Shared Natural and Cultural Heritage for Sustainable Tourism in the Kangchenjunga Transboundary Landscape

   TwitCount

Background

The Kangchenjunga Landscape (KL), one of the six transboundary landscapes identified by the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) and its partners in the Hindu Kush Himalaya (HKH), is shared by Bhutan, India, and Nepal. Tourism is an important economic sector in the three countries. It contributes to the GDP of all three countries (2% of India’s total GDP in 2015 and 4% of Nepal’s), while also supporting employment both directly and indirectly (almost one million jobs in Nepal and more than 37 million jobs in India). In Sikkim, KL India, the contribution of tourism to the State GDP is 8% with an annual growth rate of 16%. The diversity of nature and cultural heritage within the KL has immense value to the large number of tourists visiting from the region and elsewhere. Scenic views of the Kangchenjunga range; diverse wildlife in protected areas including Jigme Khesar Strict Nature Reserve in Bhutan, Jaldapara National Park and Khangchendzonga Biosphere Reserve in India, and Kangchenjunga Conservation Area in Nepal; UNESCO World Heritage Sites including the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway and Khangchendzonga National Park in India; pilgrimage destinations; tea gardens; and rural tourism, among others, are the major tourism products. At least half a million tourists, a majority of whom are regional tourists from India, Nepal and Bhutan, visit the KL annually. 

The region has been highlighted as priority area for the promotion of a regional tourism hub in the South Asia Sub-regional Economic Cooperation (SASEC) tourism development plan. Today, the Great Himalaya Trail conceptualized as a transboundary trekking route spans the northern parts of the KL, continuing further west. There are also opportunities for transboundary tourism in the Singhalila region which hosts more than 8,000 tourists annually. The Singhalila ridge geo-politically divides India and Nepal. One of the most popular transboundary trek routes in the region starts at Mane Bhanjyang in India and climbs up to Sandakphu at the Nepal-India border before finally descending to Phalut in India, and ending in Rimbick, India.

While tourism plays a significant role in the economic development of the landscape, the strength of sustainable tourism is yet to be fully harnessed. Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 8.9 calls upon nations to “by 2030 devise and implement sustainable tourism that creates jobs and promotes local culture and products”. Limited infrastructure, inadequate human resource capacity in the service sector, lack of coordinated marketing, inability to ensure product quality, limitations in regional mobility, and the lack of regional policy and institutional mechanisms have not allowed tourism entrepreneurship to reach the desired level  in the landscape. Considering sustainable tourism as a common and potential link for the transboundary landscape, the Kangchenjunga Landscape Conservation Development Initiative (KLCDI) has identified it as a major element for strengthening regional cooperation. It envisages to contribute to sustainable development through the conservation and preservation of the cultural as well as natural heritage of the landscape. The potential of building a case for sustainable tourism has been reflected in the regional conservation and development strategy, as well as the country-level strategies for the KLCDI. While realising tourism potential in the transboundary context in the KL, there is the need to keep in mind the consequences of unplanned tourism that are already wreaking havoc in many countries in the HKH. SDG 12.b specifically requires that countries “develop and implement tools to monitor development impacts for sustainable tourism that create jobs and promote local culture and products”. This one day policy dialogue coupled with opportunities to interact with and learn from Bhutan has therefore been planned with the following objectives:   

Objectives

  • This main focus of the policy dialogue is to understand existing and potential benefits from regional tourism and strengthen cooperation among stakeholders at the landscape level with the following objectives:
  • Understand existing tourism practices at different levels and their impacts within the KL.
  • Identify major bottlenecks and opportunities to strengthen sustainable tourism in a transboundary context.
  • Identify key elements for a strategic action plan of transboundary cooperation for conservation and improved local livelihoods.
  • Identify key elements of strategic short-term and long-term action plans along with the suggested roadmap for strengthening transboundary cooperation.