only for the survival of the tourism industry, but also for maintaining a balance between ecological integrity and economic development, ensuring a sustainable future for one of the world’s most vibrant tourist destinations.

Anand Kumar is a Dublin-based climate finance researcher, lecturer and climate advisor in favor.

The opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Just