Don’t leave your footprints

TV SARNGA DHARAN NAMBIAR –

We live on earth as humans, because, maybe, we have the eligibility to be here as humans. Then, what could be the eligibility criteria to be a tourist, insofar as today’s enlightened perceptions about tourism are concerned? A sense of travel humility that leads to a mild feeling of guilt for being a tourist certainly qualifies to be a criterion.
The good thing is, the benefits of branding oneself as a green tourist are manifold, a clear conscience being just one. Obviously, it takes tons of stubbornness and naiveté to be an unwelcoming tourist, who is perceived as an environmental and cultural threat to the destination.
Examining tourism from an evolutionary perspective, we see that the quest is to create as little impact as possible; and that doesn’t necessarily mean negation of the pleasures of experiential tourism.
That’s a fine balancing act, and the tourist needs to be smart. And this smartness is different from the digital smartness of a tourist engaged in “smart tourism”— a cozy term that highlights the increasing influence of ICT (Information Communications Technology).
The smartness of the tourist under discussion works the other way: it’s the tourists who make the best use of ICT and Big Data to take informed decisions that make them responsible visitors who care for the environmental and cultural aspects of the destinations they explore.
While smart tourism thrives on the value propositions entailed by the transformation of humongous amount of data, today’s tourist needs to be smart enough to use Big Data, and plan his/her itinerary in such a way that ensures environmentally sensitive spots are avoided altogether or the minimum impact is generated.
By focusing on the actual trip, rather than pre- and post-travel phases, smart tourists can participate in technology-driven co-creation of tourism experience and look at a broader collaboration with diverse stakeholders so that the focus remains on sustainable tourism.
Tourists should shun a passive attitude and take the initiative to work with travel and tour operators to make tourism as eco-friendly as possible; and this is possible by way of smart processing of Big Data that involves data analysis, visualisation and integration.
True, it’s a huge responsibility, as tourists need to take integrated ICT-driven efforts at the destination to collect diverse data from multiple sources such as human stakeholders, relevant agencies and organisations, tourism infrastructure and social connections. Such data can be used to create valuable tourism experiences at the destination, without jeopardising the sustainability of tourism.
Operators in the travel, tourism and hospitality industries have taken the cue and started thinking differently. The strategy is to identify “hidden” locations that have the potential to wow tourists. Data analytics should be used not only to promote unknown or little-known destinations among domestic and international tourists through effective marketing strategies, but also to discourage visits to ecologically overstressed spots.
Once such virgin destinations outgrow themselves and cross the saturation point, other alternatives are explored, allowing the overburdened places to repair the damages, rejuvenate and flourish once again.
With the Sultanate passionately pursuing its National Tourism Strategy 2040 that envisions positioning Oman as the choicest global tourism destination, travel and tour operators would do well to have a sustainable tourism plan, and keep the focus firmly on less popular destinations that offer a rich mélange of novel and authentic travel experiences for the visitors.
Also, such a strategy will allow the tourism industry to include locals as one of the stakeholders. As a recent travel trends report suggests, the locals are best equipped with deep knowledge and understanding of the heritage values and ecological sensitivities of specific destinations, which makes them strong players in promoting tourism in their areas.
They can be tour guides or even consultants and they can suggest home-stay options to visitors as well. They can act as the vital links to local art and craftsmen and guide the tourists to authentic cottage industries and workshops that offer genuine pieces of exquisite works of art and craft. They can also take care of cleaning up the destination and maintaining its beauty and sanctity. This way the local economy stands to gain much.