Responsible Tourism and Sustainability: The Case of
Kumarakom in Kerala, India
Dr Angelique Chettiparamb, Senior Lecturer, School of Real Estate and Planning,
University of Reading, Reading, RG6 6UD.
Dr Jithendran Kokkranikal, Senior Lecturer, Department of Marketing, Events and
Tourism; Business School; University of Greenwich; London, SE10 9LS
This paper discusses the notion of ‘responsible tourism’ and its current use within the
tourism literature. We argue that the concept as used currently means everything
and therefore adds nothing to the conceptual terrain of tourism trends and
nomenclatures. We then introduce our own understanding of the concept arguing
that while responsible tourism is linked to sustainability initiatives such as alternative
tourism, ecotourism, ethical tourism, green tourism, soft tourism, pro-poor tourism,
geo tourism, integrated tourism, community-based tourism, etc it also demarcates an
analytical realm of its own. We suggest that the practical use of the term in areas
where it has been adopted (such as South Africa and Kerala for instance) suggests a
rather restricted use. We identified this realm as the tourism sector specific
manifestation of the CSR agenda.
Following Flyvberg’s (2006) call for exemplars and paradigmatic case studies to
advance knowledge in a particular domain, the responsible tourism initiative in
Kumarakon, Kerala is presented. Discussion of the case study traces the particular
governance context of Kerala and the position of tourism in the state economy. The
responsible tourism initiatives at state level and local level are then described
highlighting the ‘how’ of the implementation and the impact that it has produced.
Generic, non-prescriptive principles that could be said to be necessary in some form
for the successful translation of responsible tourism principles to practices are then
identified. Such an approach is contrasted with one that places faith in the voluntary
adoption of ‘responsible’ practices by the private sector on its own. It is argued that
responsible tourism can make a contribution to practice provided that the conceptual
terrain is delineated against other forms of tourism and if research within the terrain
can unpack the particular forms of challenges that are thrown up by the delineation
Key words: responsible tourism, pro-poor tourism, corporate social responsibility,
sustainable tourism, Kerala, Kumarakom.
The concept of responsible tourism has been present in the tourism literature since
the early eighties (Smith, 1990; Cooper and Ozdil, 1992). Seminal works by deKadt
(1980) and Krippendorf (1987), for instance, raised concerns over the impacts of
tourism on the environment and destination communities. In response to increasing
instances of social and environmental problems of tourism, a range of sustainability
initiatives such as alternative tourism, ecotourism, ethical tourism, green tourism, soft
tourism, pro-poor tourism, geo tourism, integrated tourism, community-based
tourism, etc. emerged in the tourism literature. Responsible tourism is closely linked
to these concepts. These sustainability-oriented alternatives to mass tourism seek to
promote environmental conservation, cultural integrity, socioeconomic development
and the welfare of communities, especially the disadvantaged sections, living in
tourism destinations (TIES, 1990; Scheyvens and Momsen, 2008; Oliver and
Jenkins, 2003; Blackstock, 2005; Cawley and Gilmour, 2008; Kontogeorgopoulos,
2009; Weeden, 2002; Hall, 2008). Even though such initiatives help promote the
principles of sustainable tourism (Sharpley, 2000), a range of political, economical
and commercial challenges such as differing priorities of the national/regional
economy, the structure and incentives of the public administration system, over-
commercialisation, the structure of the international tourism system to name but a
few, make implementation difficult in practice (Tosun 2001). This paper examines a
fairly successful case study of planning and implementation of ‘responsible tourism’
in the village of Kumarakom in Kerala, India. Though the case study itself is
interesting for the practice of sustainable/responsible tourism, it also presents an
opportunity to critically evaluate the conceptual and practical contribution that the
concept of ‘responsible tourism’ might make in tourism studies.
The next section discusses the notion of ‘responsible tourism’ and its current use
within the tourism literature. We show that the concept as used currently means
everything and therefore adds nothing to the conceptual terrain of tourism trends and
nomenclatures. We conclude this section with our own understanding of the concept.
In the next section we elaborate upon this arguing that our understanding while
remaining broad based identifies distinctive areas of concern that clarifies the
conceptual focus and thus the contribution made to tourism studies. The next section
discusses the methodology which in turn is followed by a discussion of the case
study itself. The contribution of the concept of ‘responsible tourism’ as we have
defined it is then discussed. Finally, the policy contributions of the case study is
presented. The conclusions summarise the main arguments presented in the paper.
The Concept – ‘responsible tourism’
The sustainability orientation of responsible tourism is stressed by Smith (1990:480),
who defined responsible tourism as “a form of tourism which respect the host’s
natural, built and cultural environments and the interest of all parties concerned”.
Besides the absence of a distinction between responsible tourism and sustainable
tourism that this view prompts, the controversies surrounding ‘sustainable tourism’
also gets imported into the debates of responsible tourism. For instance, the
sustainability debate is often criticized for its lack of conceptual clarity (Higgins-
Desbiolles, 2010); has been characterised as a flawed and inadequate concept that
is based on misconceptions on the role of tourism demand, the nature of tourism
resources, the imperative of inter and intra-generational equity, socio-cultural
integrity, measurement and forms of sustainable development (Liu, 2003); and for
offering micro solutions to what is essentially a macro problem of unsustainable
growth in tourism (Wheeler, 1991). Wheeler (1991) is critical about the growing
number of seemingly environment-friendly tourism initiatives and argues that
responsible tourism cannot be a solution for the problems of tourism, as long as the
volume of global tourism is on the increase. Any increase in tourism volume will
necessarily have a corresponding increase in negative impacts. Therefore
responsible development of tourism will require reducing the scale and volume of
tourism. Wheeler (1991:96) views responsible tourism as “a pleasant, agreeable, but
dangerously superficial, ephemeral and inadequate escape route for the educated
middle classes unable, or unwilling, to appreciate or accept their/our own destructive
contribution to the international tourism maelstrom.”
Many authors argue that reform of and more carefully planned and managed mass
tourism could be a realistic way of dealing with the problems of mass tourism
(Cohen, 1987; Butler, 1990; Wheeler, 1994). Sustainable forms of tourism thus
generally propose small scale destinations and tourism activities. The shrinking of
scale could however threaten tourism’s economic and environmental viability as
lower numbers would create negligible financial returns. Further, an increase in
smaller destinations could invite environmental harm to more locations if the demand
for tourism locations remains high (Butler, 1990; Cater, 1993; Sharpley, 2009). The
new interest in environment and sustainability in general could also threaten
vulnerable and fragile locations as they become new products of sustainable tourism
(e.g. eco tourism) thus making them vulnerable to the perils of tourism development,
and businesses (MacLellan, 1997; Wight, 1993). However, though consensus on its
efficacy is still elusive, the sustainability debate has helped draw attention to the
need for a balance between commercial and environmental interests in tourism, and
has resulted in many good practices of energy-saving and recycling in the tourism
industry (Wall, 1997).
Responsible tourism has similarities with pro-poor tourism (PPT) too. This is another
form of value oriented tourism that emerged in the late 1990s. It has the aim of
linking tourism and poverty alleviation by focusing on the interests of the poor in
tourism destinations (Ashley et. al. 2001; Hall, 2008). PPT focuses on the re-
distributive dimensions of sustainable tourism trying to ensure that tourism yields
more net benefits to the poor (Scheyvens and Momsen, 2008). PPT too however,
has been criticised for its theoretical impreciseness, failure to consider the
importance of markets and the need for commercial viability, and for ignoring the
existing PPT features and potential of mass tourism (Harrison, 2008).
The definition for responsible tourism used by the South African Department of
Environmental Affairs and Tourism (DEAT), considers responsible tourism as ‘tourism
that promotes responsibility to the environment through its sustainable use,
responsibility to involve local communities in the tourism industry; responsibility for
the safety and security of visitors and responsible government, employees,
employers, unions and local communities’ (DEAT, 1996, 4 cited in Merwe and Wocke,
2007, 1). There is an attempt here to promote the concept as signifying everything
without really laying down precise parameters for distinguishing the added
contribution that this new term might bring to the already crowded conceptual terrain
of different forms of tourism. Goodwin (2011:31) from the International Centre for
Responsible Tourism exemplifies this fuzziness when he argues that ‘responsible
tourism is about everyone involved taking responsibility for making tourism more
sustainable’. The exhortation to everyone taking responsibility for everything only
serves to weaken the concept as it does not really add any conceptual clarity to
A drift towards tourism businesses is evident in George and Frey’s (2010, 12)
description of responsible tourism as ‘managing the business in a way that benefits
its local community, natural and business environment and itself’ (added emphasis).
We shall argue that ‘responsible tourism’ must be seen as a tourism sector specific
manifestation of the wider CSR agenda in the business world.
The CSR agenda and ‘responsible tourism’
CSR practices grew as a response to pressures arising from changing ethical values
of consumers and increasing demands from multiple stakeholders for businesses to
be more ethical (McWilliams and Siegel, 2001). CSR relates to a company’s
obligation to be accountable to all of its stakeholders in its operations and activities
with the aim of facilitating sustainable development (Dodds and Joppe, 2005). CSR
practices can then, in principle, help businesses introduce environmentally friendly
operational practices that help them reduce cost, ensure better employee satisfaction
and gain consumer support as an ethical business (Malovics, et. al. 2008). A raft of
initiatives fall within their scope as for instance ethical sourcing, waste reduction and
non-exploitative waste disposal, equitable employment, honest advertisement, fair
pricing, community partnerships, responsible resource management, etc.
Businesses however are ultimately driven by profit motives (Welford, 1997). Their
investment decisions are typically dictated by profit, not by altruism, and therefore
any trade-off at the expense of commercial viability generally requires either targeted
public policies or a consumer demand that favour particular businesses practices
(Henderson, 2007). Thus CSR practices are normally adopted for its modified, but
still profit oriented business value that result from either requirements for legal/policy
compliance or public relations and estimations of long term commercial value
(Pearce and Doh, 2005; Miller and Twining-Ward, 2005; Inoue and Lee, 2010). For
example, Business in the Community (BITC), a business-led coalition in the United
Kingdom set up to promote corporate social responsibility, lists the benefits of CSR
as: reputation management, risk management, employee satisfaction, innovation and
learning, access to capital, and financial performance (BITC, 2003).
As with other business sectors, tourism businesses have also embraced CSR
practices declaring their environmental and social commitment (Bohdanowicz, 2007).
Its advocates contend that CSR initiatives can help enhance a tourist destination’s
competitiveness and image (Williams, et. al. 2007; Bohdanowicz, 2005). However, as
mentioned earlier, the ability of the private sector in tourism to direct and coordinate
their actions towards wider goals of sustainability, business ethics, pro-poor
development etc, will need to be steered. As an industry that is fragmented and
made up of large numbers of small and medium enterprises, with a range of potential
effects that are in the main, wide ranging and diverse, corporate social responsibility
within the tourism sector takes on sector specific nuances with specific challenges
and opportunities. We suggest that responsible tourism initiatives can be seen to be
the policies and practices that embody an extension of the CSR agenda in tourism.
As such then, it relates to encouraging, regulating and steering private actors in
tourism to adopt a wider broad based CSR agenda through legal intervention, public
policy, voluntary action or social mobilisation. The central role of tourism businesses
in responsible tourism policies is demonstrated by the various Declarations in
responsible tourism such as the Cape Town Declaration (2002), the Kerala
Declaration (2008), the Alberta Declaration (2011), etc and the experience of South
Africa in introducing the South African National Responsible Tourism Guidelines and
that of Kerala in introducing the Responsible Tourism initiative through local
governments. In all of the above, facilitating ‘responsible’ behaviour of the private
sector through CSR related practices targeting wider socio-economic- cultural issues
is the focus.
The concept of responsible tourism then overlaps significantly with related concepts
of sustainable tourism, ethical tourism, pro-poor tourism and integrated tourism.
Sustainable tourism is defined by Middleton, (1998, ix, cited in George and Frey,
2010, 13) as ‘achieving a particular combination of numbers and types of visitors, the
cumulative effect of whose activities at a given destination together with the actions
of the servicing businesses, can continue into the foreseeable future, without
damaging the quality of the environment on which the activities are based’. While
ethical tourism can be thought of as emphasising the ethical dimension of
sustainable tourism and pro-poor tourism can be thought of as emphasising the re-
distributive dimensions of sustainable tourism, the concept of integrated tourism
brings inter-sectoral linkages into the equation and emphasises broad cross–linkages
in tourism that allows it to become sustainable. Responsible tourism, as we have
defined it, can then be seen as distinct from all of the above in its focus on the role of
private sector and the CSR agenda in achieving all of the above more normative
Responsible tourism has now been officially adopted by many important tourism
destinations and tourism businesses. The concept has also been actively promoted
by academic centres of study such as the International Centre for Responsible
Tourism1; and International Conferences2. Though perhaps not yet a ‘movement’,
responsible tourism is increasingly being pursued by states and city governments as
a means to engage with the private sector. The international appeal of the concept
can be partly explained by the centrality of the private sector in managing impacts of
tourism and the increased wider interest in CSR activities in general. Thus, besides
offering a normative appeal, ‘responsible tourism’ also offers a pragmatic appeal in
managing tourism for after all, the private sector is the major provider of tourism
experiences and services in most destinations worldwide and is a fast growing
presence in the tourism sector.
Studies in responsible tourism can be expected to both draw upon and contribute to
the wider CSR literature. However actual case study based accounts of experiences
in the implementation of responsible tourism have only just started appearing in the
academic tourism literature. Some early reports on South Africa have now emerged
(George and Frey 2010; Merwe and Wocke 2007). This paper is an early case study
based contribution to this nascent and emerging field of study. The methodology
used to document this case is explained below.
A case study based research approach is adopted. As stated by Yin (1981) one of the
most distinguishing characteristics of case study research is the fact that phenomena
are studied in their real-life context. The research strategy therefore is particularly apt
for studies of phenomena that can only be understood and explained through its
context – the particular actors, institutions, imageries and the happenings therein -
because of which, and through which, particular practices and phenomena emerge. It
has been argued that such context based learning is essential for professionals to
make their transition from scientific rule- based knowledge dominated by analytical
rationality typical of ‘beginners to ‘virtuoso experts’ capable of understanding and
appreciating the non-rule based complexities involved in practice (Flyvberg, 2006).
This then is also a call for the study of exemplars in advancing knowledge, for as
Flyvberg citing Kuhn, (1987) remarks:
2 such as the five ‘International Conferences on Responsible Tourism in Destinations’ held at
Cape Town, South Africa; Cochin, Kerala, India; Belmopan, Belize, Central America; Muscat,
Oman; and Alberta, Canada.
a discipline without a large number of thoroughly executed case studies is a discipline without
systematic production of exemplars, and that a discipline without exemplars is an ineffective one.
(Flyvberg, 2006, p.242).
Flyvberg further defines a ‘paradigmatic case study’ (p.232). This is a case that aims
‘to develop a metaphor or establish a school for the domain that the case concerns’
(Flyvberg, 2006, 229). Paradigmatic cases thus highlight particular features of the
domain of enquiry and as such need not be typical or even remarkable.
It is not possible consistently, or even frequently, to determine in advance whether a
given case Geertz’s (1973) cockfights in Bali, for instance—is paradigmatic. Besides the
strategic choice of case, the execution of the case study will certainly play a role, as will
the reactions to the study by the research community, the group studied, and possibly, a
broader public. The value of the case study will depend on the validity claims that
researchers can place on their study and the status these claims obtain in dialogue with
other validity claims in the discourse to which the study is a contribution (Flyvberg, 2006,
There are thus few guidelines for the selection of such cases, and the literature
suggests a retrospective justification more or less along the lines of the saying ‘the
proof of the pudding is in the eating’.
The case study chosen here can be claimed to be atypical in the sense that it is
situated in the state of Kerala in India, which has come to be known for relatively high
(amongst developing regions) levels of social development, social movements and
active citizenship (Parayil, 2000, Heller, 1996, Heller, et al, 2007). The state has also
instituted far reaching institutional changes that allow for direct citizen participation in
bottom-up planning, against which local budget allocation takes place (Chettiparamb,
2005, 2006). Innovative programmes such as the Kudumbashree in poverty
alleviation have also been reported (Williams et al, 2010). The responsible tourism
initiative is a relatively new venture of the Government of Kerala.
The atypical nature of the case poses an interesting context for this paper. If
responsible tourism is to be re-conceptualised and understood as an extension of the
CSR agenda as we have suggested, then it is worthwhile to investigate the operation
of the scope of this conceptualisation to encapsulate, while clarifying current
understandings of the term ‘responsible tourism’. A detailed study of the concept of
responsible tourism in Kerala then has value for it has the potential to evolve into a
‘paradigmatic case study’ in that it could provide the empirical arguments that allow
for pinning down the rather nebulous concept of ‘responsible tourism’ to a CSR
agenda in tourism.
In line with the purposes of case study research in general (Yin, 1981), the
investigation of the case study in this paper is exploratory and phenomenological. It
aims to elicit a thick description of the ‘how’ in the implementation of responsible
tourism in Kumarakom. The implementation of responsible tourism in Kumarakom is
relatively well known and therefore substantial secondary information was available.
Given the exploratory nature of the study, research methods were confined in the first
instance to an analysis of secondary data. Besides serving as a valid research
method in itself, as Cowton (1998) suggests, analysis of secondary data can also be
a useful initial stage that leads on to the initiation of primary research. Though further
primary research will undoubtedly help explore and enhance the conclusions
suggested in this paper, we believe that the arguments we make at this stage are
nevertheless of significance to tourism and planning studies.
Cowton (1998, 429) suggests a number of practical and logistical advantages for
research based on secondary sources. However and more importantly (for the
purpose of this paper) he suggests that due to the multiplicity of perspectives through
which secondary data may have been collected, the descriptive validity of the case
study can be often be better established than in (sometimes biased) narrative
reporting from primary research structured around particular research questions.
However, care is also needed in working with secondary sources for -
secondary data are likely to map only approximately onto the researcher's ideal research
questions, hypotheses or concepts, and the researcher needs both to bear in mind the
extent of that approximation and to make readers aware of it when the results are written
up for publication (Cowton, 1998, 429).
Sourcing extensively across different secondary sources can then help as the
multiplicity of narratives can provide a source for triangulation and multiple
interpretations. Sources for secondary data used in this paper include academic
publications, government publications (state and local levels), newspaper reports,
and publications and websites of activist groups such as EQUATIONS and TOURISM
WATCH engaged in lobbying against environmental and social issues in tourism.
Descriptive background information on the context was first sought. These were
categorised into information on the location (state and local); information on general
governance modes and information on tourism policy. The historical and
geographical policy context of the case study from the first phase informed the
search and analysis of the second phase which focused on the case study itself: the
formulation, implementation and impacts of responsible tourism initiatives in
In the following sections, we present the governance context of the state of Kerala
followed by a brief overview of the tourism sector. In the second section, we describe
the implementation of responsible tourism in Kumarakom in Kerala. The third section
advances our arguments and we conclude in the fourth and final section.
The governance context of Kerala
Kerala is located on the Southern-most tip of India on the East coast of the Arabian
Sea. The population is around 33.4 million (provisional figures, 2011 census). The
state has attracted the interest of development scholars mainly because it has been
successful in maintaining high levels of literacy, health and gender parity alongside
relatively high quality of life in spite of low economic development3. These have been
argued to be an outcome of both historical factors and public intervention in the form
of state policies through redistributive programmes such as land reforms, a public
distribution system for food, and various welfare programmes for the socially and
economically marginalised (Parayil, 2000). Social reforms led by important social
leaders, the communist movement and science based people’s movements that were
active in the late 19th and most of 20th century also served to instil significant levels of
civic and political activism amongst the population (Franke and Chasin, 1997).
In terms of governance, a broad based bottom-up planning initiative called the
People’s Planning Campaign which involves participatory budgeting was launched in
1996 and has been firmly institutionalised since (Chettiparamb, 2005, 2006, Isaac
and Franke, 2000). Through the process of bottom-up planning, communities are
empowered to plan local projects, prioritise the projects against a budget, and
partake in implementation and monitoring of the same. The process is an annual
process and presently around 25% of plan funds of the state budget (devolved to
local governments in Kerala) are planned through such a process. The programme
has been by and large successful, on a number of counts, particularly in rural areas.
Innovative schemes have been designed and implemented and localities have had
the freedom to prioritise diverse kinds of economic, social and infrastructure schemes
3 See George 1997 and Tharamanaglam, 1997 for alternate views
that suit the specificities of their place (Kerala State Planning Board, 2011, Isaac and
Also important for this paper is the Kudumbashree programme of Kerala. This is a
state sponsored poverty alleviation programme with broader goals of women’s
empowerment (realised through women’s collectives) and local economic
development (realised through close integration with the local government who are
themselves empowered as stated previously). The programme has a multi-
dimensional view of poverty fore-fronting self help as a core strategy. The mission
‘[t]o eradicate absolute poverty in ten years through concerted
community action under the leadership of local governments, by
facilitating organization of the poor for combining self-help with
demand-led convergence of available services and resources to
tackle the multiple dimensions and manifestations of poverty,
holistically’ (Kudumbashree, n.d, a, added emphasis).
The structure that delivers these objectives is closely linked to the local government
system (see figure 1). Overall coordination is done by the State Poverty Eradication
Mission through its District offices. The Neighbourhood groups are made up of 10-20
women members from economically backward families constituted on a spatial basis.
These groups are federated to Area Development Societies at ward level and
Community Development Societies at local government level. The spatial
organisation allows for dove tailing of policy to specific needs of the poor determined
on a spatial basis. Through bottom-up planning, these needs become the impetus for
change and multi-faceted new programme development.
Figure1: Organisational structure of the Kudumbashree Programme.
Projects taken up by the Kudumbashree units involve local economic development
through micro-enterprises (both production and service); thrift and credit operations
through micro-finance; women’s empowerment initiatives through capacity building
and debate; and general social development through initiatives in housing, children’s
education, support for cultural activities and so on (Chettiparamb, 2011). The
programme has won many awards and is generally known as an ‘exemplar’ within
poverty alleviation policy circles in India (Oommen, 2008, Kudumbashree, n.d,b).
While the programme has undeniably been quite successful in poverty alleviation and
women’s empowerment, success in micro-enterprises has been rather patchy
(Oommen, 2008; Williams, et al 2010). While there are significant numbers of
successful stories, stories of business failures and struggles are also abundant.
Though multiple forms of support are provided to Kudumbashree units, marketing of
produce and products remain a problem (Oommen, 2008; Pat, 2005).
Tourism sector in Kerala
Kerala is known for its scenic beauty and is a popular tourist destination. It was listed
as the top 10 ‘paradises found’ in the millennium edition of the National Geographic
magazine (Sebastian and Rajagopalan, 2009). Though almost 50% of the state's
population was dependent on agriculture until the 1980s, this sector has since
declined with farming becoming increasingly unprofitable (George, 1997, Kerala
State Planning Board, 2011). Industrial activities in the state are also limited, due to a
multiplicity of factors, not least of which was the presence of a militant trade union
movement (Tharamangalam, 1997). In terms of natural and cultural assets, Kerala
however has a varied portfolio of attractions such as beaches, backwaters, hill
stations, festivals, ayurveda (the traditional Indian medical practice), wildlife,
traditional cuisines, classical and folk art and dance forms, unique artefacts and a
distinctive style of architecture (Kelly and Kokkranikal, 2010). Tourism was therefore
identified as a major economic development alternative. This recognition triggered a
series of tourism development and promotional activities in the late 1980s (Kerala
State Planning Board, 2011).
In the second half of the 1980s, a raft of initiatives to tap the tourism potential of the
state was introduced. Tourism was given an industry status in 1986, thus making the
sector eligible for all public sector incentives and concessions that were extended to
other industries. This was followed by the announcement of significant investment,
particularly in tourism infrastructure, and the announcement of a number of
performance incentives for the tourism industry. Some of the public sector
interventions taken during this time include the establishment of a new tourism
training institute, Kerala Institute of Tourism and Travel Studies (KITTS) in 1988;
formation of District Tourism Promotion Councils in all fourteen districts, to
decentralise tourism efforts and make it more spatially sensitive; a year-long
campaigning for tourism awareness in 1992 to increase public awareness of tourism
related issues; organisation of familiarisation tours for overseas travel trade and
media and the development of international airport at Kochi as a cooperative venture.
Strategically, these programmes, projects and interventions served to elevate and
proclaim tourism as a high profile sector for private investment.
The late nineties and early twenties saw Kerala significantly benefitting from private
sector investment in tourism. Public-private joint ventures with leading hotel chains in
the country were launched by the setting up of Tourist Resorts Kerala Limited (TRKL)
for the purpose. The Department of Tourism also publishes an annual calendar of
indigenous cultural festivals and have been organising the Grant Kerala Shopping
Festival (GKSF) annually since 2001. The state participated in major international
tourism trade fairs and has organised a trade fair of its own - the Kerala Travel Mart -
since 2000. This period also saw the identification and promotion of a specialised
niche market in health (ayurveda) tourism by supporting traditional practitioners of
ayurveda and health resorts through standardisation, education, training and
The decline of Kashmir as a major tourist destination (due to the India-Pakistan
conflict in the area) indirectly helped Kerala (Kokkranikal and Morrison, 2002). The
state took this opportunity to present itself as an attractive and viable alternate tourist
location thus attracting national government budgetary support. Kerala tourism is
now widely acclaimed as one of the successful marketing stories in Indian tourism
(Chakravarti, 2001). The state has won the national award for the ‘best performing
state in the tourism sector’ several times and has been hailed as ‘the undisputed
tourism hotspot of India' (Charkavarti, 2001). Tourism statistics from the mid-80s
onwards has consequently seen a quadrupling of arrivals.
With all the boosterism evident in tourism policy and promotion, Kerala inevitably has
also suffered from the down-side of tourism. Tourism destinations have suffered from
problems such as littering and pollution resulting in adverse environmental impacts;
social issues such as drug trafficking, commercial sex exploitation involving men,
women, and children have arisen (Kokkranikal and Morrison, 2002); displacement of
local inhabitants and competition for resources and infrastructure have surfaced; and
indigenous cultural attractions such as Kathakali (a form of dance drama), theyyam
(a religious festival celebrated in North Kerala temples), and other similar temple
festivals have been packaged as tourist products, leading to concerns of
commodification of traditional living practices. Resentment has thus grown amongst
the general public with increasing concerns about the pressure exerted by tourists,
on the sometimes already over-stretched infrastructure and resources in the state
(Kokkranikal, 1993). With the development of new destinations and consequent
increase in marketing activities, the number of tourists to the state is only likely to
The above pressures and public discontent has now induced the Government to
adopt the concept of ‘responsible tourism’ as a way forward. The implementation of
the concept in Kerala has however taken on a character and tone that is specific to
Kerala and its development history. In the next section, we detail how this particular
initiative in Kerala takes on a place based, community mediated dimension in
Kumarakom, in Kerala.
Responsible tourism in Kerala
A concerted effort to implement responsible tourism began with a state level
consultation on the subject organised by the Department of Tourism, Government of
Kerala, in association with the International Centre for Responsible Tourism and
EQUATIONS (a non-government activist organisation and ‘hard’ campaigner on
tourism related issues) organised at Thiruvananthapuram, the state capital, on the 2nd
and 3rd of February, 2007. Discussions were conducted in three sub-groups
consisting of 1) Local self governments and civil society organisations; 2) Tourism
industry and 3) State Government Departments and organisations. A series of
economic, socio-cultural and environmental issues were identified by each of these
sub-groups which were in turn captured in a workshop document that eventually led
to the preparation of a framework for the implementation of responsible tourism. A
‘State Level Responsible Tourism Committee (SLRTC) emerged from this consisting
of 40 members with representation from different groups of stakeholders.
In the first meeting of SLRTC it was decided that the responsible tourism initiative
should be piloted in four different types of destinations in Kerala, all chosen for their
importance as tourism destinations, but differing in tourist volumes and the ecological
sensitivity of the destinations. These were to be Kovalam (near saturated, coastal
destination), Kumarakom (ecological fragile backwaters destination), Wayanad
(dispersed settlement pattern and hill resort destination) and Thekkady (contained
settlement pattern and hill resort destination). Three state-level multi-stakeholder
Working Groups were then constituted for steering economic, environmental and
socio-cultural aspects of tourism management in these destinations. At local level,
multi-stakeholder Destination Level Responsible Tourism Committees (DLRTCs) and
local level implementation cells consisting of working groups that mirrored the state
level working groups were to be formed under the local government. The DLRTCs
were to have representatives from local self governments, tourism industry, NGOs,
civil society organizations, academia and media. Additionally, organizations and
individuals professing expertise in a range of subject areas of relevance to the
management of tourism were also to be members. While the state level committees
worked on preparation of guidelines for responsible tourism at destinations, local
committees were to work on the specificities of implementing the guidelines in
locations. Thus, the initiatives though supported by the state tourism department,
were to be formulated by local governments through destination level planning,
implementation and monitoring. Figure 2 below shows the proposed overall
organisational structure for the implementation of responsible tourism.
Figure: 2: Proposed organisational layout for the implementation of Responsible
Tourism in Kerala (adapted from http://www.keralatourism.org/rt-impactsocial.php
(accessed 22nd October, 2011)
It is worth noting here that the Kerala Declaration for responsible tourism was
working with a rather diffuse definition. For instance, the Kerala Declaration on
Responsible tourism co-signed by the Conference Convenor Dr Harold Goodwin and
the State Secretary for Tourism Affairs Dr Venu, pledges to ‘take forward the concept
of Responsible Tourism into practice, focusing on local economy, well being, local
culture and environment’ (Goodwin and Venu, 2008). Further the document declares
that ‘one of the purposes of responsible tourism is that the benefits of tourism are
equitably accessed and distributed’ (Goodwin and Venu, 2008).
A major impetus for the responsible tourism initiative came when links were
established to the Kudumbashree programme. As mentioned earlier, eradication of
poverty through facilitation and development of entrepreneurial skills amongst
women while contributing to local economic development through programme
‘convergence’ is a strong mandate of the Kudumbashree programme. The federated
Kudumbashree units are also, by and large, a politically and socially forceful
presence in most local government endeavours throughout the state. For the
Kudumbashree programme, the responsible tourism initiatives held the potential for
opening up markets for goods and services that in turn could be a spur for local
entrepreneurship development and thereby poverty alleviation. Marketing of produce
and services to various extents had always been an Achilles heel for the
Kudumbashree entrepreneurial units (Oommen, 2008, Pat, 2005). The responsible
tourism programme was therefore of great interest to them (Venu, 2008).
In the state level workshop conducted in February, 2007 (mentioned earlier), a series
of issues in engaging with responsible tourism practices were identified. From the
rather large list of issues local food procurement by tourism providers and local level
facilitation of the same, were taken up for detailed investigation. Kerala Institute of
Tourism and Travel Studies (KITTS) detailed the problems in this sector through a
survey of issues in local food procurement for hotels in the four destinations chosen.
From this study, it emerged that hoteliers though in principle willing to procure food
locally, had a number of concerns that would have to be addressed if local
procurement was to become a reality. These were:
•Produce requirements in practice were not steady throughout the year and supply
chains would have to cater to this variability. Sudden spurts in demand were not
uncommon and timeliness of supply would be needed.
•Acceptable prices needed to be negotiated. In some instance, local procurement
could be more expensive with prices lower outside the locality.
•Quality control of food produce was of prime importance.
•Local food producers often were very small entities and hoteliers could engage in
one to one transactions with each producer (Venu, 2008).
A strategy to address the above concerns was then needed. Detailing of such a
strategy, as well of initiation of other initiatives in line with the spirit of responsible
tourism, was left to the local governments at the destinations chosen. In the next
section we detail the initiatives taken up in one destination – Kumarakom. This
destination was chosen as it is widely acknowledged as ‘successful’ within Kerala.
Responsible Tourism in Kumarakom
Kumarakom is largely a rural society with an agrarian economy. It is located on the
banks of the Vembanad Lake in South Kerala and covers an area of 51.66 square
kilometers of which 24.13 square kilometres are part of the backwaters leaving just
27.54 kilometres for human habitation and farming (Shyamlal, 2008). Paddy fields
make up almost 12.5 square kilometers. The total population of the area is around
24,900 (Shyamlal, 2008) and the main occupation of the population before the
advent of tourism was agriculture, fisheries, daily wage labour and shell-mining from
the backwaters. The place is known for its backwaters, paddy fields, mangroves, bird
sanctuary and intrinsic inland water canals, all of which constitute a fragile
backwaters ecosystem. The vast Vembanad Lake forms an integral part of this
ecosystem and at Kumarakom this is capitalised as a significant tourist attraction.
Tourism became a significant economic sector in Kumarakom in the early 1990s after
one of India’s leading hotel chains – the Taj Goup – leased a heritage resort in 1989
from the Government of Kerala (Equations, 2007; Sebastian and Rajagopalan,
2008). This eventually led to a spontaneous (rather than planned) growth of tourism,
characterised by expensive hotels/resorts for high-spending tourists, significant
conversion of paddy fields to high value resort sites with consequent ecological
impacts, spiralling land prices, restricted access to the lake for the local population,
unwelcome socio-sexual intrusions by tourists and minimal local involvement in the
economic aspects of tourism (Sebastian and Rajagopalan, 2011).
The first initiative to address problems arising from tourism in the location came in
2002, when the Panchayat (rural local self –government in India) sought help from
EQUATIONS (a Bangalore based activist organisation campaigning on tourism
related issues), and other locally active civil organisations to formulate a ‘People’s
Charter and Draft Guidelines on Sustainable Tourism’. The Charter demanded the
preparation of a Master Plan for tourism development; proposed regulations for new
constructions and tourism related activities; protested against the enclavisation and
exploitation of common resources, demanded effective allocation of costs of tourism
to the industry itself; better distribution of the benefits from tourism and increased
participation of the local community. Debate and public discussions on the social
obligations of tourism industry and its corporate accountability were thus discernible
quite early. The Charter also demanded the creation of institutional forums such as
an expert committee to conceptualise, plan, implement and monitor tourism
development within the Panchayat (Kerala Tourism Watch, n.d, Padmanabhan and
Georgey, n.d). However, not much in terms of change on the ground resulted from
this (Padmanabhan and Georgey, n.d).
By 2004, the Grama Panchayat constituted an institutional forum called the
‘Functional Committee’ on tourism. The President (elected leader) and Secretary
(chief executive officer) of the Kumarakom Grama Panchayat were to be the
Chairperson and Secretary of the Committee. Other members were all elected
Panchayat members, people with knowledge and expertise in tourism, District Town
Planning Officer, environmentalists, economists, local NGOs and representatives
from the tourism industry. The committee was charged with the implementation of the
People’s Charter and the monitoring of tourism activities. Though initial discussions
on the various aspects were held, the committee was subsequently dissolved with
the dissolution of the then Panchayat (Kerala Tourism Watch, n.d).
In 2005, in an effort to regulate some of the unbridled tourism activity, the state
government declared the area as a ‘Special Tourism Zone’ (along the lines of special
economic zones) under the Kerala Tourism (Conservation and Preservation of Areas)
Act 2005 (Department of Tourism, Government of Kerala, 2005a). Though guidelines
for the conservation and preservation of Kumarakom were issued under this
Ordinance (Department of Tourism, Government of Kerala, 2005b), Sebastian and
Rajagopalan (2008) report that they were not yet implemented in 2007. However,
though the functional committees no longer existed, tourism related activities were
taken up by a civil forum. The civil forum was essentially a collective of civil society
movements, individuals and people’s groups (Kerala Tourism Watch, 2007). This
forum was active in campaigning (sometimes successfully) against issues such as
reclamation of land from backwaters for parking space; illegal sand mining and
environmental pollution. It demanded action on (again effectively) violation of building
rules; declaration of the bird sanctuary area as a ‘community conserve’; reservation
of 30% of jobs for the local population and closure of illegal massage parlours
(Kerala Tourism Watch, n.d.). Thus even though public awareness on tourism related
issues was strengthening in Kumarakom, the potential for institutionalised broad
based economic leveraging while safeguarding the ecological and social assets had
not yet been effectively realised before the responsible tourism initiative.
The lack of effective institutionalisation earlier meant that the responsible tourism
initiatives that were initiated by the Kerala State Government in December, 2007 did
not inspire much hope locally. As a first step therefore, the Panchayat, together with
officials from the state Government, organised a local meeting in order to explain the
programme, the schedule for implementation and introduce the key players in the
initiative (Michot, 2010). Following the survey by KITTS mentioned earlier, the
Destination Level Responsible Tourism Committee Cell (RT Cell) first worked on a
strategy for encouraging local procurement by resorts. Some of the key elements of
such a strategy involved
•Selected ranges of food produce would be targeted at first.
•Food production beyond tourism would also be targeted by including the local
population in order to ensure both spare production for hotels at all times and
enough demand for excess supply).
•Dedicated brokering units facilitated by the local government would be
established to address timeliness, quality control, fair price guarantees and
access to resources (finance, land and skills).
An agricultural calendar for the locality was then prepared. This calendar mapped out
the local demand from the resorts for specific produces at different times of the year
and 18 hotels and resorts were cajoled (through state and local influence) into
signing up to an agreement to purchase produces exclusively from the farmers of the
locality (Michon,2010; Interview 2011).
The KITTS study had also identified groups of people in the locality that were
economically struggling the most. Kudumbashree units of 5 members were then
constituted from these groups for the cultivation of the food produces chosen. 180
such groups involving 900 women were formed with land for cultivation earmarked
and fertilizers and seeds supplied by the Panchayat. Fallow land for cultivation was
found through a household survey and physical reconnaissance survey. It is reported
that paddy cultivation in 55 acres of and vegetable cultivation in 30 acres resulted.
Further, 612 homestead farmers were motivated to take up vegetable cultivation.
Organic farming practices were encouraged. The resource mapping exercise also
identified 26 un-used ponds, 20 of which were restored as fish farms and 6 were
restored for lotus cultivation. Initially (in 2008) 11 produces from the units were
supplied to the hotels, which in 2010 has grown to 45 produces. It is estimated that at
present around one third of the population of the village is involved in the production
and sale of agricultural produce (Department of Tourism, Government of Kerala, n.d).
Other initiatives that were also started under the responsible tourism initiative were
the development of microenterprises in souvenir units; the formation of art and
culture groups by women and children in a number of traditional art forms;
development of calendars of local festivals and celebrations that could be used for
marketing and promotion by industry partners; development of tour packages of
village life and experiences; environmental protection through the promotion of eco-
bags instead of plastic bags; mangrove regeneration and control of backwater
pollution; energy saving initiatives through the development of local green
certification; and use of energy efficient street lighting. Further, a grass root level
community generated multifaceted resource mapping (containing information on
different kinds of resources including that of art and culture), and a destination labour
directory were completed to help with planning (Department of Tourism, Government
of Kerala, n.d). The clientele for all of these initiatives are the tourists that come to
the numerous privately owned tourist resorts in the area.
Michon (2010) reports that the responsible tourism has had real and quantifiable
results on the ground. He lists these as
•“Significant increase in local agricultural production
•Creation of a cultivation calendar
•Creation of systems for steady prices to avoid inflation and market
•Creation of 10 Karshakasamity (farmers groups), with a total of 460 people
•Creation of 20 Kudumbashree units, with a total of 250 women
•Creation of 5 Micro Enterprises focused on women
o1 women fish processing unit
o1 women chicken processing unit
o1 women Chappathy (local bread) processing unit
o2 coconut supply units” (Michon, 2010, p.10)
Michon (2010) further reports that the responsible tourism initiative has led to the
involvement of 760 women in the cultivation of local produce, 35 in retail activities, 30
in art and cultural groups, and 45 in the village tours. In line with overall
Kudumbashree aims, the responsible tourism initiative has significantly contributed to
an overall social agenda for women’s empowerment too.
The initiative at Kumarakom is largely acknowledged within policy circles and
practitioner circles, both locally and more widely within the state, as a success. It is
therefore useful to deconstruct the case study and analyse its contribution to not just
practice, but also academic debates around the notion of responsible tourism.
Sustainability, the CSR agenda and responsible tourism
The responsible tourism initiative in Kumarakom as detailed above can be seen as
broad based and incorporating elements of a wide range of tourism sub-strands -
pro-poor tourism, community participation in tourism and integrated tourism - that are
normatively promoted within debates and discussions on sustainable tourism. In this
section we present our case for positioning the concept of responsible tourism and
linking it to the CSR agenda in tourism.
Corporate Social Responsibility can be defined as ‘actions that appear to further
some social good, beyond the interests of the firm and that which is required by law’
(Mc Williams and Siegal, 2001, p.117). Carroll (1991) suggests a pyramid of
Corporate Social Responsibility wherein four different motivations for businesses to
engage with CSR practices are identified. The first of these - the economic
responsibility – is the base upon which the other three – legal responsibility, ethical
responsibility and philanthropic responsibility – rests. This then suggests that while
economic sustainability is a fundamental motive, other motivations can also feed into
it thereby strengthening the corporation social responsibility agenda of a firm.
Further, Nicolau (2008) and Sheldon and Park, (2012) argue that when concern for
the long-term overrides concerns for the short–term, CSR becomes a more viable
strategy for firms. Many international (see the initiatives of the United Nations Global
Contact and the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises) and national
organisations (see the Responsible Tourism Manual for South Africa, 2002) have
attempted to encourage adoption of CSR practices through the creation of standards.
However, as Sheldon and Park (2012, 394) note, these remain as voluntary
guidelines and ‘the various agencies authoring these initiatives are challenged to
transition voluntary guidelines into meaningful and widely adopted action’.
Studies on the actual adoption of CSR practices as opposed to intentions show a
very low translation rate. For instance, Sheldon and Park (2012) report that the
McKinsey Quarterly Survey of 2008 show that only 30% of those who supported CSR
in principle had actually taken any action. Results from Center for Corporate
Citizenship at Boston College (2007) are also reported as similar, though less drastic.
Henderson (2007) suggests that the nature of tourism and travel operations is such
that an additional layer of complexity is added as society is part of the product on
offer. The relationship of the industry to the environment and society is therefore
necessarily different. In spite of this, the capacity of tourism to adversely affect
multiple dimensions of society and the environment is rather well known.
Nevertheless, he argues that there is a potential positive impact that tourism can
deliver in destinations which is closely related to concepts of sustainability. But he
distinguishes between these two:
The principles of sustainable development have much in common with those of CSR and
the terms are sometimes used interchangeably. A company pursuing sustainable tourism
is, by definition, socially responsible while CSR incorporates some of the fundamental
tenets of sustainability. However, sustainable development seeks to embrace all the
participants in the development process and give equal weight to their voices. CSR
maintains a company perspective and questions of profitability remain at the forefront,
not to be eclipsed by social and environmental agendas. Sustainable development
implies a deeper and broader commitment and is part of a debate which is relevant to
most areas of human endeavour and informs private and public sector actions. In
comparison, CSR pertains only to industry members and covers a particular and
voluntary aspect of activity. It therefore occupies a position near the weaker pole of the
sustainability spectrum and should be assessed within the context of that discourse
(Henderson , 2007, 231).
We suggest that ‘responsible tourism’ could be the bridging concept that connects
the CSR agenda in tourism business practice to the wider sustainability agenda. If it
is to perform as a bridging concept, it must then retain the width of the sustainability
debate – incorporating a diverse range of actors and agendas – while refocusing this
on facilitative and complementary practices, provisioning of public goods, and
provision of regulatory limits that allow the private sector to reach its optimum
potential. This will then involve creative ways of planning and must include the design
of innovative mechanisms that have the dual purpose of achieving sustainability and
industry viability. Studies of CSR adoption in the travel and tourism sector is, in
general, ‘somewhat sparse’ (Sheldon and Park, 2012, 394), and case study reports
of the same are even more so. The case of Kumarakom is, we suggest, a
paradigmatic case study that embodies certain principles for the operationalisation of
‘responsible tourism’ in destinations. We discuss these principles and their
associated policy implications in the next section.
Operationalising responsible tourism: Policy implications
In this section we engage with four non-prescriptive principles for operationalising
responsible tourism. They are non-prescriptive, in the sense that the elements that
make up these principles will vary from case study to case study, yet they are
principles as care and attention must be given to ensure the presence and
operationalisation of these components in most situations. In other words, the
principles are not to be used as prescriptive dictums that would hold true in all
situations, but emerge as significant markers in achieving responsible tourism. We
discuss the importance of coercion, information flow, local embeddedness and local
leadership in this section.
In Kumarakom, the knowledge, capability and the will for action for responsible
tourism practices were not present initially within the industry, the state government
or the local government. The issue gained political/official prominence through
generalised awareness gained through the active campaigning of civil society
movements and NGOs engaged in oppositional politics which also resonated with
lived experiences in the locality. Once a political space was opened at state level
(arguably through the accumulation of such oppositional politics), the
bureaucratic/regulatory power of the state became available for implementation.
Michon (2010) highlights how the implementation of the responsible tourism initiative
was fraught with non-compliance from industry partners at the start (in spite of a
written agreement) due to higher costs of local produce. It was the personal
involvement and unwavering insistence of top-level bureaucrats that finally coerced
the industry partners to compliance and cooperation in the early days. Once
implementation was streamlined, industry partners started to reap the tangible
(product diversification and enhancement of tourist experience) and intangible (good-
will of community, better tourist-host relations and better linkages with regulators)
benefits which then could lead to the longer term sustainability of the venture.
The productive value of socially accepted value based coercion has to be therefore
acknowledged. This may emanate from civil society, government hierarchy,
consensus amongst industry partners or combinations of the above depending upon
the specificities of the destination. Further as we have seen good intentions need not
always translate into practice. The presence of coercion nudges good intentions in
CSR practices towards higher levels of CSR adoption by helping overcome real and
imagined risk barriers. Real and imagined risk can arise because of both increased
capital and recurring expenditure (high prices for local produces in the case of
Kumarakom) and also the need for change in business practices (delinking form
existing supply chains) resulting in uncertainty and consequent inertia. However if the
coercive mechanism can be streamlined into intrinsic motivational mechanisms the
longer-term sustainability can arise from changed business practices which in turn
could result in much less active regulation.
Though coercion is highlighted as a necessary principle to get responsible tourism
practices off the ground, these must remain socially accepted and value based.
There is a vast literature around the why and how of collaborative planning which
elaborates on the process of stakeholder interests and consensus formation to arrive
at socially accepted value based agreement (Healey, 1998, 1999, Innes, 2004,
Forester, 2006). Theoretically speaking, if due process has been followed, the need
for coercion should not exist. However, the daily grind of business practices for small
and medium businesses (which make up the bulk of tourist sector in most locations)
may not allow for extensive and exhaustive participation except on the most serious
of issues. Also all firms may not be always present. In Kumarakom for instance, only
the major actors and players in all three sectors were invited for the consultative
workshop. However, this served as a focus group representing broad based interests
in tourism, which then fed into identification of information gaps, design of institutional
forums and the formulation of generic policy guidelines for responsible tourism.
Information gathering practices such as carefully designed surveys, the KITTS
survey on difficulties in local procurement in Kumarakom for instance, can also help
in gathering information from more diverse groups such as small and medium firms
or identifying target populations such as the economically backward families in a
location. Directions of information flow and ensuring that interested parties are part of
the decision making process through a variety of means is therefore vital.
A focus on place has been claimed to have the potential to promote intersectoral
joined up thinking (Healey, 1999). This is because local embeddedness admits the
specificity of information required for evaluating and appropriating the strengths and
weaknesses of particular initiatives within a meaningful framework of solving or
creating problems. This allows the sorting and recognition of complementarities and
gaps in policy formulation thus enabling appropriate ‘bundling’ of policy initiatives.
Given that responsible tourism initiatives (and CSR initiatives in general) are geared
towards wider impacts of industry on society, the absence of place focus can
potentially result in the loss of information specificity needed for ‘truly’ responsible
initiatives and the loss of meaningfulness in terms of addressing an acknowledged
problem. This then has the potential to affect not just the initial uptake of the
responsible tourism initiative, but can also affect the intrinsic worth of the initiative
with consequent impacts on the sustainability of the initiative. Low uptake of
voluntary generic guidelines for CSR practices mentioned earlier are, we suggest,
partially explained by the lack of such local embeddedness.
Kumarakom shows the mobilisation of destination level initiatives that are informed
by local place-specific renderings of problems which in turn can draw upon the lived
experiences of a broad based (including marginalised) section of the population. All
sorts of knowledge – experiential, tacit, codified and ethical – can be more easily
accessed when policy and practice formulation is local, making them more
meaningful and problem oriented. It must be remembered that much of the activity in
conducting transect walks, identifying fallow land, training and project formulation
were mobilised through voluntary work of local actors. This broad based involvement
can itself serve as a coercive/seductive force on industry appealing to both the
business logic and civic/philanthropic motivations leading to long term sustainability.
Local embeddedness also can mobilise important networking power and improved
shared understandings. However, while these can be viewed as testimony to the
mobilising power of ‘meaning’ attributed to action in local place based interventions, it
is also testimony to a public awareness and civic responsibility that needs to be
already present or alternately built up.
The realisation of the breadth of impacts that responsible tourism implies will depend
not just upon an active and intervening civil society, but will necessarily also require
an informed and proactive local government with capacity for local leadership. The
results obtained in the survey conducted in Kumarakom report that business
managers found that there were too many constraints in the environment (local food
procurement for instance) which disempowered translation of positive intentions of
business managers into responsible tourism practices. Due partly to the
decentralised governance ethos of the Kerala state, the local government could step
in and act as a leader/facilitator to manage the perceived constraints in the
environment. Further, though the structure of the Kudumbashree units existed even
before the responsible tourism initiative, the supply side (products from
Kudumbashree micro-enterprises) had not found the demand side (tourism industry
outlets) automatically. The relative marginalisation of the women and poor women in
particular, could partially account for this. The intervention and helping hand of the
local state is thus imperative if the productivity of marginalised labour is to be non-
exploitatively joined up with the consumption needs of tourists. The local state must
then act as an adept co-ordinator, facilitator, negotiator and problem-solver. An
enabling governance climate that allows the local state to function on these lines is
We have above argued that the policy implications from the Kumarakom case study
suggest that coercion, information flow, local embeddedness and local leadership are
generic non-prescriptive, yet essential principles for the sustained implementation of
responsible tourism initiatives. It must be said here that these are by no the only
determining factors for the success of responsible tourism. For instance, the success
of responsible tourism may also be mediated by place specific features such as the
relative maturity of the tourism industry in the location (problems deeply embedded
for more mature tourism locations thus requiring increased levels of sustained
resources and sophistication in policy formulation), the type of tourism (eco-tourism,
health tourism, plantation tourism, etc each of which are different in their outward
orientation) the nature of the place (urban/rural/tribal), etc to name only a few. These
are agendas for future research. However, following a realist ontology, we believe
that regardless of differences in empirical manifestation (due to some of the factors
listed above), the arguments for paying attention to coercion, information flow, local
embeddedness and local leadership will still be relevant.
In this paper we have examined the concept of responsible tourism that has now
started appearing in the tourism literature. We reviewed some of the ways in which
the term has been used within tourism studies and suggested that the term has come
to signify everything, resulting in a blurring of the added conceptual contribution that
can be claimed of it. Instead we suggested that the practical use of the term in areas
where it has been adopted (such as South Africa and Kerala for instance) suggests a
rather restricted use. We identified this as the tourism sector specific manifestation of
the CSR agenda.
While writings around responsible tourism are available and declarations of intentions
and guidelines for implementing these are also available within tourism, not many
case study based exemplars have been reported. We see this as a gap for as argued
by Flyvbverg (2006) exemplars are necessary for a domain of knowledge to
progress. The importance of a ‘paradigmatic case study’ becomes then relevant and
we proposed that the case study of Kumarakom could be conceived as such as
paradigmatic case study.
Discussion of the case study, first traced the particular governance context of Kerala
and the position of tourism in the state economy. The responsible tourism initiatives
at state level, and local level were then described highlighting the ‘how’ of the
implementation and the impact that it produced. Generic, non-prescriptive principles
that could be said to be necessary in some form for the successful translation of
responsible tourism principles to practices were then identified. These are coercion,
information flow, local embeddedness and local leadership mobilised and realised in
a dialectic tension of tolerance and confrontation. Such an approach is contrasted
with one that places faith in the voluntary adoption of ‘responsible’ practices by the
private sector on its own. Responsible tourism then can still make a contribution to
practice provided that the conceptual terrain is delineated against other forms of
tourism and research within the terrain seeks to unpack the particular forms of
challenges that are thrown up by the delineation itself.
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