Since the 1980s, tourism has been one of the main focus areas of development in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands (ANI). It was first promoted to reduce dependence on forest resources such as timber and later due to direct economic benefits such as increased revenue and employment. In recent years too, the NITI Aayog has identified tourism in the ANI as a “key economic driver”. Some of the recent efforts to promote tourism include development of 5 star resorts in select locations, relaxation of certain regulations for foreign tourists, and improved inter-island connectivity to turn the islands into a popular international destination such as Singapore or Maldives. To some extent, this is already underway as the tourist influx has doubled within the past five years. Many planning documents for these new projects stress the importance of developing sustainable or ecotourism models for the ANI to ensure that its natural and cultural heritage are protected. However, most of the evaluative studies of tourism are critical about the sustainability aspect of this industry. This is mainly because tourism often has negative environmental impacts such as increased consumption levels around wilderness areas increase the pressure on natural resources. Hence, there is a longstanding debate on whether tourism is good or bad for a region.
This study aims to move beyond this binary debate and describes the capacity of public infrastructure and services to manage current levels of tourism. In addition, it identifies the key action points that can be implemented to address the challenges and ensure long term sustainability of tourism. So far, initial assessments have been completed at two sites and in the next phase, implementation of the action points is planned.
Total 110 informants were interviewed in the initial assessments at two sites in the Andaman Islands- Smith and Ross Islands, and Swaraj Dweep (erstwhile Havelock Island) between November 2018 to February 2019. Some key findings from this study are as follows:
- Many well-educated islanders are interested in investing and working in the tourism sector because it offers them comparatively high-paying jobs. Hence, capacity building can help more islanders get employment in this growing sector
- At present only high-ranking officials and businessmen are involved in the planning and implementation of tourism-related projects whereas there are many medium and small-scale stakeholders who are interested and need to be included.
Sharma, D. Poster Presentation at the Student’s Conference on Conservation Science, Bengaluru. October 2019 on “Working towards sustainable tourism in the Andaman Islands”