Nestled in the upper end of the Wester Ghats in Wayanad, a district in Kerala, the Vythiri Tourism Area has historically been covered in cloud forests and often receives the highest rainfall in the state. It’s tourism has been dominated by resorts, particularly since most of the tourism in the Wayanad area is ‘nature-based’. Vythri hosts around 70% of the major resorts in Wayanad.
In 2007, Vythiri became one of four pilot destinations in Kerala’s Responsible Tourism (RT) pilot project. The Responsible Tourism initiative was expanded to more destinations in 2012 and in 2017 expanded into a state-wide programme.
Since the Responsible Tourism programme began in Vythiri, locally produced products, from local farmers and artisans, have been distributed to the hotel and resort industry -- the largest and most profitable sector in the tourism industry of the area. However, most resorts are owned by companies from outside Wayanad, local community participation as entrepreneurs becomes negligible. Most tribal and Advasi communities fall completely outside this economic circle and barely see any benefits of tourism at all.
While tourism has grown exponentially over the last decades across Kerala (Vythiri included), inadequate solid waste disposal facilities, and growing plastic and other non-degradable wastes are threatening the fragile ecology of the area. The region is also vulnerable to natural disasters, since it’s prone to landslides and floods, and the unregulated development of tourism risks lives by exacerbating these vulnerabilities.
Vythiri Gram Panchayat, KABANI - the other Direction, and EQUATIONS are collaborating on a detailed research framework, providing capacity-building and training for researchers and collecting data to formulate an inclusive, sustainable and equitable tourism policy and planning for the Panchayat area.
We will focus on mapping the existing relationship between tourism and local livelihoods, the supply chains that support this industry, the demographics and labour practices in the area, and the ownership and usage of existing resources (cultural and social to natural, to economic and public). We plan to find possible avenues for local community inclusion in tourism and suggest ways forward.
Our hope is to take forward similar work with other panchayats in the Wayanad District in the near future and have collaborations with institutions such as the Kerala Institute for Local Administration.