Help rural communities, save the environment and enjoy exotic journeys through these 12 travel social enterprises [Part -2]


This is Part 2 of the series on travel-related social enterprises that promote responsible tourism. In the last article we featured six stellar travel companies that support local livelihoods, invest in the communities they operate in, tread lightly on the environment and still make a buck. The six previous companies were: Travel Another India, India Untravelled, Ecosphere, VillageWays, Culture Aangan and Ghoomakad. Part 1 of this series can be found here.

We present the rest of the 12, here are numbers 7-12. Happy journeys!

7) Grassroutes Journeys: (Grassroutes)

Grassroutes runs rural tours through the year in three villages (Valwanda, Purushwadi and Dehna) in Maharashtra. Travelers can work in the fields, pluck fruits, play with farm animals, pound rice, draw water from wells, cook with firewood, chop wood, trek, visit the local temple, take a dip in the river or relax at the campsite.

As with most travel social enterprises, revenues accrued is used to support the rural folk, and invest in their arts and craft. Grassroutes works with Watershed Organisation Trust (WOTR) and Bosco Samajik Vikas Sanstha (BSVS) to support the local communities. These non-profits work in areas like education, skills development, ecological development and sustainable livelihoods.

8) One Planet Journeys: (OPJ)

Two locals from Kumaon founded OPJ: Shikha Tripathi, an intrepid solo woman traveler and writer, and Sindhu Gangola, a travel industry veteran and amateur photographer.

No surprise then that all their tours are based in Kumaon, in Uttarakhand, and are customized to reduce your carbon footprint and encourage local participation. Their itineraries embody the unique hill culture of Kumaon, with a mix of carefully designed trips, which include weekend getaways, long vacations, wilderness breaks and exploring historic trails.

They have different themed travel itineraries. ‘Dãna’ for instance is a unique village walk program that allows travelers to experience life in Kumaoni villages first hand and traverses through oak, cedar, rhododendron and pine trees and crosses terraced fields, waterfalls and rivulets. Centuries-old village and temple architecture are a common sight. Travelers get to sample homegrown organic food, and sleep in rustic Kumaoni homes.

Another travel itinerary is ‘The inner journey’: A program that’s designed to find your inner self, through yoga, relaxation techniques, breathing methods, postures to relieve knotted muscles and meditation to relieve a tense mind. Get pampered post a physical and mental workout with a massage and sauna. Travelers can also choose from a range of treatments from naturopathy to hydrotherapy, or simply indulge in the relaxation of an aromatic massage. OPJ offers special programs for people suffering from diabetes, cardiac issues or back problems.

9) Ecomantra:

Mahrukh and Ravi Goel founded Mumbai-based Ecomantra in 2000 after being inspired by the issues of deforestation and poverty. The founders have a storied past, they were part of the core team that facilitated the creation of two new wildlife sanctuaries in Goa; the Netravalli and Mhadei and one in Karnataka. Ecomantra started by promoting eco-friendly home stays near Mumbai and Pune and conducting eco-workshops. In 2003, they initiated a community tourism venture called Rivertrail eco-retreat, on the banks of river Kundalika near Kolad. While Ecomantra invested and provided training, the ownership of Rivertrail lies completely with the community.

Currently Ecomantra offers various eco holidays, volunteer holidays and experiential activities across India and overseas. Through its group company ‘Triporigin’ Ecomantra delivers over 55 eco adventures and unique experiences. To date the company has serviced over 50,000 travellers.

10) The Blue Yonder: (TBY)

In 2004 Gopinath Parayil set up TBY as a social enterprise focusing on responsible tourism in a small Kerala village (the company is now based in Bangalore). Today it’s stands as a stellar example of how a social enterprise can focus on a specific geography and bring about long-lasting social impact by using tourism as a tool for sustainable development. It began on the river Nila (Bharatapuzha), which had sadly slipped into a state of steady depletion. By reinvesting revenues into community development initiatives the fate of River Nila has been reversed. TBY’s core focus is around the River Nila and their unique travel experience model connects fishing communities, sand smugglers, potters, bell metal workers, folk artists, bamboo weavers, carpet makers and hand-loom textile weavers.

At present TBY offers unique holiday experiences in Himachal Pradesh, Sikkim, Rajasthan, Kerala and Karnataka through its three main themes of people, culture and wilderness. Outside of India, they customize travel trips to countries like Sri Lanka, Bhutan, Bangladesh, South Africa and Nepal.

TBY goes beyond the call of duty by helping its employees earn a dual income. For example, a plumber or a electrician working for TBY, earns extra revenue by being a singer in one of the village music groups in the evening. Such a model protects them from the economic vagaries that goes hand-in-hand with seasonal travel.

11) Shakti:

Jamshyd Sethna’s love of the mountains goes back to her schooldays in Darjeeling, and the experiences she had as a young tea planter in Assam. An experienced travel professional, with over two decades of experience in the luxury travel business, Sethna’s passion for the Himalayas led her to found Shakti in 2004.

She sensed that travelers were seeking something beyond five-star luxury and famous travel destinations – that would take them off the well-trodden paths and experience the real India, and the country’s people and cultures.

Sethna started with the Shakti Village Walk in the Kumaoni foothills of the Himalayas that help to slow down the pace of life and instill a sense of serenity. Shakti’s current offerings include Shakti 360° Leti, a campsite in the mountains, a second Village Walk and three new village houses in Ladakh. Shakti’s contribution to responsible tourism is in terms of hiring locals, investing part of revenues to supporting local community development activities, using renewable energy and sourcing all supplies locally.

12) Kipepeo:

In Swahili, Kipepeo means ‘butterfly’ and the name is inspired by a community-based enterprise in coastal Kenya that demonstrated a tangible link between conservation and livelihood. The locals there export butterfly pupae to butterfly parks globally and use the revenues to live a sustainable lifestyle.

Kipepeo follows the same philosophy of sustainability, environment protection and supporting local livelihoods. They also provide locals with environment education, computer literacy and capacity building for tourism related activities. Both fixed departure trips and customized tours are offered in the North Eastern states of Assam, Meghalaya and Sikkim. Kipepeo’s trips are broken up into treks, wildlife, caving and homestays.


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