Understanding Destination wellbeing and Impact: Tourism Induced Happiness in Everest Region.

Bikal Khanal May 26, 2022

Everest-Base-Camp-2560x1280

The popularity and success of destinations historically have primarily been assessed via the number of visitors and the economic prosperity that it delivers. In other words, more often than not, the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is viewed as the tried and tested metric when measuring the success of any tourist getaway.

While GDP is a useful metric for economic growth, a place is more than just its quarterly income and financial position . Perhaps more so than economic value, a destination is more aptly defined by its people and communities, and their way of life.

This is where we as travelers must realize the need to go beyond GDP. Rather than simply considering the economic prospects and financial traffic of destinations,  it is time we realize the value of measuring touristic viability through the wellbeing and happiness of the communities that are the hosts of these enchanting destinations.

Over the years the way we view and emphasize the notions of happiness and wellbeing has changed; gradually but greatly. 

This increasing focus on the idea of wellbeing has  encouraged many communities and individuals to prioritize their individual and community happiness over other metrics of success. The tourism industry, for one, has benefitted in a multitude of ways from travelers who care for a community’s happiness index. In a feedback loop of sorts, travelers that care more about the wellbeing of a community have inadvertently resulted in happier destinations for travel.

Keeping this in mind, it is key to consider the importance of looking at the tourism industry not just as a profit-driven machine, but also as a platform that allows our efforts to have an expansive range of positive impacts across a number of communal levels.

In layman’s terms, the happiness index is a survey tool that assesses the communal wellbeing, psychological happiness, and life satisfaction of a community, among other things. A more qualitative approach to reviewing tourism success, this system keeps local individuals and communities at the forefront and seeks to move tourism beyond just sustainability,  to a level of regeneration that encourages an ecosystem where all stakeholders continually contribute towards improving the quality of life of  host communities. 

Our Impact Partner Planet Happiness has devised a survey tool (Happiness Index Survey) and seeks to understand the impact of tourism on the well-being of locals. We forged an alliance this March to understand the wellbeing of locals in the Everest Region of Nepal.

View-of-Everest-Base-Camp-6

How Tourism changed the Khumbu and Everest region — for the better.

Perhaps the prime sight to see when in Nepal, the Khumbu and Everest region together receives more than 30,000 visitors every year. This influx of visitors to the region has brought with it a plethora of changes and has established tourism and hospitality as the primary income source for a majority of the local population. This in turn has greatly helped improve the standard of living of the people . More tourists have meant more business and in turn more employment for the local people here.

Taking into account the economic progress that the region has witnessed, Paul Rogers co-founder of Planet Happiness — a tourism and big data project of the Happiness Alliance  — has been working on studying 30 settlements spread across the  region. 

Rogers first visited and studied the region for his 1997doctoral thesis titled, “Tourism, Development, and Change in the Sagarmatha (Mt Everest) National Park and its Environs.” Since this time the landscape and its households have changed dramatically. Rogers now seeks to understand the behavioral change among the locals, including attitudes towards health care and education system, and growing involvement of the youth in  of the regions tourism system.

Royal Mountain Travel and Planet Happiness are very hopeful that the deployed survey will provide more detailed insights regarding the transformation of rural lives and the impacts created via tourism. 

Everest View

Everest Region

Paul’s Perspective on Tourism induced changes in Sagarmatha National Park

In his 5 weeks of traveling through  settlements and deploying the happiness index survey, My conversation with Paul and his suggested changes in the region can be summarized in the following points:

  • While being located in a remote corner of Nepal, the remarkable indigenous communities of the Khumbu region have taken initiative to look after the schools, the health systems, the regeneration of forests, the water supply, the hydro-electric plants, the litter & waste, and more. The government’s efforts in recycling National Park Management income, and reinvesting a portion of this into community projects further aids to support  processes of lifestyle transformation.

 

  • Initiatives to expand access to the region has resulted in the construction of better road networks. This development comes with both pros and cons for tourism and local communities. Previously, with just RNAC and limited flight access, it was popular to access the Khumbu through trekking routes. Back then, the nearest road to the region was in Jiri, from where it took seven days to reach Lukla. Today a hard-topped road connects Saleri — the Solukhumbu district capital — with Kathmandu. That being said, air travel is still the major mode of transport for travelers. While this development has led to better healthcare access, cheaper goods, and an ease of access, it has also resulted in fewer trekkers, increased pollution, and a loss of income and jobs in former trekking regions to the south of Lukla. Most households & locals that Paul spoke with, have been in favor of the expansion of these road networks.
  • With increased accessibility to air transport, helicopters have become quite common in the region. This has meant easier medical evacuations, more convenient movement of materials and supplies, and easier transport for travelers and locals. On the other hand, many lodges, especially those in the lower and higher Khumbu region have lost many overnight stays, and many yak owners and porters have  lost their incomes . Rising noise pollution levels is increasingconcern among the locals. Centers such as the renowned Tengboche Monastery, falls directly below the main flight path and is constantly plagued by loud engine noise disrupting the meditative practices of the monastery. This leads us to Paul’s bigger statement, “The purpose of tourism development is to support and improve the wellbeing of host communities.  If it is failing to do this, it is neither responsible nor sustainable.”

 

  • In 1993,the demand for timber by lodges and fuelwood to keep tourists warm at night, led to rife deforestation in the national park  and its buffer zone. This was deeply concerning. By 2000, Nepal had introduced its revised Buffer Zone Act which (among other things) enabled the formation of committees and forestry user groups that empowered residents to manage local natural resources more sustainably.
namche - Kenjuma - enroute to Everest Base Camp Trek

Porter in Everest Region

Moving Forward :

It is evident that our metrics for assessing development and local change needs to move beyond GDP. As we  begin to understand that sustainability and development correlates directly with lifestyles and local realities of communities and individuals, we must also shift to a metric that is more human-centric.

While most people believe happiness wellbeing and quality of life to be an intangible thing that cannot be quantified. Governments and institutions that seek to move beyond economic growth as a measure of a country’s worth need to start adopting a new assessment approach that takes communal happiness and wellbeing into account.  

Paul’s insight from his interaction with locals, and the results that the survey shall show are likely to be indicative of the need for a mechanism that allows industry players at all levels to emphasize on plans that keep the wellbeing of the local community and its individuals at the forefront. Within the tourism industry, key players and stakeholders have significant capacity and resources that can be jointly oriented towards understanding problems faced by destinations, and then developing comprehensive mitigation measures that will open avenues to further strengthen the grand vision of regenerative tourism in Nepal. 

 

Royal Mountain Travel – Sustainability Series

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