Tourism is one of the largest and dynamically developing sectors of external economic activities. Tourism’s contribution to livelihoods can be enhanced by adjusting decisions on what is developed and how, in ways that reflect people’s livelihood priorities. Tourism is an emerging, vibrant and non-pollutant energizing industry which brings structural transformation in a sustainable manner through tourism products. Among all the forms of tourism, rural tourism plays an important role to enhance the potential character of tourism by enriching their tourism products. Rural tourism is a mirror that signifies a cultural heritage in the form of folk-lores, ethnicity, dance, drama etc. of the region.
Manipur has an immense potential for tourist attractions in the rural areas. The only floating lake of the world Loktak and Keibul Lamjao National Park are the major tourist attractions of rural areas. With salubrious climate and lush green forests Manipur enjoys a special position with various floras and faunas which can become a centre of attraction for tourists. In this case the focus is tourism in rural areas of Manipur and often on an unusual type of tourism which is managed by communities.
Rural tourism focuses on participating in a rural lifestyle. It is known that approximately 70% of the Indian population still resides in the rural parts of the country and their livelihood is agriculture. Rural tourism allows the creation of an alternative source of income in the non-agricultural sector for rural dwellers. Rural tourism has gained a sudden prominence in India in the last decade and still much more is left to be explored. Hence, Tourism is one of the major earners of foreign exchange for the country.
Rural tourism will definitely add more to what we earn in foreign exchange. Rural tourism will move along the process of development and give a chance to the village folks to interact with the outside world and the products of rural artisans will find a ready market.
Majority of Manipur resides in village and for the country to know the real spirits of Manipur, it is essential to peep into the rural areas. Rural area of Manipur has a lot to offer to the country. The Government of Manipur, recognizing the importance of rural tourism in the overall growth of the tourism industry in Manipur, started the process of development and marketing and promotion for rural tourism.
Tourism in India’s North east region including Manipur is being promoted at a rapid pace by institutions both at the centre and the states. The Ministry of Development of the North East Region (MDoNER) and the North Eastern Council (NEC), in the year 2008 released the North Eastern Region vision-2020. The vision statement states the purpose of documents as ‘’to return North Eastern Region to the position of national economic eminence and to ensure the role it must play in the vanguard country’s act east policy’’. An important section within the vision 2020 is that tourism, projected as a sector which could lead to the development of the region.
Tourism is also one of the sectors which are included in the list of thrust areas by the NEC, MDoNER and North Eastern Development Finance Corporation Limited (NEDFi). The State government is also in the absence of any other industry; tourism is one of the important means of building marker-economy within the region. In Manipur, there have been several moves to bring in more undefined tourist by creating more accommodation in the form of star hotels, increased cultural extravaganza such as Sangai Festival, adventure programmes and nature tourism such as rock climbing and trekking, international events like international trade fairs, food festivals and so on and so forth. These anxious activities must be seen within the context of the relating of India’s economic growth and look East Policy. Hence it is imperative to look at the kind of tourism which is being promoted and understand how it will be benefit or impact on the people of Manipur.
Manipur, a little Shangri-La, located in Northeast India, is Jewel of India. This little corner is a paradise on Earth where Mother Nature has been extra generous in her bounty. Least touched and least discovered, Manipur promises to be the greatest tourist discovery of 21st century. An oval shaped valley surrounded by blue green hills, rich in art and tradition has inspired description such as exotic blooms and lakes. The people of Manipur include Meitei, Nagas, Kuki-Chin-Mizo, Gorkha groups and Muslims and other colourful communities which have lived in complete harmony for centuries. These are the people whose folklore, myths and legends, dances, indigenous games and martial arts, exotic handlooms and handicrafts are invested with the mystique of nature and indefatigable ‘’joie de vivre’’.
The department of Tourism, Government of Manipur came into existence in August, 1972as publicity wing of the IPR Department. Over the years it has evolved into an independent department, considering the natural beauty and potential of the State, every effort should be taken to make it an efficient and vital department of Tourism in the state. Hotel Imphal, which is under the administration of the Department, was started in the style of Tourist Lodge in 1978. Over the years the Hotel has been upgraded and expanded to the present day status. The infrastructure and manpower management of the Hotel is gradually streamlined to meet the standard of modern day 5-Star Category Hotel in the state and now it is being managed by Classic Groups of Hotel.
Roles of people’s participation in the development of rural tourism in Manipur reveals that the tourism industry in the state is at the stage of infancy where expected outcome has not been achieved due to several constraints which dominate in the region. Despite the fact that government has paid attention to develop the tourism industry and formulated strategies to yield good result but no satisfactory result has been obtained due to lack of consideration at implantation level. The situation is even worse in rural areas with immense potential of rural tourism. It is observed that Imphal including both the Imphal-East and Imphal-West districts have maximum tourist’s inflow in the state.
On the other hand, Bishnupur and Thoubal districts receive no tourists, although high influx of overnight tourists is recorded in area which is categorized as excursionists rather than tourists, excursionists prefer to stay in Imphal due to the reason that Imphal is the capital city of state with good hotels and guest houses as well as other facilities as per requirement of tourists. The analysis also reveals that the participation of rural population in tourism is not satisfactory, which is due to lack of interest of local people and lack of awareness in regard to positive impacts of rural tourism. Most of the tourist activities are controlled and managed by outsiders like agents and tour operators who do not have concern for the development of tourism in rural areas. Further, it also increases the cost involved in tourism activities because it is channelized through various levels and different agents.
Keeping in view the existing problems of the development of rural tourism following suggestions have been made so that rural tourism can flourish in a sustainable manner:
(i) NGOs should make aware people living in rural areas regarding the potentials of rural tourism, and how it can transform the area in to developed one.
(ii) The sense of security must be prevailed in the area so that people from other parts of India and abroad may not hesitate to visit the state.
(iii) Proper connectivity accessibility of transportation and communication are urgently needed to facilitate tourists to enjoy the scenic beauty of nature and also distinct cultural and ethnic diversities.
(iv) Most of the areas fascinated with pristine beauty and prismatic colours which has magnetic attraction for spiritual and aesthetic satisfaction.
(v) For the sake of better development and enhancing the existing potential of tourist sites the rural participation should be encouraged in different tourism products and they should be trained to guide, supervise the tourists in a very friendly and passionate manner.
(vi) Rural resorts should be constructed at different sites for overnight stay of tourists so that local economic loss in the form of excursion may be reduced.
If all these suggestive measures are taken into consideration in a pragmatic manner with full spirit of health and hygiene, it is hoped that the frequency of tourists will be increased in days to come that will not only bring prosperity and sigh of economic relief to the reeling of socio-economic deprivation faced by the people.
(The views expressed are personal)