Challenges of Developing Rural Areas into a Tourist Destination: a Case Study on Naina Devi

Theme: Rural Development and Tourism

by Ms. Barjesh Kumari
HeritageForAll Intern (Call 2019) from Bilaspur, India
Internship Program “Rural Heritage and Traditional Food”
M.A. in Tourism Administration, Himachal Pradesh University



Rural areas are rich in culture, heritage, and landscapes but, these are deprived of education, good health, drinking water and all other basic amenities. The main issue, with rural population, is poverty and unemployment. Tourism development in rural areas can be the answer for all these problems because it is not only will provide a livelihood but also can conserve the nature and safeguard the tangible and intangible heritage of this community. On the other hand, there are challenges that limit touristic the development of these places.


Rural Development is a complex term that to be often understood as a creating modern infrastructure and the facilities. In contrast, we only convert the rural societies being the urban spaces. Considering the influences of urban culture in vernacular architecture, the food habits and the traditional customs of the rural areas and its people who must be aware of their worth.

Agriculture is the main base for the rural development in India, but through the last decade a strong shift in the rural employment has been noted. The rural people were highly depended on agriculture for their livelihood. According to NCRB Report in 2014, there are more than 5000 Indian farmer’s committed suicides who are under the pressure of a debt or a poverty. Although farmers invest their whole abilities into crops, they don’t always get the good results for their hard work.

Through Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, the government has provided the basic education to the children. Then, there are some organizations, e.g. NSDC, that to help the rural people earning new basic skills in order to get some opportunities with other job markets. As a result of that, the inhabitants are flocking to the urban areas for employment because of the lack of job opportunities, low income, seasonal jobs and poor amenities in rural areas. Thus, there arises a strong need for the sustainable rural development strategy that to work on four pillars of sustainability concept: people, planet, culture and profit. One such way is through tourism. There are numerous and various tourism opportunities in rural areas such as agro-rural tourism, cultural tourism, religious tourism, ecotourism, wildlife tourism, adventure tourism which though, we can sum up all these into one term i.e. “Rural Tourism”.

Rural Tourism will not even provide the whole employment opportunities and amenities for the local people of the rural areas but also it is considered a stage for the local art craft, cuisines, handicrafts and culture. Rural tourism is so existed investing the Indian historical value. People used to visit relatives on festivals to celebrate together or help in agricultural works at time of overburden of crop harvesting or sowing. They has learnt new arts, crafts, shared knowledge and new skill with each other through these visits. The rural tourism in modern sense is approximately same where one visit rural places, participate in rural activities, learn new skills and contribute to the local economy. Therefore, It has been defined by UNWTO (2017) as “a type of tourism activity in which the visitors experience is related to a wide range of products generally linked to nature-based activities, agriculture, rural lifestyle / culture, angling and sightseeing. Rural Tourism activities take place in non urban (rural) areas with the following characteristics: Low population density;Landscape and land use dominated by agriculture and forestry; and Traditional social structure and lifestyle”.

The basic concept of rural tourism is to benefit the local community through the entrepreneurial and income generation, employment opportunities, conservation and preservation of rural arts and crafts and environment and cultural heritage. (Kaur & Chowdhary, 2016)


Tourism in India is a very old concept. Despite of being rich in culture rural heritage, tourism is still a challenge. India, applying a strategy of rural touristic development, has multiple challenges:

First and foremost challenge is the community that has not recognized the product yet. It is important that the rural people identify the products they can market and activities they can sell to the tourists. (Mutambara & Mthembu 2018) Traditional cultures are dominant in the rural areas where visitors are so attracted and excited. The historic agricultural buildings and traditional agricultural tools and methods are part of a cultural heritage which appeals to visitors, who would sometimes like to listen to old tales and understand the village history. Culture is the asset in a rural tourism business. Local identity and products will provide a peculiarity to the tourist destination. But, Indians take global brands as a symbol of prestige and status, while the brands, e.g. a Starbucks or Dominos, in a rural destination won’t work out for the development of local community. Respectively, it is better to offer to the tourists the locally made products, such as local food and beverages, supporting their experience of that place.

Rural tourism in India is just at the discovery stage, taking into consideration the Butlers TALC, where some adventurers identified some places and started visiting them. According to Butlers Model of tourist area life-cycle, the next stage of growth and development will lead to construction of hotels and accommodations. the touristic facilities are also important. Tourist seeks to live in a comfortable environment feeling to be at his/her home. For developing such facilities, the governmental support is also required for funding as well as facilitating control on development. It is now where we need to stop and plan. They reached to a stage “the failure to plan is planning to fail”.

(Anon) Destination Planning is very much important and in this case, product designing has to be done in such a way. It leads to a sustainable attraction’s life-cycle creating a new context that doesn’t orient to the mass tourism format and also doesn’t disappear the local identity of the place. An infrastructure development has to keep in mind the local architectural style and visual appeal of the rural destination. There are many destinations visited specially for the weather attractions but over tourism has lead to over construction and visual pollution.

Promotion is important to grow the number an attraction’s visitors; and also to get a group of techniques preserving the attraction’s value. Some destinations receive good numbers of tourists while there is a lack of accommodation. It happens particularly with religious destinations in rural areas. Some destinations are at locations where it is difficult to provide good infrastructure.

Location is a challenge in development as an accessibility is another major factor in tourism demand. In tourism, an accessibility is a function of distance from centers of population, which constitute tourist markets and of external means of transportation which enables a destination to be reached. It is measured in terms of distance, the time taken or the cost involved. (Medlik, 2003) In absence of last mile connectivity, no attraction can grow as a tourism destination. Poor roads, non availability of transportation means will impact the demand for the touristic destination. Not only roads, no proper waste disposal system, drinking water facilities our villages lack in all kind of physical infrastructure and amenities.

Rural tourism is not possible in an isolated context. Collaboration among the community members is required for all inclusive development of rural destination. Subsequently, the concept of Tourist Village/Holiday Village can keep the village culture alive. Where all people of village are involved in tourism: the one who has crop fields can show the farms to tourists, the one with animal husbandry can show cows and buffaloes and arrange same activities for tourists. The one who has a boat can take him/her on a ride. Tourist can go and buy local handicrafts as a souvenir: shoes from cobbler, other artifacts.

Each and every person can get involved in rural tourism but again the challenge is: the ceiling of time. People in rural areas work so hard on their crops and households, so they won’t probably have time and interest in such business, and also, there will be language problems and other things. Community requires to enhance their skills. Upgrading the community characteristics for the rural tourism, it is important that the local people should earn the communication, hospitality and entrepreneurial skills. In addition, language forms a great barrier for people to travel to a new destination. There are places in India where people can’t even speak Hindi (national language). There are 22 major languages and 720 local dialects spoken in India in its various regions. And in some regions, people don’t even understand any other language than their own local dialect.

Entrepreneurship can be currently regarded as a part of a strategy to boost the economy. Communities can successfully leverage the power of entrepreneurship to help them addressing their economic, environmental and social challenges. (Lyons, 2015) Respectively, they require promoting their vocational education in rural areas especially the entrepreneurial, communication and marketing skills.

A Case Study of Naina Devi

Naina Devi is a Tehsil: cluster of 169 villages and one town. It is famous for a Hindu Temple- Shri Naina Devi Ji. There is a wildlife sanctuary area of 163.5 sq kms and a lake i.e. is a big reservoir of 170 sq kms of area that attracts a number of waterfowl birds every year.

Figure 1 (a) Scenic Views From Naina Devi Hill Top
Figure 1 (B) Scenic Views From Naina Devi Hill Top

Apart from local attractions: temple, lake, fort, and sanctuary this place has its own local culture – traditional dance and songs, folklore, and the local cuisines that can give a whole local experience to the tourist. For example in Figure 2 (a), a rural traditional feast is being prepared in traditional way.

Figure 2 Indigenous Culture: (A) Traditional Feast ‘Dham’ Being Prepared
Figure 2 Indigenous Culture: (B) Traditional Plate Made Up Of Plant Leaves

Tourist can also enjoy participating in some agricultural activities. A concept of tourist village can also work where the whole community comes together for tourism. The one who has crop fields can show the farms to tourists where tourist may enjoy participating in agricultural activities like sowing. The one who domesticates the animals can show cows and buffaloes and arrange some activities e.g. milking and feeding. The one who has a boat can take him/her on a trip. Tourist can go and buy the local handicrafts as a souvenir. In this way cultural, religious, wildlife and all type of possible tourism can be integrated into one i.e. Rural tourism.

Figure 3 Alternate Activities At Naina Devi: (A) Boat Ride

Figure 3 Alternate Activities At Naina Devi: (B) Local Home
Figure 3 Alternate Activities At Naina Devi: (C) Children Enjoying Ride On A Agricultural Tool Used For Sowing Seeds.

Acting the sustainability, we can’t lose the local identity of the place for the sake of tourism. An infrastructure development has to keep in mind the local architectural style and visual appeal of the destination. Religious tourism concentrated at temple can be provided with alternates like: a home stay, agri-farm visit, a boat trip, a jungle safari, a local ritual/celebration experience. But the challenge is infrastructure.

Figure 4 Local Type Of Accommodation ‘Kehloor Home Stay’

In absence of last mile connectivity, no attraction can grow as a tourism destination. Poor roads, non availability of means of transportation will impact the demand for the destination. Not only roads, there is no proper waste disposal system, drinking water facilities to the villages as well as the lack of the whole kind of the physical infrastructure and amenities. Promotion, in case of Naina Devi, should target a segment that is interested in the rural activities and create an infrastructure for their requirements. There is no need to target religious tourists.

Figure 5 (A) Poor Infrastructure And Garbage Spread Around Naina Devi

Figure 5 (B) Poor Infrastructure And Garbage Spread Around Naina Devi

In Naina Devi area, the community has a lack of communication, entrepreneurial, and hospitality skills. Thus, the vocational courses are introduced. Also, the basic culinary skills training is being provided to local women through various governmental programs.

Figure 6 (A) Basic Culinary Training Provided To Locals By Govt. Through CBT Initiative
Figure 6 (B) Basic Culinary Training Provided To Locals By Govt. Through CBT Initiative

Kahluri Craft Outlet is an entrepreneurial initiative by women, self help group of Naina Devi, who sells handmade local products like woven clothes, pickles, candy, local cuisines, and local crafts after they have taken a basic level training.

Figure 7 (A) Kahluri Craft – an Entrepreneurial Initiative By Local Women Self Help Groups
Figure 7 (B) Kahluri Craft – an Entrepreneurial Initiative By Local Women Self Help Groups

Naina Devi area has all the touristic characteristics that there are thousands of visitors who visit daily the temple in the town but, there is no proper carrying capacity infrastructure. Therefore, alternate tourism options, like ‘rural tourism’, can help things get better. Rural tourism can be used as a strategy to solve all rural problems but the challenges before us are like location of these places, infrastructural needs, education needs, skills gap.


Rural tourism can be used as a strategy to solve all rural problems but there are limitations like location of these places, infrastructural needs, education needs, skills gap that pose challenges before destination planners. If we get solutions to these problems we can solve the ultimate problems of rural community.


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  • Lyons, T. S. (2015). Entrepreneurship and Community Development: What Matters and Why?. Community Entrepreneurship Development, 46 (5), p. 456-460
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  • Mutambara, E. & Mthembu, B. (2018). Critical Resources for the Development of Rural Tourism within the Greater Bergville Area of Kwa-Zulu Natal South Africa. African Journal of Hospitality, Tourism and Leisure, 7 (5), p. 1-25.
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