The Eco tourism scenario in India has been going through ups and downs. Even the Supreme Court of India had pitched in to bring in change. In such a scenario the NTCA (National Tiger Conservation Authority) throws positive light to Eco Tourism and its functioning in India. The guidelines provided for in the NTCA will help the Tourism Industry and the stakeholders within the Government establishment to promote quality Eco tourism and thereby push for sustainability on the long run.

The NTCA guidelines are broad in nature; it is the responsibility of the states and the local stakeholders to implement through a policy framework equitable Eco Tourism solutions for all the stakeholders. Hence, for this reason an understanding of the existing policies in the respective states is essential, so this study has been undertaken which will throw open the positive and the negative impacts of existing tourism practices in ecological sensitive areas i.e., the protected areas and in particular 3 Tiger Reserves- Bandipur (BTR), Dandeli (DATR) and Bhadra (BhTR).

The study brings in the facet of site specific guidelines to ensure maximum benefits. In fact, the NTCA has asked the State governments to develop State-level legislation to favour a community driven, low-impact ecotourism in place of wildlife tourism to maintain the integrity and connectivity of Tiger reserves. In its ‘Guidelines for tourism in and around tiger reserves,’ the NTCA has categorically told the States that no new tourist infrastructure should be set up within the core/critical tiger habitat of the reserves in compliance with the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 and Supreme Court directives. It insists on the formation of a Local Advisory Committee (LAC) for each tiger reserve to review the tourism strategy, ensure site-specific norms on constructions, advise local and State governments and regularly monitor all tourist facilities as well as operators to ensure wildlife was not disturbed while taking visitors into the reserves.  

The NTCA, in order to mitigate the man-tiger conflicts has provided a plausible solution of tourism as a welfare measure/activity to avoid the man-tiger conflicts in the reserve areas. However, the guidelines specifically states that, since tourism has been happening in the areas of National Parks and wildlife sanctuaries, which are now designated as core or critical tiger habitat, as in the case of the present study sites. (Regulated Low Impact tourism [visitation] would be allowed in such areas, subject to site specific carrying capacity). However, no new tourism infrastructure should be permitted in such core and critical tiger habitats.

The opportunities for stakeholders, would include management of low cost accommodation for tourists, providing guide services, providing sale outlets, managing excursions, organizing ethnic dances and the like. The NTCA1 guideline mentions of the fact that states should be provided assistance for fostering ecotourism to benefit local people; who otherwise would be juxtaposing their lives with the local ecosystem. Tourism infrastructure shall conform to environment friendly, low impact aesthetic architecture, including solar energy, waste recycling rainwater harvesting, natural cross ventilation, proper National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) notification, dated: 15th October 2012, Comprehensive guidelines for tiger conservation and tourism as provided under section 38o (1) (c) of the Wild Life (Protection) Act, 1972. Violations of these norms will be appropriately dealt with the Local Advisory Committee (LAC). Any violation of the guidelines will be referred to the appropriate authorities under intimation to the NTCA, for taking action in accordance to the relevant provisions of the law. Environmental clearances have to be adhered to along with the noise pollution norms, solid waste disposal management, air pollution and water usage.

The NTCA1 has also recommended the phasing out of permanent tourist facilities located inside core/critical tiger habitats which were being used for wildlife tourism within a time frame to be decided by the LAC. Strict plans ensuring low impact adherence by these facilities have to be developed and approved by the LAC to be strictly implemented. It goes on to mention that there should be no privately run facilities such as catering inside the core/critical tiger habitat where night stay is permitted and any existing facility has to be run by the Tiger Conservation Foundations, the NTCA has said. Besides, all States have been asked to notify the State-level ecotourism strategy within a year from the date of notification of the guidelines by the NTCA/Union Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF). NTCA has gone to the extent to say that there should be adequate provisions must be made to ensure that ecotourism was not being relegated to purely high-end tourism that excluded local communities. Thereby the emphasis is on Community based eco tourism, which will surely augur well with the tourism system.

NTCA has also recommended that the State governments should develop a system to ensure that the gate collections from the tiger reserves were utilized by the management for specific conservation purposes and not to go as revenue to the State exchequer. Such a step would ensure that resources generated from tourism were earmarked for conservation, local livelihood development, tackling man-animal conflict and welfare measures for field staff of the reserve. Besides, the State governments should charge a conservation fee from the tourism industry for eco-development and local community uplift. The Chief Wildlife Warden has to ensure that each tiger reserve prepares a tourism plan as part of the tiger conservation plan vis-à-vis the NTCA’s technical guidelines. The plan should include identification of corridor connectivity and important wildlife habitats and mechanisms to secure them.

The guideline has also recommended the identification and monitoring of ecologically sensitive areas surrounding the tiger reserves to ensure the ecological integrity or corridor/buffer areas which will prevent encroachment. It is undeniable that ecotourism has enormous potentials for the environment conservation of environment. However, it must also be borne in mind that the balance between tourism and the environment is a very fragile one. Many developing countries, anxious to reap the full benefits of tourism have, without undertaking a proper analysis of the potential impacts transformed their virgin areas into tourists’ centers to cater for the tastes and desires of mass tourism. Such rapid development may lead to a complete transformation of an area, producing irreversible impacts to the natural environment (TIES). Among the three impacts of Ecotourism namely, the economic, socio-cultural and environmental, the economic impact has undoubtedly played a dominant role in tourism literature and policy making till 1960s.

With the focus on the economic benefits obtained by the areas due to the development of tourism, the adverse non-economic, socio-cultural and environmental-impacts are totally ignored. Environmental costs continued to be neglected because of the prevalent belief of the nature being inexhaustible and renewable. This led to an indiscriminate and unplanned growth of tourism infrastructure in many countries and soon the negative effects in the form of social and environmental degradation started emerging. Specialists tours such as photographic safaris and wildlife watching, which can affect animals through noise, visual and scent disturbances, and by affecting predation and breeding behavior. Similarly, wildflower tours can affect plant biodiversity if participants collect plants or fruit, introduce weeds or pathogens, or start fires.

In some destinations, ecotourism can produce a local economic boom leading to uncontrolled high-impact private development, high resource consumption, waste generation beyond the capacity of local waste treatment disposal systems, if any, and land clearance and harvesting with major impacts on biodiversity. In addition, infrastructure built for tourism may be used for illegal collection of endangered plant and animal species. Small-scale operations may eventually turn into much larger and more destructive operations. The study of the Environment Impacts of ecotourism is currently in a growing stage and more research is expected to appear. The first effort towards Environmental Impacts Assessment was directed basically to Impacts of Leisure activities and especially outdoor recreation. The first studies concerning the environmental impacts of tourism appeared after the mid seventies followed by more research activity in the 1980s.

The biological and ecological impacts of tourism have been studied in the case of specific environments - Islands, Coastal Zones, Alpine areas, National Parks etc6. Another that was developed was the impact structure matrix combining environmental elements and the range of possible impacts of these elements from the development of tourism to a certain level (carrying capacity levels)7. To fill out the structure matrix a set of different tools are used (Social surveys, behavioral inquiries, multiple measurement techniques, ecological indicators etc.). The study of the environmental impacts of tourism thus started basically after 1970s.

The analysis of the environmental impacts of tourism has been predominantly qualitative and mostly descriptive. The type and intensity of the environmental impacts of tourism depends on the interaction between the type of tourism development, the socio-economic and other characteristics of tourists and the natural, socio-economic and institutional characteristics of the host area. The environment is being increasingly recognized as a key factor in tourism. In the last decade of the twentieth century, it was noted that tourism depends ultimately upon the environment, as it is a major tourism attraction itself, or is the content in which tourism activity takes place. The relationship between tourism and the environment is taking place on various levels. In addition to direct tourism impacts on the environment through e.g., pollution, noise and disturbance, indirect, irreversible and long term consequences between tourism and environmental quality is characterized by dynamic feedback mechanisms. It has been suggested that controlling the volume of tourism might alleviate the situation. Especially since the tourism is typically found in locations with fragile environments, such as mountains and coasts which are peripheral to the world economy.

Ecotourism not only depends on mass tourism enterprises and infrastructure (air, travel, other forms of transports, tour operators, hotels, etc.), but also involves the danger to eventually promote mass tourism itself. Unfortunately, the experience of alternative tourism in general shows that adventurous travelers have just served to open up destinations “of the beaten track” to large-scale tourism projects, accelerating the pace of social and environmental degradation of these areas. As a result of increasing globalization and liberalization, the competition within the international tourism industry and among tourist-receiving countries has become so fierce that there is hardly any margin left for social and ecological concerns. Many studies throughout the world have now documented the ecological impact of indigenous population on the environment. In order to analyze the impacts of Tourism on the Environment as a necessary prerequisite for tourism planning and policy decisions, following major issues need to be addressed: 1. Identification and analyses of various impacts of Tourism on environment in the target area. 2. Assessment of the contribution of tourism in the observed or expected environmental modification in the destination area. 3. Estimation of the demand for resources and the amounts of residuals disposed to the regional environment. 4. Analyses of the environmental impacts of tourism on the local communities.