Tour operators commit to keep sacred landscape clean


Representatives of Chinese, Indian, and Nepali tour companies that operate Kailash-Manasarovar tours have agreed to keep the Kailash Sacred Landscape clean and collaborate towards more responsible tourism.

The commitment was made at a workshop held jointly by the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) and its Chinese partners from 13 to 15 November 2013. 

With the growing number of tourist arrivals, negative environmental impacts have already been observed, especially in terms of waste (biodegradable and non-biodegradable) that is polluting the sacred environment. A recent waste classification study done by the Sichuan University in Chengdu, China, showed that 35% of the waste is contributed by Tibetan-Chinese pilgrims, 30% by Han-Chinese tourists, and 28% by South Asian pilgrims. 

A snapshot analysis revealed that about 23 tons of waste lay along the circumambulation route of 53 km. Glass and paper waste is often reused, but plastic, metallic, and cotton waste remain in the landscape. Such waste can take hundreds of years to decompose and chemicals are released in the process, which can rapidly degrade the quality of the host of ecosystems services and water sources. 

Tourism is a key sector for economic development in the Kailash Sacred Landscape that taps into its historical, cultural, and ecological significance. However, haphazard and uncontrolled tourism development will damage the ecosystems, erode cultural and spiritual values, and cause irreversible damage to local livelihoods in the long-term. These negative effects are already evident in the landscape. 

Responsible tourism considers the responsibility key stakeholders have towards environmental, socio-cultural, and economic aspects of the landscape in which tourism activity takes place. Recent efforts show that local tourism entrepreneurs are already taking initial responsibility. For example, since July 2013 all lodges are equipped with garbage bins and the lodge owners request the travel companies to take away their collected waste by truck. Several tour companies also organize annual cleaning campaigns.

Specific roles can be identified for tour operators, other tourism facilitators, and tourists to manage their activities in the Kailash Sacred Landscape in a responsible manner and to contribute to heritage preservation, environmental conservation, and the overall local sustainable development. Additionally, behavioural guidelines can be communicated to tourists to encourage them to act responsibly during their trip.

The workshop offered a unique platform for tourism stakeholders of China, India, and Nepal to interact, share thoughts, and identify ways to make tourism management more responsible in the sacred landscape. Stakeholders also provided inputs to a set of dos and don’ts for tourists which will be presented to a wider range of relevant partners for their endorsement.

Photo credit: Sally Walkerman

Photo: Sally Walkerman