Observing the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), United Nation World Tourism Organisation has launched the programme of Sustainable Tourism for Eliminating Poverty (ST-EP) which was announced during the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg in the year 2002 and the programme has been practiced in many developing countries. ‘Sustainable Tourism’ also known as Community Based Tourism, Ecotourism and Responsible Tourism is a tool of conserving biodiversity and development of local communities’ socio-economic status as well as culture of the local communities can be promoted through it.
The Bodoland region is rich in natural resources, since large area of the region is covered with forest where varieties of valuable flora and fauna are available. The richness of natural resources of Bodoland is acknowledged by the Manas Biosphere Reserve which extends from the Sankosh River in the west to Dhansiri River in the east along the Himalayan foothills. It includes 2837 Sq. Km. area of which 500 Sq. Km. belong to Manas National Park a World Heritage Site declared by UNESCO. The entire Manas Biosphere Reserve has other two national status viz. Manas Tiger Reserve and Ripu-Chirang Elephant Reserve declared by Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change. These statuses are given according to suitable habitat of Tiger and Elephant so that the long term conservation of these endangered wild animals can be done. Generally Manas Biosphere Reserve supports a total 60 species of mammals of which 22 are included in schedule-I and some are endemic to the area, over 300 species of birds, 36 reptiles, 7 amphibians and 543 species of plants.
The richness of natural resources and statuses of the region have given a major boost to promotion of community based tourism in the region, but the concept of generating economic benefits to local communities and also as a good instrument for generating local support for conservation of nature is yet to happen. Properly planned long term community based tourism initiatives can integrate conservation of biodiversity with livelihood benefits of local communities and promoting culture of the region.
The local communities residing in and around the Manas Biosphere Reserve live in poverty and unstable economy. Even they are restricted in accessing natural resources from the forest though their source of livelihood dependent on it. However, effective implementation of the concept of Community Based Tourism can have an enormous impact on the lives of the local communities and those who depend on natural resources for their livelihood. Proper rules and regulation and effective policy needs to be put into practice to achieve the goals of Community Based Tourism.
The Indian Ministry of Tourism has been targeting to exploit unique tourism products like community based tourism in order to promote a 365 days tourist destination in the country and to overcome the problems of ‘seasonality’. In the year 2013, Ministry of Tourism, Govt. of India has been identified the Manas as Park Mega circuit/tourist destination including Orang, Nameri and Kaziranga. To encourage the stakeholders to promote and practice community based tourism, the Ministry of Tourism, Govt. of India has included categories of awards like, “Best Responsible Tourism Project”, Best Eco friendly Practices by Tour Operators” and “Best Eco friendly hotel” in the National tourism Awards presented annually to various segments of travel, tourism and hospitality sector. Even the Tourism Department of Bodoland Territorial Council is also targeting to promote tourism in the region over the years, mostly in the biodiversity reserves which is not effecting yet due to lack of proper planning and policies and responsible stakeholders.