Kochi, Mar 23 (UNI) A community-oriented tourism initiative, which included deployment of former poachers as guides, has helped the Kerala Forest Department to conserve the Periyar Tiger Reserve, Deputy Director of the Reserve Padma Mohanty today said.
Speaking at the 'Second International Conference on Responsible Tourism in Destinations' here, Ms Mohanty said the community-based approach had helped the forest department to turn threats into opportunities.
Describing tourism as ''the most wonderful tool to conserve bio-diversity'', Ms Mohanty said the Periyar Tiger Reserve had received 5,50,000 visitors last year.
In collaboration with the Kerala Tourism Department, the Periyar Tiger Reserve had launched a number of products, which sensitised the tourists about conservation efforts in the reserve, spread over a core area of 881 sqkm and a buffer zone of 40 sqkm.
While 21 former poachers from Tamil Nadu were roped in to act as guides on the 'tiger trail' a few years ago, three new nature walks -- 'Clouds Walk', 'Green Walk' and 'Windy Walk' - had been launched this year with the help of the local people.
Bullock cart rides, bamboo boat rafting, jungle patrols, a jungle inn and a tribal heritage museum were among the other activities which provided both recreation and information to the visitors, she added.
All these had helped the reserve to maximise its budget of Rs 200 lakh and earn a revenue of Rs 273 lakh this year, Ms Mohanty added.
''In a unique model, the income generated by the activities is given to the community, which then yields ten per cent of it as revenue to the government,'' she added.
Sharing the experiences of the CGH Earth Group of Hotels, its Managing Director Jose Dominic said he saw no contradiction between business, profits and responsibility when it came to tourist products.
All the ten resorts of the group in different parts of the Kerala and India were built using local materials and as per local styles and involved the local communities to the maximum.
''For us, the order of priorities has been conservation of land, then community and finally the tourists. We aften found that if we said no to ususal tourist amenities such as hot water or air conditioning, the more tourists came back to us for the authentic experience that we provided them,'' she added.
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