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US expert talks on sustainable tourism in state

SHILLONG: Tourism destinations across the globe are facing problems of overcrowding and degradation of resources making it imperative to look for sustainability.
Kathleen Pessolano, the Programme director of the Global Sustainable Tourism Council (GSTC), a US-based NGO, spoke to a section of the media after a lecture on sustainable tourism.
“Destinations nowadays are experiencing overcrowding and degradation of resources. The World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) has announced, based on its members’ priorities, the top three issues that tourism needs to take into account for the future,” Pessolano said.
“One is climate change, the second is protection of our destinations and the third is disruption. Degradation of tourist destinations is a big problem, many destinations are struggling with managing well and sustainably and our criteria address how to do this as well,” she added.
Pessolano, who delivered the lecture at the vice-chancellor’s conference room on Tuesday, was also impressed with the traditional conservation method employed by communities at Mawphlang heritage village. “I think there is a lot of potential for the heritage village, which we visited, to develop into a site that many can enjoy as long as they put in systems officially to protect and manage the resources there,” said the expert.
The US Consulate Kolkata has sponsored her visit to meet with a few stakeholders in Meghalaya about sustainable tourism development.
Pessolano said GSTC has not yet conducted any official assessment here in India though it offers this as a service.
“This community has a lot of potential to grow tourism as driver of economic development but the Global Sustainable Tourism Council which I work for, sets standards on how to organise tourism and manage it well so that people can benefit from tourism without creating negative impact from tourism on local cultural and environmental resources which is very important so that tourism can continue to benefit communities for the future,” she added.
Stating that GSTC is the world’s leading standard setting body for sustainability of tourism, she said that GSTC sets a standard for hotels, one for tour operators and one for destinations.
“GSTC accredited certification bodies certify hotels, tour operators and destinations to GSTC standards so that people and companies when they are looking to purchase responsible travel options they can find them,” she said.
She added, “The Government of India has customised the GSTC criteria to the Indian context by setting sustainable tourism criteria for India and there is available on the website. So you can go and find the criteria and Indian businesses and communities can use this as a guide to develop their operations to manage tourism sustainably.”
GSTC is an NGO backed by the UNWTO (World Tourism Organisation) which has a wide global membership and network with an aim to promote sustainable development of tourism.
Asian Confluence event
Asian Confluence hosted an interactive discussion titled “Sustainable Tourism as a Growth driver: Oppurtunities, Challenges, and the Way Forward” in its premises in Laitumkhrah. The panellists included Kathleen Pessolano of Global Sustainable Tourism Council, USA, Cyril Diengdoh, Director of Tourism and Jamie Dragon, Director of American Centre, Kolkata.
Pessolano explained to the audience comprising local entrepreneurs, hoteliers, diplomats etc. When asked by a businessman how GSTC can help converge with stakeholders and the State Government, Pessolano said, “Our organisation has a legal status to co-ordinate according to the criterias set by the State Government”.
In the Q and A session that followed, Pessolano familiarised the audience into how GSTC can help sustainable tourism in Meghalaya by certifying organisations in the field.
Diengdoh said responsible tourism can be achieved through connecting the tourists with culture. He added that Indian Institute of Tourism Management will start training tourist guides. “It is also good that communities have come forward desiring development. Tourism requires a host of actors”, he said.

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