State govt to douse forest fire setback with ecotourism

 
06 March 2017

published by http://bangaloremirror.indiatimes.com


India   Faced with forest fires and drought, the tourism department has taken the challenges head-on to ensure that tourism surges on unabated despite the natural challenges hurled its way.

Beckoning tourists from around the world, the tourism department had declared 2017 as 'Year of the Wild'. It had pinned its hopes on eco-tourism.

However, incidents of large-scale forest fires and unprecedented drought have forced the department to rebrand it to instead offer experience in 'Wild Side of Life' by focussing on adventure sports against the backdrop of world famous destinations. The department hopes that these activities will help overcome obstacles in promoting tourism, besides generating employment opportunities for people in drought-stricken parts of the state.

With the summer holidays round the corner promising steady inflow of tourists to Karnataka, the tourism department has made elaborate plans to promote beach tourism and UNESCO world heritage sites across North Karnataka region.

The first-ever World Surfing League, at Sasihitlu beach near Mangaluru in the month of April-May, would not only witness congregation of surfers from different parts of the world, but would also attract tourists who otherwise wish to visit the beaches of Goa.

A variety of water sport activities planned by the agencies affiliated to the department and recognised tourist operators is set to enthral the tourists.

To promote beach tourism, the state government has already made elaborate plans. "We have already spent close to Rs 92 crore on as many as nine beaches that have tourism potential, creating basic infrastructure like roads, restroom facilities for tourists, besides buying lifesaving equipment. The event (World Surfing League), as it is happening for the first time, will create enough interest in Karnataka beaches among the tourists. Just to witness the surfing activities, there will be thousands of spectators," tourism minister Priyank Kharge told Bangalore Mirror.

Despite rising mercury levels and lack of availability of potable water across North Karnataka, tourist destinations in the area are expected to play a major role in attracting enough tourists.

"Just because of drought, we should no let go off the opportunity. In fact, tourism would help generate lot of employment in the region and locals can earn their livelihood by hosting tourists. Promoting these destinations, we will be holding World Rock-climbing Festival towards the end of April at Badami and Pattadakal in Bagalkot district. World's top 50 climbers would take part in the festival, besides 100 amateurs, too, participating in the event," Kharge said.

The climbing activities in Badami, along with bouldering exercises in Hampi, will unfold different opportunities for the tourists. "Adventure sports are largely regarded as 'wild side of the life'. 'Year of the Wild' is not just all about visiting forests but also experiencing these adventure activities," the minister opined.

The incidents of fire and drought had triggered panic among officials of the tourism and forest departments over the safety of tourists who will be visiting these forests. However, contrary to these fears, the eco-tourism destinations including Bandipur, Nagarahole have been witnessing full bookings till date.

"Fire and drought incidents did spread panic among us, initially. It is unfortunate, and it should not have happened. But these incidents have been reported from deep
inside the forests and we hardly use even two per cent of our protected areas for tourism. Hence, the tourism activities will not suffer much. When the fire was at its peak, the safari was halted temporarily, and now they have resumed it. If the forest department raises concerns over the safety of tourists in the future due to fire incidents, we will stop trekking and safari activities temporarily," Kharge said.

The tourism department has also offered to set up a contingency fund as part of its CSR (corporate social responsibility) to bear treatment costs of staffers who suffer injuries or die in the line of duty. The department has already paid Rs two lakh as compensation to the martyred forest guard Murigeppa, according to the minister.