An enquiry into the potential of a Co-operative approach to sustainable Rural tourism development in India. A stakeholder perspective
Gladwell, C. (2015) An enquiry into the potential of a Co-operative approach to sustainable Rural tourism development in India. A stakeholder perspective, no. 342.
Sustainable tourism and rural development are much examined research areas. Within these, the importance of community-centric approaches is becoming more and more recognised; however, specific research upon which community-centric development strategies could be built seems to be lacking. This thesis addresses this research gap with the aim to explore the nature of co-operative tourism and its potential towards sustainable rural tourism development in India from a stakeholder perspective. A literature review demonstrated the benefits of co-operatives as a sustainable business model, particularly for poor communities of developing countries; however, a clear gap emerged with regard to investigating tourism and co-operatives in the same context. This research contributes to filling this gap in knowledge and outlines the clear theoretical benefits of adopting a co-operative business model as a community-centric approach to tourism in the context of rural India, while also pointing out considerable challenges in its practical implementation, such as possible limitations to the ability for self-help. Fifty qualitative semi-structured interviews were carried out with stakeholders of a co-operative tourism project in two states of India: Uttarakhand and West Bengal. Twenty-six of these were conducted with farmers who are members of the tourism co-operatives presented in this study, ten with members of the wider community in which the project took place and fourteen with tourism professional and academics local to the areas. Focus was put on in-depth exploration of participants' experiences, implying qualitative methods and a phenomenological research approach. The findings revealed a clear theoretical advantage of a co-operative approach to tourism development, which has potential to address and alleviate many of the challenges associated with tourism and host communities, and which is intensified in poor peripheral areas. However, there are significant practical challenges, which need to be addressed in order for this comparative advantage to translate into practice. These challenges are manifested in a sense of dormancy in the participants, a lack of skills and significant language difficulties. A limit to the principle of self-help, which is inherent to co-operative activities, was identified as creating effective marketing links and hence, requiring ongoing external support. This research study makes an interdisciplinary contribution to the literature on sustainable tourism, rural development and co-operative studies. In addition, it provides a starting point for further empirical research on the co-operative business model as an approach, which has not yet been sufficiently conceptualised for tourism. Furthermore, it contributes to the wider debate on sustainable rural development through tourism. Future research could usefully investigate how the challenges identified in this study, such as limitations to the principle of self-help, lack of initiative in participants and creating marketing linkages could be addressed.