1st Indian Responsible Tourism Awards     Announced 19th January 2017

 

The India Responsible Tourism Awards are part of the World Responsible Tourism Awards family which in addition to the global awards and India includes awards programmes in Ireland and Africa. The family of awards share the same processes and criteria. Each nominated business or tourism organisation makes a short submission which answers the fundamental question, what is it that you have done that warrants consideration for the particular award? From these nominations a longlist is drawn up, and a detailed questionnaire specific to each category is sent to each entrant. The questionnaires require that detailed evidence is provided along with two independent references. At this stage some applicants withdraw daunted by the information required. Others withdraw recognising that they are not perhaps as responsible as they thought. Two judges look at each of the categories, analysing the questionnaires and supporting data, checking websites and references and report to the full panel of judges, on judging day, on their shortlist, informed by the questionnaires and the references. The final judging takes the better part of a whole day and there is open debate and challenge around the table. These are tough awards to win.

The ambition of the Awards is to surprise and inspire the tourism industry and tourists by what it is possible to achieve with responsible tourism. We also want to challenge the sector, the competitors of the winners, to do more – competition can drive the adoption of better practices. The judging criteria are common across the whole family of Awards.

  1. Quantifying achievements
  • is a priority
  • look also for clear methodologies for measurement and improvement
  1. Being a good influence
  • must both do good work themselves & use their influence to ensure that their suppliers do too
  1. Previous winners
    have real improvements on previous years been made?
  • progress is essential to ensure Awards are dynamic
  1. New and innovative
  • is genuinely a new approach or something different
  • stands out from the crowd
  1. Real impact on poverty reduction
  • better quality of life overall
  • linkages with community members
  1. Sustainability of enterprise/initiative
    longevity and sustainability of the project.
  • replicability
  1. Customer service experience
  • delivers excellent customer service, with educational opportunities to learn about the destination, its people and environment
  • responsible tourism ethos & achievements communicated clearly & easily accessible via website/social media
  1. References
  • minimum of 2 independent references
  • gives evidence in support of an application for a specific category
  • is written by a range of credible referees
  • vary in length

 

The panel of judges is chosen for their breadth of experience and their independence of mind – the winners are debated. Many of the candidates are known to one or more of the judges, interests are declared, they can engage in the debate and are often questioned by other judges – but they cannot vote.

 

Harold Goodwin (Chair of the Panel), Emeritus Professor, Director, International Centre for Responsible Tourism; MD, Responsible Tourism Partnership, and RT Advisor, WTM London
Ananda Banerjee Author and award winning wildlife conservation journalist
Suman Billa, Joint Secretary, Ministry of Tourism
Steve Borgia Honorary President, Eco-tourism Society of India
Emma Horne Founder, Emma Horne Travel
Jaya Jaitly Founder & President, Dastkari Haat Samiti|
Akhil Kapoor Convivium Leader, Slow Food India (Delhi Chapter)
Sheema Mookherjee former Publisher Lonely Planet India and Proprietor, Salban – The Kanha Homestay
Ratish Nanda Projects Director, Aga Khan Trust for Culture, India
Aman Nath Chairman, Neemrana Hotels
CB Ramkumar Board Member, Global Sustainable Tourism Council, and Founder-MD, Our Native Village
Dr Venu Vasudevan, Principle Secretary, Kerala Tourism
Belinda Wright Executive Director, Wildlife Protection Society of India (WPSI) and Proprietor, Kipling Camp

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Best Responsible Tourism Property

Gold Winner: Farm of Happiness or ‘Aanandache Shet’ www.farmofhappiness.com

The concept is simple, a homestay on a 20 acre organic farm. Tourism is an additional income stream for the farm, a farm diversification, a way of bringing attention and some

glamour to agriculture, providing an introduction to the concept of natural farming and eating consciously; a way of providing an authentic taste of rural life for an urban population which has lost connection with the land. The judges were impressed by the way in which the ethic of responsibility informs all of their practices and its impact in engaging with urban youth and local youth who see a more promising future in agrotourism and organic farming. The organic practices on the farm, the traditional stay facility, the ‘no-alcohol’ policy, the hard core local cuisine are steps towards using tourism to encourage locals and tourists alike to be guardians of their environment and the local culture.

Silver Winner: Atali Ganga www.ataliganga.com
The Aqua Terra Alternative Lifestyle Initiative (Atali) is an activotel with stunning views of the Ganga, a destination which combines smart accommodation with safe adventure. They source locally, have used local stone to construct the property, minimise water consumption, carefully manage waste, employ only from the Indian Himalaya regions, contribute to local schools and provide pre-arrival guidelines for guests to avoid any embarrassment caused by behaviour, dress or conduct.

Silver Winner: Dewalokam http://dewalokam.in/
An organic farm with ayurvedic herbals and a variety of native fruit plants. Dewalokam offers an experience of rural village life as the guests of the Dewalokam staff (7women and 11men) from 16 different families in the village, all of whom benefit from the enterprise.

Best Contribution to Wildlife Conservation

Gold Winner & Joint Overall Winner:
Snow Leopard Conservancy India Trust
http://snowleopardindia.org/
The snow leopard is a red list globally endangered species with between 200 and 600 individuals thought to occur in the higher reaches of the Himalayas encompassing the northern areas of Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh. The judges were impressed by its Himalayan Homestay initiative which creates livelihoods for local people, offsetting and compensating livestock losses, increasing the stake of local people in conserving wildlife through wildlife tourism, reduce human wildlife conflict and promoting coexistence, reversing a centuries old tradition of hunting snow leopards and wolves.

Since 2002 over 130 families have been trained to offer 165 homestays in 40 villages across Ladakh. . There are eco-cafes in 9 villages, selling local food products, and handicraft programs  in 32 villages, in which rural women are trained in making soft toy-animals, which the homestay visitors take home as souvenirs. The Trust also promotes ‘voluntourism’, where homestay operators host volunteers working on Trust conservation programs in the villages. 10% of all homestay income goes into village conservation funds used by villagers for tree planting, garbage cleaning and maintenance of their cultural heritage such as mani walls, chortens and sacred juniper stands. Ulley and surrounding villages voluntarily freed 16 sq miles from livestock grazing for the betterment of traditional pastureland for the endangered Ladakh urial and Asiatic ibex. The Trust has sought to maintain traditional Ladakhi values, particularly by serving Ladakhi food to guests and by housing guests in existing traditional rooms of Ladakhi houses rather than constructing new dwellings, contributing to maintaining a living culture. The model is being considered for replication in five countries.

Silver Winner: Madras Crocodile Bank Trust & Centre for Herpetology (Croc Bank) www.madrascrocodilebank.org

Snakes and reptiles have traditionally been killed on sight. The Croc Bank consists of a large reptile park near Chennai and several field projects run by the Trust all designed to conserve reptiles and amphibians including crocodiles and snakes. The reptile park functions as a zoo, spread over eight and a half acres of land, with over 2500 reptiles, it has close to half a million visitors/year, making it one of the most popular tourist attractions on the East Coast Road. The work of the Trust is largely funded by revenues from their zoo, the zoo furthers the Trust’s awareness and behaviour change work through education delivered throughout the zoo – this is conservation funded by a tourist attraction.

Best for Cultural Immersion

Gold Winner: The Blue Yonder  http://theblueyonder.com

The company was launched to promote the River Nila in Kerala as a destination. Blue Yonder has used the rich cultural heritage of the valley to bring visitors to celebrate the river, enhance local pride in the river and the people who live along it, and to create sustainable livelihoods. Each initiative is designed to be sustainable with local demand, tourism increases earning capacity and brings recognition. The musical trail started in 2004 with 4 beneficiaries, it now supports 850+ students and more than 15 teachers, while offering varied experiences to travellers. All the travel experiences offered are developed through community consultation and co-creation. “The sense of ownership and responsibility on each travel experiences make all the difference in terms of delivery and interaction with the travel community.”

Silver Winner: Rural Pleasure www.ruralpleasure.com

Rural Pleasure is a social enterprise which delivers hands on experience of village level activities: ploughing, seeding, picking fruits & vegetables, crop harvesting, tribal dancing & paintings, swimming in the river, milking cattle, bullock cart rides, village trails, cutting wood, mud flooring, fishing, forest hikes. They encourage tourists to participate in the chores of villagers which give them an insight into their values, customs, culture, behaviour, attitude and lifestyle. Livelihoods are generated for villagers through the provision of lodging and board, guiding, housekeeping, performances by local artists and the sale of art, craft and agricultural produce. In Dangs, Warli Art was in decline but young people are now practicing it. Seven houses have been decorated with Warli Art, more than 750 travellers has been immersed in cultural activity and the tribes have earned close to Rs98,000.

Best for Community-based Homestay

Gold Winner: Biksthang Heritage Farmhouse www.biksthang.com

Biksthang is an ancestral 18th century house which has been developed by the family into a “destination”, bringing tourists to a remote and undeveloped village. The aim was to preserve the legacy of an ancestral property, restore the dying agricultural heritage and give visitors a genuinely authentic  experience of the rich culture, tradition, history and cuisine of west Sikkim. Biksthang is leveraging the cultural assets of the village and rural area to create sustainable livelihoods though local sourcing for the homestay, handicraft sales to tourists, guiding and transport services. The ambition is to encourage young people to stay in the village and to see that there are opportunities for them there too. One of the referees wrote of the owner “Dekyi has effectively created a safe space for curious minds to learn about a disappearing legacy, immersed in nature, in spirituality, without compromising on authenticity and the freedom to choose how best to engage with it.”

Silver Winner: Daragaon Village Retreat, Gurung Homestay www.sikkimvillagehomestay.com/

This is a family owned and run homestay with seven rooms in Darap Village home to Limbu people originally from Tibet. The judges were impressed by the way in which the opening of one homestay offering a village and birdwatching experience has resulted in the formation of an association and the development of more locally owned homestays which has brought an additional income stream to the village, raising living standards.

Silver Winner: Kabani Community Tourism  www.kabanitour.com

Kabani (the other direction) is a non-profit  community association which since 2005 has been opposing destructive mass tourism and promoting a model which benefits local communities and avoids most of the negative impacts. In 2014 they created a social enterprise to promote community tourism initiatives to create additional incomes for famers in order to help reduce farmer suicides. The judges were impressed by the way in which Kabani has worked with farmers, fisher folk and women entrepreneurs to create B&Bs in 8 villages involving 450 villagers.

Best Innovation by a Tour Operator

Gold Winner & Joint Overall Winner: Planet Abled  http://planetabled.com

The premise is simple people with disabilities also have an equal right to recreation, leisure and travel. Planet Abled is about converting specially-abled tourists into travellers and creating a platform for inclusive tourism, providing people with disabilities the freedom to travel India no matter what their disability is, to experience something unique, safe and enjoyable. Planet Abled works with people who face a wide variety of challenges, not just the visually impaired or wheelchair enabled, to enable them to holiday or travel with friends and family. They work to provide mainstream itineraries and to avoid the ghettoization of travel for people with disabilities.

Planet Abled focusses on the individual capabilities and active senses or its clients, the tour is customized for each and every individual so that they don’t miss out on anything and can have a whole experience of the new place or culture they are visiting with family and friends or alone.  Travelling in groups each traveller gains a first-hand experience of interacting with people with other disabilities and abilities, a blind person gets to interact with a deaf and mute person, a wheelchair user gets to understand the challenges facing a blind person. Planet Abled is creating an environment of inclusive tourism and spreading awareness amongst the volunteers who then become ambassadors for inclusion and accessibility in their respective communities.

As one of the referees wrote “The reason I keep going for as many Planet Abled tours as I can is that I am treated as truly equal. No discussion of disability, no hero-worship, no china doll treatment. I am just me…. everyone pays the same rate and these are competitive with the industry. I have shopped around and can testify to this. A heritage walk in the regular market costs Rs. 500 per head. The Planet Abled custom walk that I had them arrange for me, and some friends, cost the same. So, the traditional position where everything for the disabled is expensive is no longer valid”

Silver Winner: Grassroutes Journeys www.grassroutes.co.in

Grassroutes Journeys offers an experience of off-grid, rustic and authentic holidays with rural people and tribes an opportunity to experience age-old Indian traditions and lifestyles. Their objective is to reduce rural migration to cities, to conserve biodiversity, revive local arts and craft and change the aspirations of both the villagers and the guests. They work with 500 families in 10 villages and report a 30% increase in average annual household income for those families through 6,000-8,000 days of employment in the tribal villages in which they work.

Best Built Heritage Conservation

Gold Winner: Arco Iris http://arcoiris.in/

Arco Iris (“rainbow,” in Portuguese and Spanish) is a Colonial Portuguese Manor dating back two centuries, it had been abandoned for 40 years before being restored by a family from Bangalore   The original plan had been to create “a cosy holiday home for friends and family” realising that what they had created was too large for occasional visits, the family “relocated to Goa, turned our house into a boutique homestay and invited travellers from all around the globe to experience our very own cloud nine.” The judges were impressed by the way in which the decision to restore a ruin had resulted in a sustainable boutique homestay, tourism being used to maintain cultural heritage which otherwise would have been lost.

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The India Responsible Tourism Awards will be organised again next year. If you think that your business or organisation is better than those awarded here remember that the judges can only select from amongst those that apply and who provide the evidence. If you can do better, or know others who do, then apply for next year’s Awards.  Contact soity@outlookindia.com

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Harold Goodwin