Udaipur as a Learning City

Background for Study on Tourism in Udaipur                                                 Winter 2001


Tourism has been highly touted as a route to the Development of a city or environment. It professes to bring much-needed revenue and employment to the inhabitants of the place, while simultaneously claiming to preserve its cultural, historical, or natural ‘attractions’.  These arguments are currently being used by the Rajasthan Government in its mission to expand tourism in the state (an estimated expenditure of nearly Rs.1,200 crore).  Because Udaipur and its surrounding villages are targets within this development plan, it is relevant and pressing to consider the influence these new policies/plans will have on the people of Udaipur, their economy, environment, culture and social relationships. 


The following background paper seeks to bring out critical points from the Rajiv Gandhi Tourism Development Mission for Rajasthan (the most current proposal on tourism development in Rajasthan), as well as to highlight pertinent information about tourism.  This article can be used as a starting point, from which to generate critical and creative ideas for the further exploration of tourism.


The Plans of the Rajasthan Government

Annexure B in the Tourism Development Mission lists eight areas for which the growth of tourism in Rajasthan is important: 

1.      Employment Generation

2.      Poverty Alleviation

3.      Empowerment of Women

4.      Survival of Rural Artists

5.      Upliftment of Rural Artists

6.      Improvement in Urban and Rural Infrastructure

7.      Better Image, Quality of Life & Attitude of People

8.      Revival of Traditions and Heritage Conservation & Management


These points form the comprehensive plan to uplift and empower the people of Rajasthan through an economy based in tourism – the largest growing industry in the world.[1]  This plan seeks to include urban and rural areas, as well as women, in increasing incomes, improving infrastructure, and encouraging full-spectrum participation.


From this list, we can roughly draw four categories by which to understand tourism: a) tourism as an economic industry; b) the environmental implications of tourism; c) the effects of tourism on social relationships; and d) the impact of tourism on culture, arts and language.  These categories are not mutually exclusive; they overlap and interact in a variety of ways.  However, for the purpose of an initial analysis, we will try to break down the discussion into each category, in order to understand the goals, relevance and potential implications of each.


Tourism as an Economic Industry

In putting forth the goals of employment generation and poverty alleviation, the Rajasthan Government is effectively viewing tourism as an economic industry.  The hope is that tourism will provide more jobs in the state, thereby distributing wealth and reducing poverty. Corporate incentives — such as the levying of industrial electricity rates, exemptions and reduction of taxes, interest subsidies, free land appropriation for site development, etc. — are being suggested to create a competitive and attractive market for growth.  By thus securing corporate involvement, World Bank loans, and other international and national bank loans, the Government is embracing the potential for an advanced model of tourism development —one which will enhance the flow of money into the economy and uplift the population through new labor and service market opportunities and incentives.


In this regard, the Tourism Development Mission seeks to create new sectors of tourism and advance infrastructure, services and amenities. Desert tourism, adventure tourism, pilgrimage tourism, weekend tourism, road-side tourism, golf tourism, desert skiing, scooter adventures, water sports, film shooting, etc., are being developed.  By offering unique and novel tourism options and opportunities, the Mission anticipates an increase in the number of tourists frequenting Rajasthan, a greater draw from corporate interests, and a subsequent revenue increase of nearly ten-fold by the year 2010.  The projected cost for new tourism development totals approximately Rs.460 crore.  Alongside these new sectors, core infrastructure, in the form of highways, roads, airports, bridges, and rail connectivity, is slated for growth and improvement.  The projected cost for infrastructure improvements and additions is Rs.500 crore.


By investing so much money into a plan such as this, the Government is ignoring a number of economic factors.  First, while new opportunities in labor and service may energize some parts of the economy, other economic niches will be depreciated or compromised entirely in this process.  For example, because the Government has the ability to “freely allot” rural, arable land for development purposes, small farmers stand to lose their land and therefore, their entire means of self-sufficiency and livelihood.  The same is the case for crafts that serve no use in the tourist trade, such as home ceramics (which are often too bulky for tourists to transport).   Second, for a community/city dramatically dependent on tourism, economic sustainability is virtually impossible.  Tourism is inherently unstable; unforeseen and uncontrollable outside forces, such as natural disasters, political changes, fluctuations in the global economy, etc., all affect the decisions of tourists.  The recent flurry of cancellations of bookings by tour groups and individuals, after the terrorist attack on September 11 in the United States, exemplifies such instability.  Moreover, tourism is a seasonal event – what happens to the economy and the community during the off-season? 


The Environmental Implications of Tourism

The Tourism Development Mission describes ‘sustainable tourism’ as “development which meets the needs of the present, without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”  This definition originally was used to describe ‘sustainable development’.  Coined in the late 1980’s, it has become an ambiguous, yet ubiquitous, catchphrase.  It is meant to prevent ecological and social damage; yet it has not seemed to hinder Development business as usual. For example, most of the projects outlined in the Mission require a large number of ecological resources to materialize.  Then, to sustain these tourism development projects, resources must be continuously accumulated and utilized.


In Rajasthan, perhaps the scarcest of all resources is (and has been historically) water.  Within the past 30 years in Udaipur, there have been a number of large droughts, including the one we are currently facing.  The decline of water tables is perhaps most obvious when viewing the surrounding lakes and dry mountains.  In response to this concern (perhaps in anticipation of it), the Mission has drafted a list of ways it plans to prevent drought in Rajasthan through tourism development.  For “drought proofing” Rajasthan, it suggests:

1.      Marketing of Dairy and Animal Husbandry Products

2.      Revival of Traditional Sources of Drinking Water

3.      Market Synergy with Khadi Sector

4.      Employment Generation During the Entire Year

5.      Synergy with Canal Systems

6.      Providing Ready Marketing Opportunities for Rural Artisans

7.      Revival of Traditional Building Art

8.      Revival of Traditional Arts and Crafts


It seems, therefore, that the Government sees the general opportunities created through tourism markets and the use of varied water sources as the catalyst for drought alleviation in Rajasthan.  Without elaboration, however, such intentions for “drought proofing” are questionable.  In fact, this gap in the Mission, coupled with specific project plans, directly contradicts such goals.  For example, “Golf Tourism” is planned for Udaipur, for a projected cost of  Rs.35 crore.  But golf courses take up huge tracts of land that are often expropriated from farmers or villages. Moreover, they use an exorbitant amount of water in construction and maintenance, and are a major contributor of pesticides, herbicides and pollution to the area’s natural environment, particularly to the water supply).  In addition, existing tourist amenities require excessive amounts of water.  A case in point can be seen in Phuket, Thailand.  As Deborah McLaren (1998) reports, “A single village only needs one half cubic meter of fresh water per day.  This amount is not enough for one guest staying in a hotel… The fresh water used by ten big hotels in Phuket – about 100,000 cubic meters per day – equals the water use by the whole Phuket population.”


The last 50 years of Udaipur’s environmental history have not been very good.  We have seen how industries (marble mining, zinc mining, timber, pesticide production) have taken their toll on the area’s natural resources.  As another industry, will the demands and effects of tourism be similarly unsustainable and destructive?


The Effects of Tourism on Social Relationships

What happens to a society dependent on tourists for employment and revenue?  While the overarching goals of tourism development focus on the positive upliftment of people through employment and incoming revenue, both in urban and rural areas, achieving such goals is not so simple. Where does the government get the money to fund such elaborate projects?  Where specifically is tourist revenue going?  How does the community change to compete for incoming money?  What are the results of these changes?


From world trends, and from quotes inside the Mission, we can assume that primary funding for Rajasthan’s tourism development is coming from the World Bank.  Typically, much of the money generated through such development projects immediately vanishes, as the state repays its debts (or the interest on them).  In Rethinking Tourism and Ecotravel (1998), Deborah McLaren explains how tourist income is typically distributed in two categories: a) what leaves the community and b) what remains in it.  Most of the money goes to overseas investors or transnational corporations, in the form of expenditures for development, promotion and transportation, and as foreign import costs of food, energy, technology, building materials, communication systems, manufactured goods, mid- and upper-level management, etc.  Within the community, income is divided between profits to local owners, wages to employers, food, locally supplied items/souvenirs and maintenance expenditures.  Because the percentage of revenue secured by the community is low, it is in high demand.  


So in efforts to procure a share of tourists’ pocketbooks, competition becomes a major societal pressure. This negatively affects the relationships in communities and thus the functioning and of the community.  In other Indian communities, such as in Goa and Kerala, tourism has also disrupted/perverted social practices, such as sacred rituals and agricultural cycles.  It has also led to the growth of social ills, like prostitution, AIDS, crime and drugs.


The Impact of Tourism on Culture, Arts, and Language

“…when we travel, we buy a product, a product that includes people.  Travel offers an exciting chance (for those who can afford it) to buy or become, if only for a little while, a part of another culture.”                                                                       — Deborah McLaren


Tourism in Udaipur, as in the whole of Rajasthan, largely highlights its traditional crafts and cultural and historical monuments. By creating more access to rural areas and artisans, the government sees two-fold benefits.  One, tourists have increased interest in rural regions; and two, rural economies are uplifted as artisans and other members of the community have the ability to capitalize on their traditional skills (with possibilities even for world travel, the Mission suggests).  Further, by making historical and cultural sites attractive for corporate investment, more funds can enter the state.  For example, the Mission suggests an ‘Adopt-a- Monument Scheme’ for corporate and institutional donors.  It also seeks to lease out premier heritage sites to internationally acclaimed hotel chains.  By functioning on a competitive bid system, the Government hopes to bring in a hefty sum of money, while simultaneously attracting big names to develop the heritage and culture of Rajasthan.


There are several questions to be asked here.  First, can rural life serve as a tourist attraction?  By turning traditional ways of living and the production of crafts into tourism products, people compromise their cultures and common functions of their lives.  The ‘products’ that sell best become the focus of work and life. This not only distorts traditional meanings and uses, but it also contributes to the disappearance of those crafts that do not sell.  In addition to crafts, there is concern that innovations and knowledges are being pirated and patented as “intellectual property.”  Tourists enter forests, farmlands and sacred places and walk away with local plant or wildlife, healing treatments, grains, spices, etc.  This ‘bio-piracy’ results not only in economic loss, but also in the loss of living systems. 


In considering the cultural and historical impacts of tourism in Udaipur, the major touristed sites in the Mission include Jag Niwas, City Palace and Saheliyon-ki-Bari.  If these sites are turned solely into sources for corporate income generation (they are not far from there), how will they lose meaning for the community?  A cultural or historical site represents different qualities and values to a community – whether through use, religious significance, location, etc.  When the ‘ownership’ of such a site shifts to a single party for economic benefit, the community associations to that site – largely cultural – also change.  This may be reflected in a loss of perceived responsibility to a site, loss of traditional access and use, and resentment when cultural or historical significance is perverted.


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This background note begins to give a picture of the pressures Udaipur will face as the Rajiv Gandhi Tourism Development Mission comes into action.  The points presented here are the seeds to a larger discussion about the complexity of the situation in Udaipur today; they represent a form of development to be discussed on a larger, national and global level as well.  By starting with Udaipur and considering the plans and potential outcomes, we can begin to see ourselves within the complexity and draw on our own experiences and perspectives for further discussion and direction.

1 See Deborah McLaren. 1998. Rethinking Tourism and Ecotravel: The Paving of Paradise and What You Can Do to Stop It. West Hartfod, CT: Kumarian Press.