Rural Himachal is in turmoil. The global economic reforms, labour crisis and climate change coupled with repeated crop failures has brought numerous challenges and opportunities especially to the fruit growers. Rural tourism is one such opportunity, which can help and improve the well being of rural areas. However, it has its pitfalls and challenges as well. Although the role of tourism as a tool for the economic renewal of rural areas has long been acknowledged there is still debate on whether tourism brings more advantages or disadvantages to rural areas.
Developing rural tourism is a challenging task. The major problem lies in defining rural tourism, the scale of development and level of participation of the local people. Rural tourism is difficult to define and covers all recreational activities that occur in rural settings, such as village tourism, eco tourism, cultural tourism, heritage tourism, adventure tourism and nature based tourism. Rural tourism is not likely to succeed if urban tourism infrastructure is transplanted into a rural setting. Large resorts in rural mountain scenery look spectacular but they do not necessarily guarantee a thriving tourism industry and their contribution to the local economy is highly debatable. Moreover, they put unnecessary burden on the fragile local resources. Rural tourism projects need to be integrated into the local economy, and the use of local capital and local produce must be encouraged. Similarly the objectives of promoting rural tourism cannot achieve if it is controlled by people based in large urban centers without the active participation of the local rural population.
Rural tourism should help diversify the economic base, rather than simply replace one dominant rural activity for another and it should strive to give the visitor an authentic taste of rural culture which is a key component of rural tourism.
It cannot be said with certainty whether tourism will pull rural areas out of decline, but what is certain is the fact that tourism in rural Himachal is on the rise and this trend is likely to increase in the coming years. A planned sustainable approach is the need of the hour.