Pokhara, Tourism & Sustainability Issues
–By Ramji Sharma
Tourism, a 21st century industry, acts as an agent to induce change in socio-cultural values and norms of a society. Social and cross-cultural contacts, encounters and interactions are inherent aspects of tourism and its impact and implication numerous and varied. The United Nations Environmental Programme says that the implications of tourism are ambiguous, for the same activities are seen as beneficial by some and perceived negatively by others – especially with regard to disagreements between business interests and environmental consciousness. ‘Sustainability’, thus, has become a buzzword in tourism academia now.
To analyze the impact and implication of tourism in Pokhara, a model called ‘FIDELL TALCADS’ (acronym of thirteen selected variables) was devised and tested here. The variables were:
Family structure / Social composition, Indigenous profession, Dining patterns, Emotion, Attitude and Behaviour, Lifestyle and Fashion, Labour division, Traditions, values and norms, Arts, crafts, curios and music, Language, Crime, Alcoholism / Smoking, Drug abuse, Sex
The research shows that the effects of tourism can be measured in various social aspects.
Food, it is believed, is the most important cultural expression that can sometimes be the reason of travel for some people. Ethnographically, Nepal is one of the richest countries in the world with 125 ethnic groups and 123 spoken languages. Different communities have different types of food to begin the day with. A most popular ritual which has now become a habit for many Nepali people is to wake up with a cup of tea. However, this common habit was only found in 25.86 per cent of the respondents at Lakeside, Pokhara. The percentage of respondents that articulated their preference for light break-fast in the morning with a cup of tea or coffee, on the other hand, was 74.14 per cent, and none of the breakfast choices included an item from the traditional Nepali cuisine.
Emotion, Attitude and Behaviuor
Tourism creates wide socio-cultural implications as tourists bring their distinct cultural baggage when they visit different places. The most striking feature of tourism is interaction and intermingling between hosts and guests that slowly penetrate and infuse a large number of small effects which individually appear insignificant but together make an impact.
Lifestyle and Fashion
Akin to the cultural variation in hospitality, tourism has multifarious implications on various aspects of human life. However, the intensity and mode may vary depending on the frequency of interaction, cultural distance and age groups that come into contact with tourists of different cultural values and lifestyle. Of them, the younger generation seems to be highly influenced by tourism. Most youngsters feel modern when they copy, follow or imitate the styles of tourists (mostly western) which is also called ‘the demonstration effect’ in tourism. The popularity of the multicolored shaggy hair, hair raise, hip-hop outfits, bra-less transparent tops, colour tattoos, piercing in various parts of the body are some of the noticeable demonstration effects in these communities.
There is a significant influence of tourists on the lives of the waifs and stray children of the streets. Destitute children stroll around until they find kind tourists after which they swarm around the tourists begging for money, chocolate or sometimes ask them to take them to restaurants for dining. The children (and sometime seniors too) often dress in tattered clothes and prey upon the sympathies of the tourist who give them something and eventually turn them into professional beggars. Begging has become the best modus operandi for street children for easy living in spite of clearly written instructions given to visitors to not to give anything.
Traditions, Values and Norms
Each unit of society has a set of traditions, value systems, beliefs, ideas, attitudes, perceptions and habits. The growth of tourism may produce both problems and opportunities at a vast scale for societies and its main impact might be on the economy, culture and environment.
Grand celebrations targeting the English New Year and Christmas is probably the best street carnival in Pokhara, indicating western influence. A perceptible void of festivity during the Nepali New Year and Dashain-Tihar signifies the westernization of tourism in Phewa Lake catchments. Regardless of this, respondents added that tourism has inculcated a broader outlook through knowledge and awareness that are not only desirable but also necessary to improve the quality of life of people in particular, and the society in general.
Art, Craft Curios and Music
Some artistic creations and expressions like painting, music, dance, architecture and other areas in the arts hold appeal for tourists.
Tourism has a very supportive role in promoting ethnic and indigenous music, dance and songs in Pokhara. Respondents have noticed a sizable increase in Rodhi culture, Dohari, Ghantu, Sorathi, Chhyandu and Jhyaure in the Lakeside area due to tourism.
Nature-based tourism in the spectacular milieu of our cultural mosaic is the core competence of the Nepali tourism industry. But nature and culture both are vulnerable and cannot remain in isolation from tourism. The example of Pokhara’s westernization shows that tourist cultures always dominate the host culture and in many cases, hosts are the losers despite the financial leverage they get. Coming close to Social Darwinists and Neo-Marxists, analysis has proved that tourism is a strong agent of socio-cultural diffusion, infusion, acculturation and assimilation with an anthology of a complex synthesis of various interconnected socio-cultural, environmental and economic influences, though although it primarily turns up as an economic enterprise.
Further, socio-cultural influences and implications are not as apparent as economic impacts are. Such impacts are indirect, qualitative and hard to identify. They depend on value orientation and are also ambiguous. Thus, we can conclude that the impact and implications of tourism on the host society are latent, slow, but penetrating and lasting; and the impact individually appears to be insignificant, but together they vibrate and weaken the socio-cultural system.
It is revealed that tourism, in many cases, appears as an exploitative envoy rather than an economic panacea till the destination remains a ‘pleasure periphery’ of the developed world and the traveler becomes a tourist, not a social activist. Therefore, the paradise valley of Pokhara has to focus on value tourists and not on volume of tourists to retain its charm and authenticity. A proposition which might be appropriate for tourism development in a developing destination like Pokhara is ‘Community Based Responsible Tourism’ (CBRT) which emphasizes on having a balance between tourism growth, ecological conservation, economic prosperity, socio-cultural authenticity and sustainability.
(The writer is a PhD research fellow in Tourism at TU / Principal at Mount Annapurna Higher Sec School, Pokhara. He can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org)