Effort to ‘equip’ Arunachal with best practices on water linked tourism, livelihood from foreign shores

ITANAGAR, Jul 18: A dissemination cum consultation workshop titled ‘Opportunities in Water, Tourism, Energy and Linked Livelihoods in Arunachal Pradesh: Learning from the Mekong Region’ organized by the Asian Confluence, a Shillong based thinktank working on issues of water, connectivity, trade, tourism and culture, in collaboration with the Department of Tourism, GoAP was held at the State Food Craft Institute, Itanagar.

The consultation shared key learning and best practices on water linked tourism and livelihood from the countries of Cambodia and Thailand in the Mekong region and explore ways to adapt them in the North East and specifically in the context of Arunachal Pradesh. 

Speaking on the occasion, Tourism Asstt Director Bengia Manna Sonam said: “We are focusing on enhancing the tourism experience in Arunachal by training communities and encouraging homestays to help tourist experience the traditional flavour of Arunachal.”

Prithviraj Nath, Senior Fellow, Asian Confluence, presented the learning and ideas from Mekong and said that Arunachal Pradesh has immense potential for tourism given its rich natural and cultural resources. He emphasized that the state is rightly poised to harness this potential to not only promote high value tourism in line with how countries like Cambodia and Thailand are doing in the Mekong region but also to help strengthen the conservation and sustainability of natural resources.

He shared how Cambodia went from very negligible international tourist footfall in early 90s to more than 5 million in 2017 with a revenue earning to the tune of INR 25733 crore in 2017. Arunachal having such immense potential still had a total of only 7417 international footfalls in 2017 (India Tourism Statistics, 2018).

The workshop also deliberated on the issues of the importance of sustaining rivers and water bodies to sustain tourism and linked-livelihoods. The experience from Mekong was useful in this direction and participants felt that the benefit sharing mechanisms prevalent in community-driven tourism in the Mekong region could be a good learning example.

The workshop also discussed how water-linked tourism in Arunachal relates to the hydropower promises for the state. Participants deliberated whether the idea of prosperity and economic growth through big hydropower, which is perceived to have environmental concerns, can be married to the idea of a promoting sustainable tourism in the state. 

Marki Loya, Director Arunachal Pradesh Energy Development Agency pointed out that while genuine concerns need to be factored in the topography of Arunachal Pradesh has certain advantages and dams are unlikely to cause major displacement given the steep slopes and mountain gorges that they usually are planned around. Overall perception around this is that big hydropower, though will lead to economic gains, need thorough consultations and confidence building among communities to help create ownership and also bring clarity to the gains and allay concerns. Other than that smaller-scale projects may be looked at.

Bengia Mrinal, secretary Arunachal Pradesh Tourism Operators’ Association stressed the importance of community awareness, training of youth and also handholding from the govt to help tourism sector to prosper.

He emphasized the need to align policy and implementation so that new-age ideas, structures and formats are popularized in tourism sector, instead of business-as-usual strategies.

Govt officials, private players, experts, civil society, youth, and media from across Arunachal participated in the programme.