Rendering land touristifiable: (eco)tourism and land use change

Pandya, Revati; Dev, Hari Shankar; Rai, Nitin D.; Fletcher, Robert


Critical research concerning ecotourism has revealed the activity’s socio-economic impacts, including low-wage employment-based dependencies for many rural communities. While these dynamics are important, a crucial aspect of the ecotourism industry that falls outside this conventional sort of dependency is land use dynamics, specifically land use change, sales and entrepreneurship. We examine these dynamics in Corbett Tiger Reserve, India, where promotion of (eco)tourism since the 1990s has influenced significant changes in local land use. These changes were initially facilitated by outsiders buying land and setting up hotels and resorts in villages adjoining the Reserve. Empirical research reveals that while this initial boom of outsiders buying land has waned, land owning villagers are now setting up tourism enterprises on their own land, thereby diversifying land use from agriculture to tourism. Critical agrarian research has shown that material and symbolic factors influence farmers’ decision-making regarding land use change. An agrarian studies perspective thus facilitates a nuanced understanding of tourism-related land use diversification and change. By bringing agrarian and ecotourism studies approaches together here, we contribute to both by emphasising the importance of (eco)tourism in agrarian change and of attention to land use change in ecotourism studies to understand how rural people negotiate and navigate (eco)tourism in relation to land use. We also contribute to tourism geographies more broadly by highlighting how land use decision-making shapes local spaces in the course of ecotourism development. We draw attention to the broader processes of and impacts of ecotourism that shift generational rural land use influenced by changing values of land outside a protected area. Rendering land touristifiable deepens villagers’ dependence on the market and alienates them from their land. Ecotourism commodifies nature, and we show that this commodification extends to rural land outside of ecotourism zones per se.