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Tapping the potential of Indian villages in a push for rural tourist destinations

A cottage at Maachli in Sindhudurg. File

A cottage at Maachli in Sindhudurg. File
| Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Mattur is a village in Karnataka where residents speak only Sanskrit. Maachli in Maharashtra is an agrarian homestay surrounded by coconut, betel, and banana plantations. The Bishnoi village in Rajasthan has frequent visits from the endangered Great Indian Bustard. These are destinations where tourists can immerse themselves in the rural tourism experience that the government is now developing.

The Central Nodal Agency – Rural Tourism and Rural Homestays (CNA – RT and RH), the coordinating body amongst Centre, States, and other stakeholders, has identified six niche experiences for tourists wanting to visit rural India, including agritourism, art and culture, ecotourism, wildlife, tribal tourism, and homestays. More than 134 villages have been listed, each of which provides a set of unique experiences to tourists. The list will only grow.

For instance, Tamil Nadu’s Kolukkumalai is the highest tea plantation in the world; Kerala’s Dewalokam is a yoga centre on the banks of a river; Nagaland’s Konyak Tea retreat takes visitors on a trip through tribal culture; Telangana’s Pochampalli village showcases its traditional weaving techniques; and Himachal Pradesh’s Pragpur village plunges visitors into Kangra heritage architecture.

Depending on the experience, tourists can sample the local cuisine, see how crops are grown, participate in textile weaving, witness folk art being practiced and performed, and go on nature trails, all the while living within the community.

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Sustainable tourism

The focus of this rural push is sustainability, avoiding large-scale infrastructure development, and without much private sector participation. Instead, efforts would be to rope in local resources and communities to provide a unique organic experience, a senior official in the Ministry of Tourism said. This would bolster employment opportunities in villages.

The Union Tourism Ministry is in the process of formulating a budget, with certain training modules at district levels being 100% centrally financed, and other aspects being 60% Centre and 40% State financed.

While there is a lack of consolidated data on global rural tourism trends, U.S.-based market research firm Grand View Research estimates that agritourism alone will develop at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 11.4% from 2022 to 2030.

Village clusters

A key part of the strategy to promote rural destinations would be to identify clusters of five to seven villages in close proximity, said Kamakshi Maheshwari, nodal officer, CNA – RT and RH. A cluster will offer more tourist attractions than rural tourism projects of individual villages separated by long distances. It can also aid in marketing of local products of a group of villages through craft bazaars.

The Central Nodal Agency has asked States to identify both individual and clusters of villages having high potential for tourism development. The government is also looking at Rurban clusters of the Rural Development Ministry, where a cluster of villages that have potential for growth are identified. The Ministry of Rural Development has also been asked to explore the possibility of creating assets under MGNREGA for tourist infrastructure.

The Government is also exploring organic agriculture areas developed under the Paramparagat Krishi Vikas Yojana (PKVY) and Mission Organic Value Chain Development in North East Region (MOVCD-NER) for development as rural tourist spots.

“Not only can rural tourism revitalize local art and crafts and prevent viable traditional occupations from being displaced, it will also help redevelop rural areas and rejuvenate rural life, create jobs and new business opportunities,” said in the National Strategy document of Rural Tourism.

The Tourism Ministry is also working on launching the State assessment and ranking criteria to help foster competition and reach the overarching objectives of promoting sustainable and responsible tourism.

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