Friday, April 4, 2008

community based tourism that is not intrusive

I was having a discussion with a friend in the tourism industry about how best I can introduce the best of Sri Lanka to a tourist without adversely affecting the social fabric and balance. This, especially in a place, where tourism has not made an impact, which is just the type of tourist I would like to attract, wants to go to. Actually I will also include the Sri Lankan expatriate who wants to be introduced to a segment of Sri Lanka he or she has hitherto not being exposed to.

This is of particular interest, not just academically, but also practically as I am in the process of allowing the use of my home in the jungle, almost at the borders of a National Park for tourists who really want to experience both remote village life as well as being introduced to the wild.

It is a delicate balance and I am sure I am going to offend someone, who may not like what I want to do. I cannot get into social engineering and I cannot predict how the villagers will react or tolerate intrusion into their lives and accordingly I will have to test the waters as I go into this.

The first thing one must be made aware of is that despite my living there for a while and photographing a lot of activity there, I am very sensitive to what I photograph and how I do it. The tourist may not have those qualms, as they may not even appreciate the sensitivity with which that is viewed. By way of example, the village tank where everyone goes to bathe adjoins my property. So if a tourist attempts to photograph the females in bathing attire, which is quite an unusual sight, it has to be done either with permission or in a way that is acceptable and non-threatening.

The other aspect is, if by the behavior of the tourist the village or people there get spoilt, offered money for obtaining illegal things like moonshine, weed, wild boar meat, then what is my responsibility and duty both to the tourist and also to the locality, to which I now belong.

I am very much part of the community, living there, buying produce, and trying to balance some commercial activity in order to survive, as it is not really a money making proposition, just one of loss reduction, as I have sunk so much money I don’t have. I require some return just to live. How can I perform this with minimal intrusion, while exposing the outsider to a unique if dying way of life, due to natural if timely exposure to development?

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