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Crafts & Tourism: Challenges and Potential

McComb, Jessie F., a Fulbright Scholar, was in New Delhi for a year studying the lost wax casting process of the Bastar region in Chhattisgarh and the surrounding areas. Back in America, she is going to contribute to our website in a new series Letter from America. Ms. McComb received a BA in both Art History and Physics in 2003 from Hamilton College, in Clinton, New York. In addition to her interests in Indian folk and tribal crafts, she has worked extensively with Contemporary Indian Art.

In this context of globalization and growing extension of modern communication techniques, there is paradoxically a quest for quality, identity and originality. While countries, individuals and groups are more and more committed to combining the ability to participate in the world of technology and open markets with the promotion of their cultural heritage, it is not surprising therefore that tourism has moved from the 3 S (sun, sea and sex) to the 3 E (entertainment, excitement and education). How then can we make the best of this favorable wind of change to further promote crafts development?

- Address by Mr. Indrasen Vencatachellum, UNESCO Representative, at the Closing Ceremony of the International Workshop on Tourism and Crafts.

Tourism is the largest industry in the world and directly employs about 36 million of India’s people. Although the effects of tourism on the craft industry have yet to be thoroughly studied, the 6.8 millions tourists that visit South Asia every year clearly provide India’s artisans with opportunities for sales and direct market feedback. In reports from the Asian Development Bank, experts forecast that tourists into South Asia will reach at least 18.8 million visitors by 2020, which will undoubtedly bring billions of dollars into the region.

However, all is not positive. The tourism industry has had to deal with the threefold blow of 9/11, SARS (and now the Avian Flu) and the war in Iraq. These factors made 2003 the worst year on record for global tourism, with a decrease of nine million worldwide tourist visits from 2002. Clearly the biggest threat to tourism is the feelings of uncertainty that travelers daily face when presented with images of bombsites and war ravaged villages and growing concern over health statistics and death tolls. India’s place in this overwhelming uncertainty is often vague. Although, India receives far more visitors than its surrounding South Asia neighbors, she still deals with an image that contains threats to safety and health as well as a location close to unstable nations with anti-western sentiments.

With India’s artisans facing all these challenges in addition to their daily struggles, how can they learn to harness the power of tourism to develop their craft sectors? As with all marketing efforts the first rule it to identify the customers. The type of tourists visiting places in South Asia has not shifted much over the years with the majority of them being long-haul visitors who place value on experiences, authenticity and low prices. Of course, India also sees her fair share of short stay visitors who come with specific reason and spend much on luxury hotels, spas and goods. However, with the current global situation, even these short stay visitors are acting more spontaneously, staying much closer to home and spending less.

Both type of tourists are beneficial for artisans in India, given that their specific needs can be met. Long-haul tourists are less likely to spend on goods in general since their budget is limited and their luggage small. They will spend on crafts, like textiles, that are easy to carry or ship and less expensive than other media. For example in the UNESCO Crafts/Tourism Index, UNESCO ranked the top selling craft categories to tourists in Burkina Faso as textiles, jewelry, wooden objects, bamboo and other natural fibers and leather. These categories will obviously change per country but the fact that tourists are more interested in small, easy-to-carry and less expensive items remains. Short stay tourists are, of course, more likely to spend more money in a shorter period of time and be less discerning about the size and weight of their purchases.

Even though tourism overall may be struggling, the future of crafts in tourism is seeming brighter. Globalization has been often criticized as a westernization of the world, however it has created an enthusiasm about cross-cultural learning for some. Looking at trends in tourist spending and societal shifts, strong consumer excitement and awareness for sustainable tourism is predicted. In 2003 Eco-tourism accounted for about 20% of tourist spending, with the potential for growth. Eco-tourism, often described as culturally and environmentally sensitive, can include outdoor adventures as well as authentic cultural experiences in crafts villages or elsewhere. Bhutan is a prime example of a country that has placed high value on eco-tourism, not only to increase tourist spending but more importantly to preserve Bhutanese culture. For example Bhutan’s National Ecotourism Strategy states that eco-tourism is “Styles of tourism that positively enhance the conservation of the environment and/or cultural and religious heritage and respond to the needs of local communities”.

Although there is much further to go in developing the tourist market, the potential that already exists is great. UNESCO’s Crafts/Tourism Index pointed out that in some cases “the direct sales to tourists of crafts items brought a larger income than exports. In Thailand, for example, tourists purchases of crafts products amount to almost 2 billion US Dollars, surpassing the total national exports.” With proper assistance and a market driven plan, crafts both in India and across the globe can harness this potential to the benefit of both the artisan and tourists as they learn more about cultures worldwide.

References:
UNESCO Crafts/Tourim Index, Paris May 2004, Mr. Dominique Bouchart Asian Development Bank, South Asia Subregional Economic Cooperation Plan



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