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How Cultural Tourism is Stimulating Inclusive Growth in Rural India New markets are created and new brands are developed to promote tourism in villages rich in traditional, performing and visual arts and crafts

By Baishali Mukherjee

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Banglanatak Dot Com

Culture is a great enabler. It fosters social inclusion. Cultural capital in the form of oral and performing art traditions is an asset for developing rural entrepreneurship. Worldwide cultural heritage is being revitalized through training, exposure and promotion, to facilitate rural art-based tourism.

New markets are created and new brands are developed to promote tourism in villages rich in traditional, performing and visual arts and crafts. In the process heritage becomes a means of livelihood and empowerment and thrives.

Local Campaigns for Cultural Tourism

Working in the field of rural tourism and community leadership for more than 20 years is Asit Biswas, Owner of Help Tourism. He is a tour operator and destination management consultant specializing in East and North East India.

Help Tourism regularly conducts campaigns for sustainable development at local levels and encourages activities that confirm community development through tourism entrepreneurships. Since 1991, Biswas has been training local communities in capacity building, making it possible for them to uphold ownership.

"The efforts have led to tangible results as the local communities are now empowered to take care of the tourism business and have emerged as creators of rural cultural-based entrepreneurship models," shared Biswas.

Presently, Help Tourism is working in 30 conservation-and-community-based tourism projects in the East and North East India and has partnered with more than hundred community groups. The organization involves local people in community tourism initiatives in the Protected Areas of the Eastern Himalayas and helps them create extension forests.

Folk-art Based Tourism

Instrumental in bringing a positive change in villages of West Bengal that are seats of traditional forms of art for the past 17 years is Amitava Bhattacharya, Founder of Banglanatak Dot Com, a social organization.

It works with more than 10 villages of the state and has already created an impact in the lives of the local artist communities, resulting in their socio-economic development. Folk art has become a tourist attraction which, in turn, has given rise to rural folk-art based tourism enterprises.

The hubs provide a new, positive, identity to the localities that were earlier identified as deprived rural villages. The rural creative hubs are gradually emerging as new cultural tourism destinations to bring additional income opportunities to the so-far economically marginalized areas.

Promoting Education Tourism

They also promote education tourism by facilitating interaction between the local community and the visitors. The local people share their heritage and the tourists take back a piece of human history. The festivals organized annually at these villages highlight how Intangible Cultural Heritage can be a way of life of the local people.

"Once the community was aware about their potential, efforts were taken to promote community festivities and rituals that gradually built a sense of pride among people. The local cultural activities of the inhabitants were made an agenda for building up a mainline economic activity involving tourism as the pivotal point," shared Bhattacharya.

Promoting festivals as heritage tourism destinations highlighted the fact that, shows of cultural performances are not about instant gratification nor one-off commercial events for single audience but a round-the-year activity and a way of life for the people.

Ratnabh Banerjee, Founder of Monkfoot Travels Private Limited, specializes in bringing guests closer to the destinations they travel to and helps them experience the flavours of the cultural heritage of the locals.

He strongly believes that community owned tourism has the potential to change conflict into cooperation and peace. "Reducing forest dependence of local communities, motivating local communities to set up their own tourism business and engaging them in protection of forest corridors is the way forward," vouched the enthusiastic traveler and keen wildlife photographer.

Baishali Mukherjee

Former Freelancer

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