Is Lakshadweep ready to become the new Maldives?, ET TravelWorld News, ET TravelWorld

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<p>Lakshadweep<br /></p>
Lakshadweep

Prime Minister Narendra Modi‘s recent visit to Lakshadweep stirred controversy after posts promoting the island nation triggered a backlash, leading to diplomatic tensions with the Maldives. Derogatory remarks by Maldivian officials on social media escalated the situation, sparking a call for a Maldives travel boycott and a surge in interest for Lakshadweep. Social media platforms are now abuzz with the battle cry favouring Lakshadweep over the Maldives, driving a significant spike in Google searches and a 2900 per cent surge in Lakshadweep travel queries on platforms like ixigo, while travel agencies like EMT have halted Maldives bookings.But as the spotlight turns to Lakshadweep, a critical question looms large: Is it prepared to become the new Maldives, and at what cost? The logical and clear answer is NO.

Sad day for Lakshadweep if its lagoons get dotted with Water Villas

On the hospitality front, Maldives at present flaunts over/ around 172 resorts, featuring some of the world’s most prestigious luxury hotel chains, while Lakshadweep lacks even a single five-star property at present and mostly the three-star hotels. There are plans of IHCL to introduce two Taj-branded resorts in Lakshadweep at Suheli and Kadmat islands, but this blueprint is projected to materialise no earlier than four years from now, as per the sources.

Much before the burgeoning interest in Lakshadweep’s tourism potential, concerns had also surfaced regarding the proposed construction of overwater villas by Taj. Mandip Singh Soin, Founder & MD at Ibex Expeditions and Founding President of Responsible Tourism Society of India, raised an important point about potential discomfort and environmental impact, particularly on the coral reefs. “The construction in Lakshadweep must not impact live corals,” he remarked.

Soin, in correspondence with IHCL CEO, Puneet Chhatwal, highlighted the need for a sustainability-focused approach in this development. He emphasised the significance of understanding and mitigating the potential adverse effects of overwater villas on the delicate ecological balance. Soin’s concern echoed the broader discussion surrounding the project’s ecological footprint and the absence of a comprehensive sustainability plan by the local government.

He noted that the Taj Group, known for maintaining high sustainability standards, could potentially set an example for responsible development.

Historically as well, Lakshadweep has witnessed limited tourist influx. Experts also have time and again cautioned against rampant tourism, citing the region’s vulnerability to additional human-induced pressures. The Lakshadweep Research Group also revealed the substantial difference in coral reef biodiversity between Lakshadweep and the Maldives due to distinct geomorphological factors. Uninhabited atolls in Lakshadweep boast up to six times the fish biomass and richer species diversity than those persistently affected by human activities. However, this unique biodiversity faces imminent threats without proper tourism regulations, according to the experts.

One of the responsible tourism pioneers and MD & CEO of CGH Earth, Jose Dominic, speaking from his experience of restructuring the Bangaram Island Resort in Lakshadweep, underscored the commitment to environmental preservation and the well-being of the local community during the project’s inception.

The success of the Bangaram Island resort was rooted in its community-centric model. Over 90 per cent of the workforce comprised local islanders. They innovatively utilised waste materials for cooking fuel, benefitting both the community and the environment.

While building Bangaram resort, Dominic and the team strictly adhered keeping the physical structures unobtrusive to preserve the Coral Atolls’ exquisite vista as building on the lagoon would disrupt its essence.

Drawing comparisons to the Maldives, Dominic highlighted the dangers of overdevelopment. “Consider constructing accommodation over the lagoon; while occupants may relish it, envision the toll on the atoll’s view. It’s akin to building Water Bungalows in the Taj Mahal gardens—a move as absurd and short-sighted as what’s been done in the Maldives. Despite attracting high-paying customers, it’s hardly a model India or Lakshadweep should emulate,” he stated.

“It will be a sad day if the Lagoons in the Coral Atolls of the Lakshadweep get dotted with Water Villas,” added Dominic.

Furthermore, the contrast in scale is evident—Lakshadweep, with its limited 36 islands, 10 of which are inhabited, stands in stark contrast to the Maldives’ 1800 islands.

“Unlike the Maldives, Lakshadweep cannot afford a slash-and-burn approach; each island here must be safeguarded at all costs,” Dominic reiterated.

Luxury travel ventures blossom in Lakshadweep & Ayodhya: IHCL and AweSpace lead the way

This strategic decision to develop ultra-luxurious villas into these premium destinations – Ayodhya and Lakshadweep – comes at a time when these locales have garnered global attention as India’s most sought-after destinations. AweSpace Ventures will develop ultra-luxurious villas while IHCL announces Taj-branded resorts for sustainable luxury. “There is a paradigm shift in the world of real estate and it is poised to reshape the landscape of luxury real estate, says Vijay Naraayanan, Co-Founder & CEO, AweSpace Ventures.

Connectivity a major deterrent

Additionally, reaching and travelling to Lakshadweep with ease, isn’t in its favour either. Maldives has direct flights from 40 capitals, while Lakshadweep’s Agatti airstrip limits to turboprops. Expansion plans were paused to protect turtle habitats. Currently, only Alliance Air operates a solitary AT7 aircraft between Kochi, Bengaluru, and Agatti each day.

This limitation stands in stark contrast to Maldives’ Velana International Airport, sporting a 4.2-kilometer runway welcoming widebody aircraft from across the world.

Managing destination sustainably is crucial

Taking the Red Sea Project in Saudi Arabia as an example to replicate, the project prioritises sustainability through various initiatives including environmental conservation, rigorous impact assessments and eco-friendly construction. It is powered by renewable energy, focusing on solar and wind sources. Their biodiversity protection and water conservation strategies aim to preserve the unique marine life and manage water resources efficiently.

Further, pointing to the Lakshadweep situation, Soin directed attention to the absence of a carrying capacity study, expressing worries about turning the other coastal place into an overrun destination. “While popularising destinations is beneficial, we must ensure strict carrying capacity measures on the ground. Recent experiences in Himalayan regions with traffic jams, insufficient parking, and garbage overflow urge a more cautious approach to tourism’s broader impact.”

“If the Ministry of Tourism’s Swadesh Darshan 2.0 mandates states to conduct carrying capacity and sustainability studies before receiving tourism grants. If implemented, it might prevent a situation like Ladakh, where unchecked growth led to environmental challenges like improper garbage disposal and excessive single-use plastic,” he added.

In response to these concerns, efforts are also underway to address and delve deeper into the sustainability aspect of tourism development in Lakshadweep.

The onus, pointed Soin, lies on meticulous planning, collaboration, and a commitment to sustainable practices to safeguard Lakshadweep’s natural allure for generations to come. “While tourism brings advantages, a mindful and sensitive approach is crucial for sustainable development,” he said.

Even though there is a push from the administration to build new airports including upgrading Agatti Airport and establishing water aerodromes in Minicoy, Agatti, and Kavaratti and building more hotels, any stride towards tourism development here must operate under the strictest sensitivity to Lakshadweep’s fragile ecosystem. The region’s allure is in its pristine remoteness, and any deviation from this delicate balance risks losing the very essence that draws intrigue.

“It must also be reckoned that India is not dependent upon tiny Lakshadweep for attracting tourists and build its economy but there is a greater need to preserve the pristine environment of the Lakshadweep as well as follow a model that will empower and harness the capacity of the local communities of the Lakshadweep,” stated Dominic, hinting at the need to bring up more offbeat destinations to the limelight.

The choice made now will shape its future. As conversations about its potential soar, the focus must remain on nurturing this paradise without sacrificing its essence, all the sustainability experts agree.

The eyes of the world are on Lakshadweep with both flight and hotel bookings full till March end. The crucial question remains: Will authorities opt for sustainable development or repeat the errors of overcrowded destinations for short-term gains?”

  • Published On Jan 10, 2024 at 07:40 PM IST

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