Himachal Pradesh, known for its rich natural heritage, is amongst the top tourist destinations in the country, both for national as well as international visitors. Recent estimates, place the number at about 160 lakh visitors –more than twice the State`s population. However, much of the tourism related activity is concentrated in four major locations, Shimla, Manali, Dharamshala and Dalhousie. A majority of the visitors do not get an opportunity to experience the rich bio-cultural diversity contained in the many Forest areas, Sanctuaries and National Parks that comprise such a large part of Himachal Pradesh.
The Forest Department of Himachal Pradesh framed an Eco-tourism policy during 2005 to enable tourist to experience this national heritage. The policy needed revision mainly due to the procedural requirements of obtaining clearance of Eco-tourism sites under Forest Conservation Act, 1980 as per guidelines of the Ministry of Environment, Forest & Climate Change (MoEF&CC), Government of India. Some changes in the existing policy document have also been necessitated in the context of the evolving understanding of Eco-Tourism concepts and principles.
The Revised Eco-Tourism Policy 2016 aims at bringing the wilderness and virgin ecosystems of Himachal Pradesh closer to visitors and at the same time ensure adequate safeguards and systems for the protection and conservation of these natural resources. By involving local communities, the policy would help in increased livelihood opportunities as well as their involvement in awareness building, protection and conservation. It also envisages generation of financial returns which can be ploughed back into proper up keep and maintenance of the environment. It shall also promote greater understanding and appreciation for natural and cultural heritage.
The ongoing Eco-Tourism projects also need to be re-looked at and reviewed in view of the Central Ministry’s guidelines on Eco-Tourism. It may be necessary to evaluate the on-going projects in order to decide on their further continuation after the culmination of the term of these projects.