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Help rural communities, save the environment and enjoy exotic journeys through these 12 travel social enterprises (Part -1)

Nelson Vinod Moses
28th Nov 2013
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Currently, the Indian tourism and hospitality sector is worth $ 117.7 billion and is expected to touch $ 418.9 billion by 2022. There isn’t any data on how much of that money is spent on responsible tourism, a travel segment that focuses on the triple bottom-line (financial, socio-cultural and environmental aspects). Responsible travel focuses on supporting local communities, protecting the environment and promoting sustainability. But what can’t be doubted is the fact that it is growing in India and will continue to do so. One of the indicators that India is a growing destination for responsible tourism, can be gauged from the fact that the 2013 International conference on Responsible Tourism was held in Kerala, in June this year.

Indian social enterprises have focused on responsible tourism for close to a decade now. And, in the recent past, the trend has started to gather momentum, mainly fueled by international travelers and Indians who are socially and environmentally conscious. In a two-part series, we profile 12 Indian social enterprises, that are doing a stellar job of providing consumers with an unparalleled travel experience, supporting local livelihoods, investing in their communities, protecting the environment and backing local cultures.

Presenting the first lot of 12 travel-related social enterprises.

1) Travel Another India: (TAI)

TAI was founded by Gouthami, after she was inspired by the experience of setting up a responsible tourism project in the village of Hodka (Gujarat) in 2009. TAI offers a variety of travel options across the length and breadth of India. Some of them are totally created and run by TAI: like their Pranpur (Madhya Pradesh) and Ladakh adventures, while trips to Hodka, Khanapur, Spiti, Mysore and Sonapani are partner run. Dubbed TAI Partners, these tours are designed keeping rural communities in mind. In Goa, they offer home-stays at places like Aldona, Curtorim and Olaulim.

What sets TAI apart is that they go beyond responsible tourism, they help custom-make trips, to a slice of the population that most travel operators ignore- senior citizens and individuals with disabilities. Journeys without Barriers (JwB) is a wing of Travel Another India that provides the experience of barrier-free travel to the elderly and physically challenged. In association with AccessAbility – an access consultancy firm – JwB enables persons with disabilities to travel stress-free.

2) India Untravelled: (IU)

In the world of travel writing, young Shivya Nath is a sort of a semi-celebrity. After quitting her corporate job when she was just 23 years old, she burst into the scene in 2011, to conjure travel stories that have appeared in BBC Travel, National Geographic Traveller, The Times of India and Lonely Planet.

Nath joined hands with her friend Siddharth and co-founded IU to leverage her knowledge of the travel industry to help travelers to access an India that not many people may have experienced before. Nath and Siddharth have picked destinations in rural parts of India in places like Kerala, Rajasthan, Delhi, Spiti and the Himalayas.

IU’s home-stays and farm-stays let travelers discover the culture of India’s villages, sample local cuisines, learn about ancient traditions, experience the region’s folk music & dances, listen to local stories around a bonfire, and discover indigenous art forms.

Revenues from IU support and sustain local communities, their heritage, culture, traditions and art forms. Want to get involved in the project? IU is looking for vounteers to make videos / short films, designing marketing material, online campaigns (on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest).

3) Ecosphere:

Ecosphere was founded by Ishita Khanna. The travel social enterprise that offers options in home-stays, adventure holidays and volunteering is committed to the triple bottom line, which means that part of the revenues generated is ploughed back to support development activities in the Spiti valley region where they operate.

In addition to offering responsible travel options, they sell a range of organics under the Tsering brand, including beverages, foods and herbs. Ecosphere also works with rural artisans to revive some of the dying traditional crafts and also helps with marketing the output. Some of their upcoming projects include bio-gas, environmental education, creating an artificial glacier to aid agriculture and wind energy.

Their work has led to them winning various awards like the Virgin Holidays Responsible Tourism Awards 2010 (mountain environment category), The Sierra Club ‘Green Energy and Green Livelihoods Achievement Award’ 2009 and the Wild Asia Responsible Tourism Award 2008. Khanna in her personal capacity has won the CNN IBN Real Heroes Award.

4) VillageWays: (VW)

VW is a Mumbai-based social enterprise focused on offering rural holidays through their ‘Village Ways Partnership’ initiative. The company’s partnership with rural communities has sustainability at the core, where the ownership of the travel experience rests with the local communities. The company’s philosophy is to focus on community participation, sustaining village communities, developing local skills, raising environmental awareness and fostering cultural interaction.

All of these activities stem from VW’s creation of village tourism enterprises, that currently exist in India and Ethiopia, and are being expanded to Nepal and Georgia. The result? 120 Village Tourism Enterprises have been created to date and 220 families benefit from revenues generated from tourism.

Started in 2005, VW has won many industry awards including The British Guild of Travel Writers 2007, Guardian Travel Awards 2007, Times Green Spaces Award 2008, World Travel Market Responsible Tourism Award for Cultural Engagement 2009, TOFT Wildlife Community Tourism Awards 2010, Observer Ethical Awards 2013 (shortlisted) and World Travel Market Responsible Tourism Award Best for the Local Economy (2013).

5) Culture Aangan: (CA)

Culture Aangan was founded by Rashmi Sawant, a tourism industry veteran with more than 10 years experience, and a degree in Tourism and Travel Management from the University of Mumbai. Culture Aangan’s mission is to promote sustainable rural tourism and support grass root development projects. Sawant’s hope is that by conserving and celebrating cultural traditions Culture Aangan will help stem the migration of rural folks to the cities in search of livelihoods.

Travelers get to live in a home-stay with local families and get into the thick of things by experiencing rural community activities like connecting with local shepherds, observe local crafts people at work and spot dolphins. They have special tours for different segments like School Tours for children, Girl’s Getaway for women, Photography Tour for photography enthusiasts, and the Mom and Child Escape for mothers and children.

Culture Aangan currently operates only in Maharashtra and Rajasthan.

6) Ghoomakad:

Ghoomakad is the new kid on the block in the world of responsible travel. Founded by Mohinder Sharma, Ayush Ghai, Jubin Mehta and a bunch of nature loving folks, Ghoomakad allows travelers to experience rural life through 25 village home-stays at picturesque Rakkar, near Dharamsala in Himachal Pradesh.

Rakkar is home to an indigenous shepherd community called the ‘Gaddi’ who are 1500 strong. Travelers are encouraged to interact with local communities and engage in activities that range from farming, milking cows, village walks and trekking. A large portion of Ghoomakad’s revenues is deployed in supporting the sustainable development of the families in Rakkar.

Whether you choose to stay for a day or for months together, Ghoomakad will customize the experience with the 25 families who have opened hearts and houses for guests to come and live. Ghoomakad also houses a hackerspace (also called Ghoomakad) that attracts a myriad group of techies and artists.

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