TO DO Award 2022 Himalayan Ecotourism, India
The Great Himalayan National Park (GHNP) is situated in the Indian state of Himachal Pradesh. Founded in 1984 to protect its rich flora and fauna, the national park was declared a World Natural Heritage site by UNESCO in 2014. This was a great success for conservationists. The local villagers, however, lost their options of using the forest, which led to heavy losses. When trekking tourism started, it could have compensated for the income opportunities lost.
However, the guides’ and porters’ wages were extremely low. In order to participate in tourism and obtain higher wages, a group of 65 members launched a local cooperative, but tour operators refused to contract the members.
To be able to organise treks with members of the cooperative, Stephan Marchal from Belgium founded the company Himalayan Ecotourism (HET). The wages are fixed by the cooperative in line with the members’ demands and market rates. About 80 percent of the income from HET is paid out as wages or is retained by the cooperative as reserves.
In addition, HET projects for women, e.g. the production, sale and dispatch of apricot soap and oil, contributed to increasing family incomes in the region. More and more members are starting to set up homestay accommodation. In this way, a significant part of the income from tourism benefits the local population.
Their work has been very successful, with almost every family benefiting from higher incomes (until the Covid-19 pandemic). This has made the community proud and has boosted their commitment. They also agreed to launch a reforestation project. HET is a social enterprise. In the medium term, after successful training on the job, local people are expected to take over.
There are no settlements, huts, markers or paths within the national park, just trekking paths at most. In this wilderness devoid of inhabitants, at an elevation of more than 4,000 metres visitors may enjoy extraordinary experiences of nature, provided that they are accompanied by guides, and porters are also needed. HET also provides high-quality equipment, which illustrates that the ‘eco’ in the name is relevant. “Ecotourism also includes resource conservation and sustainability. To us, ‘eco’ means more than just nature treks“, says Stephan Marchal.