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The Economics of Tiger Tourism

What a year 2012 was … Nature tourism in India was banned last year for nearly four months.  Julian Matthews kindly gives us an update on developments of Tiger conservation over the last year and the key issues around Tiger Tourism.

Machali, a famous tigress in Ranthambhore, we calculated earned US$130million from park fees and visitors in her ten years reign as the key attraction in the park’s lake area.

Machali, a famous tigress in Ranthambhore, we calculated earned US$130million from park fees and visitors in her ten years reign as the key attraction in the park’s lake area.

“Unbelievable. Banning tourism?,” David Houghton said to me recently. He’s a President of the National Wildlife Refuge Association, overseeing 566 wilderness sanctuaries across America with 45 million visitors a year. “Why?” he asked me, “I thought poachers were killing tigers, not tourists. If it wasn’t for tourism over our 150 million hectares, and the supporters it derives, our wildernesses would be destroyed by now.”

Paradoxically when Project Tiger was set up in 1973 it was modelled on America’s own Park Services, to not only protect tigers but also to allow its citizens to learn, connect, and enjoy recreation within its boundaries. Yet somehow deep in the bureaucratic psyche that is the Ministry of Forests and Environment in India, the correlation between nature tourism and tiger survival has not yet been made – and tourism is increasingly and easily blamed for the failures of a system designed to protect them.

For ten years my TOFTigers campaign has been at the forefront of a campaign to get the Government to give the nature tourism industry a visionary ‘road map’ to better practice, ensure better planning and regulation and open up more unloved and unseen forest to visitors, so that this booming industry can be spread further and thinner across India’s amazing natural landscape. Machali, a famous tigress in Ranthambhore, we calculated earned US$130million from park fees and visitors in her ten years reign as the key attraction in the park’s lake area. She’s worth now a hundred times more alive than as a rug in a Chinese apartment block.

Thankfully the tourism ban was lifted in October 2012, but the new regulations were regressive and restrictive in a way that ensures none of the benefits of nature tourism are obtained and all of the excesses will continue. What a missed opportunity. It’s not unreasonable to predict that there will be not just 2million visitors to tiger reserves as there are today but 50 million in ten year’s time, so just how is the Government going to control this? I have suggested they use the power and economics of nature tourism to restore the hundreds of thousands of kilometres of forest that today lies empty and denuded. Restoration and rewilding has been happening across the globe, driven by people’s love of wilderness and the ability to make nature pay through tourism, so India’s forest bureaucrats needs to wake up and do this too! It’s their only chance against far more powerful forces set on their demise, including wholesale development, farming, roads, mining and severe poaching pressures.

On the Go Tours have been a staunch supporter of the campaign for a number of years now, working to support the best lodges and service providers, sponsoring nature guide training, supporting the TOFT Wildlife Tourism Awards and a host of projects designed to encourage sustainability and community support for tigers around its best tiger reserves.

India still has remarkable wildlife and the world’s best loved and most iconic creature, the noble feline, can still be seen in its astounding landscapes. Today the chances of seeing a wild tiger are better than they have ever been, and tigers are safer today in the most visited parks in India than outside them, so your visit, with a responsible operator like On the Go Tours, really does make a difference.

Julian Matthews is the Founder and Chairman of TOFTigers. For further details on the campaign see www.toftigers.org or to follow a wild tiger and explore its jungles go to www.tigernation.org

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