Protected Areas and Sustainable Tourism in the Himalayas. The relief of poverty is a top priority for the governments of Tibet, Nepal and Bhutan. In these areas of the Himalayas, where tourism is a growing sector of the economy, a balance is being sought between the need to encourage visitors, to protect the environment, and to ensure that development is in the interests of local people. Regional planners seek to develop and manage Protected Areas (PAs) so that they become drivers for sustainable development that balance the needs of nature conservation and the economy, ensuring that economic pressures do not destroy what is valuable and irreplaceable: an area of outstanding natural beauty, where the traditional culture works in harmony with the environment.
Adopting sustainable values
The Mount Everest trekking is the renown adventure sports company operating within protected areas of the Himalayas, it is vital that we adopt these values and recognize that this wild country that gives us so much pleasure is also a home to many people who rely on it for their livelihoods. Integrating the needs of tourists with a sustainable philosophy that naturally puts limits on development will ensure that tourism continues while also benefiting the people and the local and national economies. Tourism is one of the best ways to drive regional development in rural and wilderness areas. Sustainability is always a challenge, and the results of an unsustainable, short-term view of tourist development can be seen all around the world, where once beautiful coastlines have become only signposts to remembrance, mere echoes of what first brought in the tourists. PA designation is only a first step in avoiding this fate.
Protected Areas and Sustainable Tourism in the Himalayas. The World Commission on Protected Areas (WCPA) has 7 classifications of PAs, ranging from Strict Nature Reserves, where visitors are strictly controlled, to areas where habitats and ecosystems are protected alongside low-level, traditional use of local natural resources, and where both are mutually beneficial. These are defined as spaces that are ‘dedicated and managed through the legal and other effective means to achieve the long term conservation of nature with associated ecosystems, services and cultural values.’ They are recognized by governments, the United Nations and other international bodies as the global standard for defining wilderness and semi-wilderness areas that need to be conserved.
Privileges, responsibilities and precautions
Protected Areas are of course the bread and butter of any adventure tourism company. Being able to explore these beautiful parts of the world is a privilege that carries great responsibility. Alongside the need to accommodate more visitors in greater comfort to provide transport and resources for the various adventure sports, comes the need to limit development that naturally limits the numbers of visitors. No one should be in this business if they don’t recognise that fact. For the tourist, it also means that, while you might stay overnight in a deluxe hotel, any true wilderness experience brings with it an experience of a more basic way of life along the way—of trekking for miles in all weathers, camping out, and encountering the dangers of being far from civilisation. Any traveller to the Himalayas, particularly when exploring the wilder and more isolated valleys and mountains, should come equipped with the proper health and travel insurance. Even if exploring only the foothills of the Himalayas, an accident or illness could mean evacuation by helicopter to the nearest medical facility.
All this has an impact on the environment. Although the PA philosophy is about low-impact development and creating benefits for all—visitors and indigenous people—in practice, conflicts sometimes arise between the interests of developers and conservationists. People living in protected areas can often be ignored by both. Local communities are sometimes reluctant to have part of their region designated as a PA because they are afraid of imposed restrictions in land use that will reduce their incomes. There is also the real fear that the setting up of a new PA can mean the displacement of indigenous people. This has been a common story in Nepal, in which 20% of its land has PA status. The temptation in countries around the world when given PA status has been to put a lot of money into regional development to attract tourism, neglecting the conservation part of the plan and lifting access bans in favour of building new infrastructure to attract visitors. The forced relocation of people has often been a part of this.
Himalayan Smile Treks deplores this neglect of indigenous people in the name of conservation. Developing tourism in Protected Areas must be done responsibly without putting national economic growth before the people’s welfare. As a responsible trek organiser, we follow a rigid set of rules for looking after the country through which we pass, leaving camp sites clean and cooking on kerosene rather than making wood fires, and we eat local produce. When it comes to using local guides and porters, we understand how much they rely on the income from tourism and allocate a percentage of the profit from each trip to their welfare, as well as encouraging trekkers to donate equipment and clothes at the end of their trip, which is then given to the porters. 10% of our annual profit is spent on local social activities, and we invest in reforestation and educational programs.
Protected Areas and Sustainable Tourism in the Himalayas. Respect for local people, their customs and livelihoods are essential parts of any conservation program or tourist operation. This is a delicate balancing act. Any tourist development, even the wider use of traditional travel routes by trekkers, brings changes to the people living nearby. It’s a familiar formula: visitors bring in money and raise the standard of living of indigenous people; if they then decide to improve their housing, roads and infrastructure, visitors can view this as a sad loss of what was traditional and picturesque, which prompted them to visit in the first place. This is not the same as putting up a massive tourist hotel next to a secluded beach. It’s progress on the human scale, which is a good thing. We can’t freeze the world in a moment of time, nor should we want to. What we can do is ensure that no harmful change is imposed on local people from outside, that their way of life is valued as we value ours, cherishing its traditions but giving it room to grow, while living in harmony with the environment.