Life & Style

Kumarakom’s conscience

Way back in 2007, when the tourism industry’s honeymoon with Kumarakom went sour, it led to widespread protests across the village with the Kumarakom panchayat even passing a resolution against tourism. Not only was a major source of income hit, it led to the stagnation of the industry. That is when a group of people got together and came up with the idea of Responsible Tourism (RT).

Kumarakom’s conscience

“It was an idea rooted in the principle of sustainability in tourism,” says K Rupesh Kumar, state level co-ordinator and one of the founders of the RT mission, now a nodal agency of the Department of Tourism, Kerala.

“From 2007 since RT was introduced, our good days have arrived,” says Kuttappan, a toddy tapper in Kumarakom. He earns an average ₹10,000 every month showing tourists how toddy is tapped - a part of the ‘village life experience package’ of RT. This supplements his income from selling taboo.

Sathi, a screw pine mat-maker, who lives less than 100 meters from Kuttappan’s house shares similar story. A single mat takes two days work, and it doesn’t get her much since the plastic alternative is cheaper. But things are different now, she earns ₹150 per tourist group visit to watch her make mats. Her husband, Murali, an auto rickshaw driver, makes money ferrying tourists around Kumarakom (part of another RT package).

“This is a network that connects all families. Every family in this web is adequately trained. There are families that demonstrate coir making, net fishing, bow and arrow fishing and other traditionally practised in these families,” says Rupesh.

RT has restored faith in the tourism sector.

Kumarakom’s conscience

Almost every demand of the resorts— from vegetables, milk, coconuts, to handicrafts, candles and soaps—are solely met from the local production. RT has more than 750 units in Kumarakom engaged in different activities including handicraft and souvenir production, paper bag and cloth bag making, boat/shikara service, art and cultural events.

“In a study conducted by our team in 2007, during protests against tourism, we realised that there was practically no supply of locally produced goods to resorts. They were all imported, so, our primary focus was to address that issue,” Rupesh says. Co-ordinators, for the supply, belong to the locality.

For instance, Achan Kunju is assigned the task of collecting banana leaves from houses and supplying it to resorts. While Sachin C Unni, another resident, is in charge of supplying coconuts and tender coconuts. He has been doing this for the past 8 years. His day starts early everyday, at 6 am, when he goes to the over 65 families in the area. He collects around 400 to 500 coconuts daily thus meeting the demand in the resorts. Coconuts and tender coconuts are bought at market price.

Interestingly even religious institutions in the village are also a part of the mission. “There are churches in the village that supply coconuts every day,” says Sachin.

For those who are not under a regular contract with the RT Mission, a collection centre has been opened in the village where locals can sell their items.

“Banana leaves are bought at ₹5 each and papaya at ₹18. Both are found in abundance in Kumarakom,” says Rupesh.

A few years since 2007 when the entire village dreaded tourism, after the responsible tourism idea was conceived and experimented in Kumarakom, it is now a major source of income. It also provides a scope for women’s empowerment.

That is not all, there have been some innovation and experimentation too. “We have started four new units for ramacham (vetiver). These are now replacing room-fresheners bought by resorts from outside markets,” Rupesh adds.

Piling plastic waste was a major concern plaguing the village since the inception of tourism. RT has adopted a policy of banning a large number of plastic products.

In a move to avoid bottled waters, water purifiers have been installed in a few houses where tourists are taken for visits.

At the time of the August floods, the RT mission coordinated and supplied essential goods to all the houses in the locality.

“RT is indeed an achievement the government can be proud of. We have pledged our full support to the mission. RT has over 60,000 beneficiaries now. From just 198, there are currently 11,523 units under RT. These numbers are proof that RT is a successful model to follow,” says Kadakampally Surendran, Minister for Tourism, Kerala.

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Printable version | Oct 26, 2020 4:37:26 AM |

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