Contrasting Tourism Landscapes in Karnataka, India

The pandemic exposed the dangers of ‘tourism monocultures’ – dependence on one product only – versus a more holistic approach to tourism fare. Gayathri Hegde has been researching the differing tourism experiences of Dandeli and Joida, neighboring towns in Karnataka, southwestern India.

Amara homestay cottages decked in Warli paintings. Homestays such as this, combined with multicultural experiences, offer a resilient alternative to the risks inherent in over-exploiting a single adventure-tourism product. © Amrut Joshi

River Rafting Alone Does Not a Destination Make

The town of Dandeli, located in the serene, verdant green forests of Western Ghats in northern Karnataka, has become synonymous with ‘adventure tourism’ in the region, popularized as the river-rafting destination of southern India. Fueled by dam waters, the Kali River flows with robust furor, enthralling all visitors. The spike in tourists visiting this biodiversity hotspot brought considerable profits to tourism service providers, but it has also resulted in unchecked growth that has hampered the ecological and financial sustainability of this tourism model.

Cultivated terraces and wild forests of Joida testify to multiple layers of influence by man and nature.  © Gayathri Hegde.

What was once a novelty experience has now been reduced to a gimmick in recent years. Rafting through the rapids was initially envisioned for a 12km stretch, which would allow the adventurer to have a complete experience of rafting through multiple rapids in the flowing river. However, to offer the experience to a larger number of visitors traveling on a smaller budget, the local tourism operators started offering the rafting experience for lower fees and a shorter distance. As a result, while the tourism experience in Dandeli has become more accessible across all economic classes of the society, the overall quality of the product has taken a massive hit.

In an attempt to cater to many, even the few are deprived of the delights of nature that this place truly has to offer. With no checks in place to regulate the tourism impacts, tourists are littering the area, and most service providers take no responsibility for restoring the disturbed places they leave behind. As a result, the once verdant landscape is now dotted with plastic and tin. The sensitive ecology is home to a multitude of flora and fauna that are endemic to the region. The unchecked spurt in tourism stands to upend their lifecycle.

Then, when the government banned water-sport activities as a preventive measure during Covid-19, many tourism service providers who had anchored their business model solely on adventure tourism took a major financial hit. 

But what is unique about Dandeli? What can one take away from here? The actual potential of this place in the current tourism model does not benefit the tourist or the tourism vendor. It exploits the place without any regard to either maintaining the place or developing it more thoughtfully. 

The Joida Model 

Potential solutions to such challenges have been successfully and sensitively incorporated not too far away in the neighboring region of Joida. Both Dandeli and Joida are home to many native communities, some of them tribal, who have immense knowledge about the ecology of the place and have several unique skills in arts and crafts, which can be leveraged for the benefit of both locals and visitors. Even the cuisine that is consumed locally is unique, featuring an array of tubers, which have an annual festival. This cuisine ought to be to featured in restaurants menus and be celebrated accordingly.

Annual tuber exhibition in Joida by the tribal Kunabi people. © Amrut Joshi.

In all of this, I see hope in a cluster of homestays of the region, which are modeled on the public-private profit (PPP) sharing approach for the purpose of providing the best experience of a nature retreat and a cultural taste of regional specialties.

Even when river rafting was closed and the bigger hotels and resorts suffered losses from their adventure-tourism business model, some homestays of the region were not affected by this decision. Rafting was only an add-on to their tourism products. These homestays are run by members of the local community who offer rare view into their own cultural diversity. In the remote village of Gund, last in the region, Amara Homestays offers Yakshagana (a local theatre and dance form) workshop for its visitors and offers meals typical of the Havyaka people. These opportunities are cherished by the visitors. The owner claimed that his business is sustained by repeat visitors who look forward to this experience.

My Take

In hindsight, Dandeli-Joida offers the perfect canvas to showcase a panorama of evolving tourism trends in smaller cities in India and their impacts on multiple levels. In my experience of having travelled across different parts of India over the years and of viewing it through a cultural lens, it struck me that often the ideal tourism experience for an Indian tourist in India is hinged primarily on material comforts more than having an immersive cultural experience. The representation of local cultural identity in built and intangible forms is lacking too. 

When our tourist infrastructure does not reflect this in design or application, the disconnect is but a natural consequence. The gap here is due not only to the tourist who chooses familiar material comfort as his priority, but also to the way these experiences are curated. The idea of ‘ecotourism’ has found traction only in recent years, and we are still grappling with what it means. Textbook definitions and generic principles of ecotourism seem not very relevant for the region, while failing to recognize that the local traditional systems offer perfect solutions to this dilemma. [Editor: See instead the “geotourism approach” put forth via National Geographic.]

The contrasting tourism models I witnessed in Dandeli offer many lessons for building a sustainable tourism model in these eco-sensitive habitats, while creating a unique experience for the visitor and safeguarding the natural landscape and culture for the future.

Sangway homestay nestled in the greenery. © Amrut Joshi

Metrics and Supply Chains

“Reset Tourism” Webinar Series 2 & 3 – The Future of Tourism Coalition‘s four-part “Reset Tourism” series is intended to help destinations emerge from the Covid crisis with new forms of governance and collaboration that will enable a more holistic and sustainable approach to tourism management and development. Our Spring 2021 issue covered the first webinar, on destination stewardship. Below, Jane Slaughter reports on the next two, which address better measures of success (#2) and sustainable supply chains (#3). The fourth, about tools for implementation, is planned for later this year.

Webinar #2: Measuring Tourism’s Impacts and Success 

Held on April 22, 2021 the second Future of Tourism Coalition webinar focused on methods for measuring tourism success beyond visitor numbers – to define success instead based on the true value of tourism’s costs and benefits. This webinar went on to examine these new standards for success as well as how they will contribute to a destination’s health and a community’s well being. Below, highlights from the second webinar, with keynote speakers Jeremy Sampson, CEO of the Travel Foundation, and Albert Salman, founder of Green Destinations.

Key Takeaways from the webinar:

  • Successful tourism must be redefined through equivalent weighing of costs and benefits.
  • Measurements of tourism success must shift to include the effectiveness of the tourism industry in addressing larger issues.
  • If any change is to occur, companies must begin to adopt a leadership role in these issues in order to be a part of their solution.


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Keynote – Measurement that Matters

 Jeremy Sampson, CEO the Travel Foundation

  • Destinations must continue efforts to prevent the problems they faced prior to the pandemic, such as seasonality, economic leakage, low margins, overcrowding, overconsumption, overdependence, fragile environments, exclusion and inequality, future crises, and the climate emergency.
  • The externalities and cost of growth for tourism create an ‘invisible burden’ which must be accounted for through the method of holistic accounting across all ecological impacts and costs.
  • The tourism industry must include long-term environmental effects and externalities in their costs. Currently, cost measures are ineffective because they neglect to take into account the impact of visitors on communities, natural and built assets, and the greater impacts and risks on the environment.
  • This includes new measurements for ecological and sociological impacts based on different standards and certifications such as measuring resident sentiment.
  • Destinations must decide what matters most to them and from there implement new tools to measure impact and goal progress.

Keynote – Measuring Sustainability: Why, What, How

Albert Salman, Founder of Green Destinations

  • The national government should also be in charge of measuring and solving critical issues. National indicators and indexes are better suited to compare countries, and the same destination indexes can then be measured against their countries to recognize their own unique practices.
  • Tourism needs new universal KPI’s to facilitate greater transparency and focus on pressing issues such as ecological impact. 

Panel – Sample comments

Idrissia EY Thestrup, Visit Greenland

  • These new models must address the needs of community inhabitants impacted by tourism. By polling residents, destinations can promote strategies to benefit the local community including inhabitants unrelated to the tourism industry.

Stephanie Jones, Representing National Blacks in Travel & Tourism Collaborative

  • Quality tourism should benefit the local community by maximizing the principles of  diversity, equity, and inclusion. Expand diversity in the hiring process, for instance, and maintain multicultural marketing strategies. 

Other panelists included: Julián Guerrero-Orozco, Vice Minister of Tourism in Colombia, and Bart Neuts, Research Expert for Visit Flanders.


Webinar #3: Local and Sustainable Supply Chains

Held on May 6, 2021, the Future of Tourism Coalition discussed the importance of local entrepreneurship and product innovation in order to boost employment and grow the number of local businesses in the tourism supply chain. Webinar participants argued that these local supply chains are required in order to contribute to a low-carbon, circular economy while also creating authentic and positive experiences. Below, highlights from the third webinar, with keynote speakers Paula Vlamings, CIO of Tourism Cares, and Paloma Zapata, CEO of Sustainable Travel International.

Key Takeaways from the webinar:

  • In order to achieve true sustainability in tourism, tourist companies must employ local supply chains.
  • Maintaining local supply chains are one avenue for mitigating the climate crisis because of tourism’s heavy carbon footprint.
  • Some destinations have enacted new action plans for sustainable tourism, such as certifications and incentives.


Keynote – Local Tourism Supply Chains: At the Intersection of Purpose and Product

Paula Vlamings, Tourism Cares

  • Sectors of the tourism industries need to create strong and efficient local supply chains.
  • This goal can be achieved by examining every part of the supply chain to integrate local businesses and reduce carbon emissions. Tourism businesses should look at their product to see where it is easiest to expand through local sourcing or partnering with local organizations..
  • Today, travelers want more constructive travel experiences in ways that sustain the communities and environments of their destinations. They want to support businesses that reflect these ideals.
  • Sustainability requires connections and communication across multiple industries, sectors, suppliers, communities, and destinations.
  • A current challenge is getting NGOs and other social activist groups involved in the tourism market, particularly through consultation and facilitating partnerships with other local businesses.

Keynote – The Path to Localizing and Decarbonizing Tourism Supply Chains

Paloma Zapata, Sustainable Travel International

  • Tourism plays a role in the climate crisis, generating emissions via every activity in the value chain. To tackle the climate crisis we need a three prong approach: reducing carbon emissions, restoring the earth’s natural carbon storage levels, and innovating technology to reduce carbon emissions.
  • In order to become carbon neutral, destinations can begin by mitigating carbon emissions and encouraging energy-efficient practices. For instance, businesses must quantify the total emissions generated through their supply chain, and set attainable goals for reduction. Businesses should also rely on local supply chains to make destinations more carbon neutral and resilient.

Panel – Sample comments

John De Fries, Hawai‘i Tourism Authority

  • One way of achieving sustainability is by thinking of the earth as an island, where natural resources are finite and therefore must be conserved through a regenerative tourism model. Hawai‘i Tourism Authority does this by enacting community-based Destination Management Action Plans (DMAPs) for each island, which aim to rebuild, redefine, and reset the direction of tourism over a three-year period.

Beth Markham, Environmental Sustainability Coordinator, the Town of Vail, Colorado, USA

  • To combat the sustainability problems faced by mountain resort communities, such as carbon emissions and wildlife damage, Vail has enacted an Actively Green sustainable business certification program that starts destinations on the path to sustainability through a bottom-up approach. This certification project begins with employee and business accountability through reliance on local supply chains to reduce carbon emissions.

Malia Everette, Altruvistas

  • Social justice issues can be recognized in the tourism industry through the creation of customized travel opportunities that stress philanthropy and engagement in local experiences in order to grow spending in the local economy.

Other panelists included: Kirsten Bain, VP of Operations for Contiki Holidays (a subsidiary of the Travel Corporation) and Rodrigo Atuesta, CEO & Co-Founder of IMPULSE travel. 


To continue to dive in to these topics, make sure to sign up for the free quarterly Destination Stewardship Report – a joint project of the Destination Stewardship Center and the Global Sustainable Tourism Council.

Overtourism’s Lessons for Tomorrow

“In 2019, over 1.5 billion tourists crossed international borders and tourism’s continued growth seemed assured. However, in 2020, tourism stopped in its tracks. The world went from overtourism to no tourism.”
– Kelsey Frenkiel, Program Manager at the Center for Responsible Travel (CREST) and co-editor of Overtourism: Lessons for a Better Future (Island Press). 

Held on June 2nd, 2021, the Overtourism to No Tourism Webinar convened four writers from CREST’s new multi-author book, Overtourism: Lessons for a Better Future. Rebecca Clarke reports on the panel’s discussion of why it is necessary to build a sustainable tourism industry, particularly in the post-pandemic period, and how destinations can go about doing so.

Overtourism to No Tourism:
How (and Why) to Build a More Sustainable Tourism Industry 

Four panelists were asked five questions about the current state of the travel industry. Participants included:

  • Martha Honey, Co-Founder and Director Emeritus of the Center for Responsible Travel (CREST) and co-editor of the book.
  • Jonathan Tourtellot, CEO of the Destination Stewardship Center & former National Geographic Travel Editor.
  • Arnie Weissmann, Editor in Chief at Travel Weekly.
  • Cathy Ritter, Trustee at The Travel Foundation & Former Director or Colorado Tourism Office.

The questions

  • “Why has overtourism become a problem, not just for local residents but also for the quality of visitor experience?”
    Tourtellot said that it’s not just a matter of overcrowding a destination that is the problem, overtourism also destroys natural areas, spoils ancient historical sites, and more. Ritter noted that contrary to popular belief, it does not take that many people to impact a natural area. Both agreed that these are reasons why overtourism must be addressed. Weissmann observed that international travel is accessible to people now more than ever, due to reasons such as rising middle class, low-cost carriers, and social media.
  • “What do you see as some of the top factors contributing to overtourism?”
    Ritter explained that there needs to be a shift in perspectives by industry professionals, which will not be easy. Tourtellot stated that long-term factors include the increase in the world’s population, growing affluence, and various technological advances. Weissman mentioned short-term factors, such as destinations that are having their “moment” in popular media, resulting in overtourism. For example, the Singapore Tourism Board launched a campaign with Warner Brothers to coincide with the release of the movie, Crazy Rich Asians, which led visitors to flock to the country.
  • “Describe the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on tourism in a specific type of destination.”
    Ritter began by using the example of public land visitation in Colorado during the pandemic. It increased by 30% in 2020, as it was clear that people had been seeking release during the pandemic and had turned to public lands for it. Weissmann used the example of Miami Beach, and the herds of tourists that it saw during spring break of March 2021, characterized by epidemiologists as a COVID superspreading event. He added that local government is at least using this as a learning opportunity to market Miami Beach as “not just a party destination”. Tourtellot noted that Mallorca in Spain also used the tourism hiatus during the pandemic to repackage itself as “more than a beach destination”.
  • Describe specific countries that have proposed practical and innovative mitigation strategies to address tourism and the challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.
    Tourtellot said that the countries around the world that have the most innovative strategies seem to be the ones who were suffering overtourism before the pandemic. Ritter stated that Rocky National Park is a prime example of a place that has implemented an innovative mitigation strategy, having introduced a time entry system that allows people to visit the park only at an assigned time. Additionally, Weissmann noted that the city of Amsterdam used the pandemic hiatus to reinvent their tourism strategy with such initiatives as relocating sex workers to designated prostitution hotels and banning marijuana bars. Their aim is to attract a different kind of tourist to the city.
  • “What are some of the emerging tourism trends coming out of the pandemic?”
    Weissmann stated that technology will continue to advance, citing Buenos Aires as an example of a city using innovative technology to manage overtourism. The city collects visitors’ cell phone numbers and manages congested areas by sending out a text with an incentive that directs tourists to less crowded areas of the city. Ritter explained that countries around the world are beginning to realize that they can no longer rely on the strategies of the past to overcome overtourism. Destinations must find ways to attract tourists who are compatible with destination residents. Tourtellot concluded this section of the webinar by observing that we are going to continue to hear about tighter management of cruise tourism. Cities around the world such as Dubrovnik are limiting the number of cruise ships that can enter their ports. Norway is planning to ban cruise ships from entering fjords if they fail emissions standards, in effect banning all but smaller expedition ships.

Q&A The final 20 minutes of the webinar were allotted to a question-and-answer period for attendees to ask questions such as these:

  • “What is the influence of social media in getting people to go to desired destination and snap that typical-tourist photo while they are there?” Weissmann noted that this, combined with bucket-list travel, has been a significant feeder of concentrating tourism in particular destinations, adding that the rise in tourism from Instagram is mind-boggling. It drives incredible numbers of tourists to a place. Ritter said that Amsterdam recently decided to remove the “I AMsterdam” sign as it drove overtourism. She’s a fan of the photographer’s code of conduct not to tag a location when posting a photo to social media. Tourtellot advised against simply taking photos of yourself when visiting destinations. Instead, he said, turn the camera around and photograph of the place you are visiting. “After all, you’ve paid to get there.”
  • “What are some examples of barriers that countries face when dealing with overtourism?” Ritter stated that some destination leaders find themselves in conflict with their own boards; oftentimes the boards are made up of tourism industry people such as hotel owners who have a vested interest in increasing numbers of visitors. Another barrier is lack of information, Ritter noted, since that is an incredible tool for learning exactly who is visiting, their demography, their reason for visiting. Many destinations lack access to this type of information.
  • “Isn’t it better to let certain places experience overtourism and not let overtourism spread to more rural areas that are not prepared for it?” Tourtellot stated that due to the worldwide use of Instagram and social media, pretty much every place is now known. “It’s our job to educate people on how to handle that.” He used the example of Serbia, where tourists in 2020 began going to rural areas and did not know how to behave when they got there. He mentions the importance of education on how to act when arriving in less-visited places in the world. Tourtellot noted that destination marketing is usually funded by hoteliers and others who count on high tourism numbers, thereby creating a cycle of encouraging overtourism. Rural areas need to rethink this, he said, and there needs to be coordination and collaboration across sectors.

Overall, the webinar was a great success, and attendees left with useful information about the current and future state of the tourism industry and its interaction with destinations.

Readers of the Destination Stewardship Report can purchase the book Overtourism: Lessons for a Better Future from Island Press using the code HONEY for a 20% discount.