Spotlight on the glamourous villages of the world
June Mukherjee, January 01, 2023
When it was felt that the pandemic is subsiding, travel resumed and the confined souls wanted to breathe amidst nature which was only possible in the vast open surroundings. An upward trend to travel to more off-the-beaten-track routes, closer to nature was noted. Exploring the hidden gem destinations became a respite from the urban jungle which is otherwise a regular thing for people towards a comfortable living for work and life.
Rural Tourism or Village Tourism which was considered from a different domestic perspective found its new ‘avatar’ in internationally acclaimed tourism villages especially when UNWTO (United Nations World Tourism Organisation) recognised them as sustainable and worth-visiting in different countries.
To otherwise happy outbound tourists from populous Asian countries, these newer attractions are giving competition to popular capital city tourist hotspots. Many tourists are preferring to touch down the capital city by air and move on to the countryside for holidaying and relaxing purposes. These picturesque villages are already being portrayed as glamourous alternatives with a rural touch covering virgin nature and opulence of freshness.
While naming 32 destinations from around the globe as ‘Best Tourism Villages 2022’, the UNWTO advocated that rural tourism has a high potential to stimulate local economic growth and social change because of its complementarity with other economic activities, its contribution to GDP and job creation, and its capacity to promote the dispersal of demand in time (fight seasonality) and along a wider territory. It is a type of tourism activity in which the visitor’s experience is related to a wide range of products generally linked to nature-based activities, agriculture, rural lifestyle/culture, angling and sightseeing. Rural Tourism activities take place in non-urban (rural) areas with the following characteristics: a) low population density, b) landscape and land-use dominated by agriculture and forestry and c) traditional social structure and lifestyle.
With the vision of making tourism a positive force for transformation, rural development and community well-being, UNWTO launched this initiative. It seeks to advance the role of tourism in valuing and safeguarding rural villages along with their associated landscapes, knowledge systems, biological and cultural diversity, local values and activities (agriculture, forestry, livestock and/or fisheries), including their gastronomy. The initiative also recognises villages for their commitment to innovation and sustainability in all its aspects – economic, social and environmental – and a focus on developing tourism in line with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). While selecting the best 32, the set of criteria covered nine areas: 1) Cultural and Natural Resources; 2) Promotion and Conservation of Cultural Resources; 3) Economic Sustainability; 4) Social Sustainability; 5) Environmental Sustainability; 6) Tourism Development and Value Chain Integration; 7) Governance and Prioritization of Tourism; 8) Infrastructure and Connectivity; and 9) Health, Safety, and Security. It showcases the power of the tourism sector to drive economic diversification and create opportunities for all outside of big cities.
Now, what is so special in these villages? According to UNWTO, these villages are an outstanding example of a rural tourism destination with accredited cultural and natural assets, that preserve and promote rural and community-based values, products, and lifestyle and have a clear commitment to innovation and sustainability in all its aspects – economic, social and environmental.
The list of best tourism villages surprises many. While it features double entries from multiple countries, it does not include countries driven by rural economies big in quantity and quality. More specifically, the absence of any Indian village in the list and the entry of two villages each from China and Ecuador strike a disbalance with the global tourism trend. The Indian village of Khonoma in the northeastern state of Nagaland is India’s first green village and it is in waiting for the developmental programme for the next year. In fact, it is the only Asian entry for developmental work.
There could be any number of model villages anywhere in the world, but it must also be kept in mind, international travellers are not visiting China for tourism purposes anytime soon. It looks fine to count two entries from Switzerland, Spain or Italy, but a more decentralised ‘one country one entry’ would have offered a better bouquet. The highest tourist-attracting countries like Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia etc. will leave no stone unturned to come up with a brilliant promotional strategy highlighting their rural tourism power which is actually very strong by virtue of the gift of natural landscape within the country.
The sustainability of tourism in rural villages will only be successful if a comprehensive, inclusive planning strategy is adopted and implemented based on a multi-action and multi-stakeholder participatory approach. The “AlUla Framework for Inclusive Community Development through Tourism” taken by the UNWTO under the leadership of the 2020 G20 Saudi Presidency, desires to help fulfil the sector’s potential to contribute to and achieve inclusive community development and the SDGs. The framework provides guidance and inspiration to all governments, as well as all other key stakeholders in the tourism sector – including regional and local governments, the private sector, industry associations, civil society, communities and tourists – with the aim of fostering a truly holistic and integrated approach to inclusive community development through tourism.
However, it is ultimately in the hands of the tourists and their changing behaviour to make the above a success by picking the right choice that enables community development of the destination visited. The more local experience we seek, the more immersive lifestyle exposure we encounter at a newly travelled place, we contribute to the local soil and to the local people’s holistic development in a responsible way.
While seeking a village getaway, the urban tourists must also keep one last thing in mind, with their entire existence and appearance, they carry an urban attitude with all the modern gadgets, expensive outfits and flashy social media showcase approach. Most of the time it transpires wrong vibes into the local rural community who are either economically challenged or not exposed with so much of modernisation. We should ideally enter their natural habitat in as much modest manner as we can avoiding the display of the glitz and glamour they are denied of. If at all anything should be spread it is the message of humanity, equality and opportunity that lies ahead, and not a desire for material possessions. As we leave a village after the trip is over with some sweet memories to cherish forever, we must also leave our good gestures with the local people as our footprints in their land.
Check out the best tourism villages by UNWTO