Too Much or Too Little?

Understanding Tourism Carrying Capacity

The debate on the relationship between conservation and tourism has been sharply divided between those who support tourism as a way in which conservation can be furthered and those who view tourism as a hindrance to conservation itself. 

On the one hand, tourism is considered as a tool for conservation itself as:

  1. It provides an alternate income to local communities and helps reduce the dependence on natural resources. 

  2. The revenue generated from tourism can be used for the purpose of conservation. 

  3. Tourism helps build a positive attitude for conservation as tourism is dependent on the state of the environment. 

On the other hand, tourism is also criticized because:

  1. The income generated from tourism rarely finds its way back to conservation.

  2. Tourism itself is not a benign industry and only creates more pressure on the environment, thus posing a challenge to conservation itself. 

  3. Local communities have rarely gained substantial economic benefits from tourism. 

Subsumed within this understanding of the relationship between conservation and tourism, is a perception that allows only for limited involvement of local communities in conservation itself. 

A recent nuance to the tourism- conservation debate is the question, ‘how much tourism is good’? The concept of Tourism Carrying Capacity developed as a way to assess the tolerance level of the resource and limits of use beyond which degradation or negative impacts occur at the tourist destination. The concept evolved from assessing capacity according to how visitors perceive a tourist area to assessing capacity after considering multiple dimensions such as ecological limits of the area, the economic benefits or loss from tourism the political participation of local people in decisions regarding tourism, the social norms and culture of the area etc. 

EQUATION has studied the concept of tourism carrying capacity and the various methodologies that have been employed for assessment of the same across the world. EQUATIONS has also proposed a methodology for assessment of carrying capacity in different types of destinations. 

Using all this,  

The recent case in the Supreme Court that would have resulted in eviction of thousands of adivasis and forest dwelling communities demonstrated this divide very sharply.

We are organizing a panel discussion centered around the theme of tourism carrying capacity. The objectives of the discussion would be: 

To discuss why there is a need for assessing TCC.

To discuss the considerations to be kept in mind for assessing TCC. 

Both these objectives are from the perspective of ecological concerns and socio-political aspirations of the local communities and the economic relationship of local communities with tourism. 

Starting with the question, ‘how much tourism is good for conservation’, a panel discussion on TCC to provide a framework to unpack the complexity of the relationship between tourism and conservation.  As the theoretical concept of TCC has firmly acknowledged the socio-political participation of local communities in tourism planning and management, the panel will also be a platform to dwell a little deeper into rights of local communities and what their role ought to be in conservation, from the lens of tourism. 

Quite a few participants are interested in setting up ecotourism ventures. This discussion will help unpack the multiple dimensions of tourism and what considerations should be kept in mind before setting up. 

A discussion of this nature would also bring in learning regarding the practices that have been adopted on the ground.  

Who is in the panel? 

 As the topic is a bit complex and has multiple elements, a panel discussion was decided as many different panelists can bring about different perspectives.  The community of conservationists are sharply divided between those that support conservation through coexistence of humans and nature and those that do not see value in co-existence.  EQUATIONS has strongly criticized exclusionary conservation, which has often resulted in displacement of people from their homes and homelands and in causing a break in bio-cultural relations. Similarly, EQUATIONS has been critical of cursory or limited involvement of local communities in tourism. It is proposed that the panel be composed of individuals who can challenge the exclusionary model of conservation and generate a rich discussion that argues for co-existence. 

Ideally, the panel should bring together the:

  • Ecology perspective

  • Local community perspective

  • Tourism perspective

  • Academic/ scholarly perspective on the theory of TCC.

1) Vijay Mohan Raj: Mr. Vijay Mohan Raj is currently the Chief Conservator of Forests (CCF) of the Chikmagalur Circle, Karnataka Forest Department. His work of training certified naturalists, nature guides and volunteers who want to help the forest department has been pivotal to the growth of the Karnataka Ecotourism Development. He is also a keen photographer, winning national awards for nature photography and a keener conservationist- instrumental in the declaration of the Aghanashini Conservation Reserve. 


2) Saili Palande-Datar: Ms. Saili is an indologist/archeologist and a herpetology enthusiast. Her interest has been the rich and diverse landscape of the Western Ghats. She has been instrumental in putting together the Malabar Nature Conservation Club in Amboli, which works on  sustainable tourism initiatives in Amboli region. She is also a member of Kalpavriksh, a non-profit organization that works on environmental and social issues at the local, national and global levels. Saili is an acute observer of the growth of tourism in the Western Ghats of Maharashtra and has authored quite a few popular pieces that dig deep into the impacts of tourism.  


3) Sumesh Manglassery:  Mr. Sumesh is the Chairman and Managing Director of Kabani Tours, in Kerala. Sumesh's years of experience in community development, action research and policy interventions in tourism has gone into creating Kabani Tours. Kabani was created to be a unique balance of "oppose and propose"- to oppose mass tourism and its adverse impacts on local communities, environment and resources, and at the same time, implement a different model of tourism which  directly benefits local communities and avoids major pitfalls of mainstream tourism. In his work on sustainable tourism and related issues, Sumesh has contributed to various international discourses and negotiations such as climate change, sustainable development and international trade.


4) Sunil Kainthola: Mr. Sunil Kainthola is the Co-ordinator of the Mountain Shepherds Initiative Pvt. Ltd, a grassroots initiative rooted in the epic struggle for cultural and ecological survival of the Bhotiya people of the Nanda Devi Biosphere Reserve. The Mountain Shepherds Initiative has evolved to be a community-owned tourism initiative that takes into account the rights of local people and is free of human exploitation. Through his work, Sunil has made a successful demonstration of how local communities can be at the forefront of both tourism and conservation. Sunil is also the Director of the Nanda Devi Institute of Mountaineering and Adventure Sports, which designs and conducts adventure training programs in high altitude Himalayas.

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Tourism Carrying Capacity