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.
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.
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.
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:
Porter in Everest Region
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.
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