The Indian Responsible Tourism Awards is a regional partner of the WTM Responsible Tourism Awards in London. Founded in 2004 by Responsible Travel, it has established itself as a global touchstone of responsible tourism with chapters in Ireland, Africa, and of course, India.
In keeping with the international standards, the judging process for IRTA was intensive and rigorous, and spread over months… And the winners were chosen by a formidable jury of 17 experts! The jury spent a significant amount of time and effort on judging the Awards this year, and there were a lot of debates. The judges’ reasons were specific, and it is important to note that few if any businesses or organisations are responsible in every aspect of their business. None are perfect but by far, the winners selected by the judges this year are leaders in Responsible Tourism across India.
Family owned Homestay
Granny’s Inn, Varanasi
Jilling Estate, District Nainital
Ghoomakad, Rakkar Village, near Dharamsala
Maheshganj Estate, Balakhana, Nabadwip
Chhotaram Prajapat’s Homestay, Salawas, near Jodhpur
Gold: Ghoomakad, Indian Himalayas.
Developed by a family in the village of Rakkar, near Dharamsala in Himachal Pradesh Ghoomakad offers co-living in a traditional mud-house setting with a co-working space, a 20+ seater studio with reliable internet and power. The judges were taken by the way in which organic farming and waste management and recycling have been turned into activities for guests; and by the survival camp experience which enables guests to connect with nature and mountains and to learn about them and about themselves. This is a homestay in a village in the mountains, which offers young techies an opportunity to experience village life. Offering a village life experience with modern technology enables Ghoomakad to attract guests keen to take a bath in the mountain stream, work on the internet during the day and enjoy the cultural life and peace of the village at night.
Silver: Chhotaram Prajapat
Chhotaram Prajapat’s Homestay describes itself as “an initiative in reality” they have “taken an initiative to offer the unaltered and the real-time panorama” of their civilization. The village of Salawas is in the outskirts of Jodhpur. The Prajapati’s are the weaver class, and that remains the main income of the family, the homestay provides a supplementary income. The family offers their guests a traditional family experience. The fifteen members of the family are the staff of the homestay and guests eat from the family kitchen the judges were impressed by the extent of the guests’s engagement with the family and the opportunity to learn from the family how to make a durry.
Village Ways, Uttarakhand
Friends of Orchha, Madhya Pradesh
The Goat Village, Uttarakhand
Baramati Agri Tourism, Maharashtra
Community-owned Homestays & Agri-Tourism
Gold: Friends of Orchha, Madhya Pradesh
The Friends of Orchha is a registered non-profit organisation formed in 2006 to create livelihoods, preserve the built heritage of Orchha and to promote cultural exchange between visitors and locals. The Friends of Orchha initiative was a response to four years of drought in Bundelkhand to spread the economic and cultural benefits of tourism to the families of small farmers, artisans and labourers. The Friends of Orchha provided the capital to build a sanitary block in the family compounds. The judges were impressed by the business model. The Friends of Orchha provided the loan capital for the sanitation block repaid from tourism earnings. The families provided the labour to build the blocks and gain additional income. This business model enabled poor families to engage in business, earn an additional income while avoiding risk. Each of the families has at least tripled their incomes and acquired an asset. There is obvious scope for replication. The women from the six families currently engaged in the project are the key actors. The fact that foreigners stay with them, and eat food cooked by them, has countered discrimination, boosted their confidence and social status and empowered them.
Silver: Demul Homestays, Himachal Pradesh
Demul Village Homestays was started in 2004 with the help of the Spiti based social enterprise Ecosphere in order to diversify livelihood opportunities ion a community otherwise dependent on agriculture in an environment where only one crop can be produced each year, during the six months of winter temperature often drop below 30⁰C. The judges were impressed by the scale of what has been achieved in Demul. There are 55 households in the village, 48 of them have had a room converted to a guest room, guests living with the family. Using traditional patterns of village governance guests are allocated to homestays on a rotational basis and at the end of each year the money is distributed equally amongst all of the homestays, the cooperation avoids the damaging impact of excessive competition and falling room rents.
Parsi Manor, Matheran
Ahhichatragarh Fort, Ranvas, Nagaur
Bhuj House, Guajarat
Patan Mahal, Rajasthan
Gold: Bhuj House, Kutch,
In 2013 the Bhujwala family decided to restore the Bhuj House, their traditional Parsi home into a heritage homestay in the historic town of Bhuj in the Kutch district of Gujarat. One of only two Parsi houses remaining in Bhuj, its future has been secured, and the Bhujwala family has protected the Agiary through a trust maintained by the family. This is a homestay designed to conserve the Parsi heritage through tourism. “The house is filled with family treasures, photographs and memorabilia which offer a sense of the past, as well as a mix of vintage and contemporary Kutchi fabrics which can be found throughout the region. The food is typical of the Parsi community and served in the inner courtyard of the house; a peaceful oasis in the midst of a bustling town.” The Bhuj House is an authentic symbol of the community which once thrived in Bhuj .
The Bhuj House stood alone in this category, standing comparison with previous winners in this category internationally. Based on the applications before them the judges did not identify worthy Silver in this category.
The Preserve Alleppey Society
Reality Tours & Travels
Calcutta Photo Tours
Gold: Reality Tours & Travel, Mumbai
Reality Tours & Travel was created in 2005 by Krishna Pujari and Chris Way. Their objective was to show the positive side of slums and to break down negative stereotypes about its residents, and Dharavi, in Mumbai, in particular. In 2007 Reality Tours set up a Community Centre in Dharavi to provide English and computer classes. In August 2009, the NGO Reality Gives to provide education; they have trained 15 local women to provide training in English, computer and soft skills to 400 students using child-centered and interactive teaching methods. They have engaged with 130 children through a variety of sports programs. Reality Gives is funded by donations from travellers and Reality Tours & Travel which gives 80% of their profits, about 30% of their revenue, to support local development projects in Dharavi. To date that amounts to Rp100, 000,000. Around 15,000 people go with Reality Tours into Dharavi led by local people. The tours provide employment for 50 people and for their clients provide an authentic experience and contribute to breaking down harmful stereotypes of slum areas and increase the pride and confidence of local people. Recently the co-founder, Krishna Pujari, was featured in the World Travel and Tourism Council’s “Transforming Our World” series.
In 2012, they were recognised as overall winners of the Responsible Tourism Awards at WTM, London. Since then they have expanded to Rajasthan and Kerala by offering multi-day tours and in 2014, they began working with the New Delhi slum, Sanjay Colony. The initiative has been replicated in Metro Manila by Smokey Tours. Just short of 85% of clients reported that their perception of life in Dharavi had changed. Independent research by a Durham University student found that 79% had a positive view of Reality Tours, only 5% had a negative view, the remainder were either neutral or did not know of them.
Silver: The Preserve Alleppey Society
The Preserve Alleppey project was started by the Lion’s Ladies Club of Alleppey in 2000. They recognised that tourism could be used to preserve the character of the town. The group initiated the first garbage collection in Alleppey in 2003 and undertook a canal cleaning and beautification project on St George St. in 2004. Registered as a Charitable Society in 2004 the 15 members provide walking tours with local guides who point out local features which otherwise would be missed and introduce local food and crafts. . Educated women not formally employed found an opportunity to work creatively and to do something to better the town. The funds raised in 2006 -2007 were donated to a Self Help Women’s group set up by the local women’s college to manufacture paper bags providing employment and reducing the use of plastic. The Society is now in the process of documenting Alleppey with a view to publishing a guide to its history and buildings and the different local and migrant communities which have made it their home. The judges recognised that the Alleppey Society is successfully using tourism to create local pride and to contribute to conserving the town. It is a model which could, and should, be replicated elsewhere.
Pepper Trail, Kerala
Glenburn Tea Estate, West Bengal
Shahpura Bagh, Rajasthan
Meena Bagh, Himachal Pradesh
At Maachli in they offer guests an immersion in nature, an opportunity to be rejuvenated by listening to the rhythmic sound of nature, they aim to “tune man’s cord with nature.” They offer village themed cottages raised above coconut, beetlenut, bananas and spices. Guests engage in the practical and cultural life of the village, and in agriculture and nature. Maachli offers a boutique farm stay; guests are provided with an opportunity to indulge in abundance in a preserved forest where in the last 15 years they have planted 1,000 habitat friendly trees. 90% of the staff are female and local sourcing and recipes ensure that additional incomes are created for many villagers.
Silver: Meena Bagh
Recently constructed in the Himachali style with wood-panelled and mud-plastered walls the Meena Bagh Shimla reflects the local culture in music, food, architecture and hospitality. They encourage writers and artists to stay and work in the Meena Bagh offering a 50% discount. The resort harvests rainwater, recycles grey water and biodegradable waste, solar heats it hot water and uses LED lights throughout and the property is fully thermal and sound insulated. Only waste wood was used for the panelling and the furniture, local people built the property and have subsequently been employed to run the resort.
Best Outdoor Operator
White Magic Adventure
Global Himalayan Expeditions
The judges were pleased to see that Planet Abled recognised in 2016 for the Award of Best Innovation by a Tour Operator and the Overall Winner in the India Responsible Tourism Awards has continued to grow and that it now offers outdoor soft adventure holidays for people with disabilities. In the last year Planet Abled has organised a river rafting expedition including people with spinal cord injury and a solo zip wire trip across the Ganga for a blind traveller.
The judges continue to be impressed by Planet Abled. However, although there has been some further development in the last year the judges were unable to award hem with gold again, there was not sufficient growth or innovation to justify this in the Outdoor Operator category. Having in mind winners in similar categories with the Responsible Tourism Awards family the judges were unable to recommend a Gold Award this year. However, there are two very worthy Silver winners.
Silver: Quest Asia Rameswaram, Tamil Nadu
Quest promote activities using non-motorised power: paddle, pedal or wind. They have five activity centres along the coast reducing the local dependency on fishing by providing employment in water sports and hospitality. They employ elderly gardeners to provide them with a livelihood. This Award is for their sea kayaking Paddle for the Environment experience. With core values of environmental and social responsibility Quest employs eight underprivileged boys from the Don Bosco Shelter Home for orphans and street kids as guides, they teach local children kayaking and give life-guard an d snorkelling training to local fishermen to help them find work in tourism, they employ and source locally offering low-impact non-motorised adventure activities. They use solar power to heat water, no bottled water, they use filtered water. All the guides are trained and certified life guards. They have worked with local villagers to clean the beaches.
Silver: Konkan Explorers- – Morjim, Goa
The experience of crossing a forest and experiencing the wildlife and habitat in 90 minutes-they promote soft ecological impact nautical activities, to weave a more proper relation with the environment. Each experience is customized according to the wishes of the client as well as their physical and technical skills. The judges were impressed by this approach to low impact ecological experiences. Drawing on Brahmanic socio-religious thinking they seek to create through Grass Roots Ecology a closer relationship between their clients and the natural environment. The act of beaching on a virginal desert tidal island has a major emotional impact. The unsinkable kayaks they use are exceptional tools for delivering proximity to nature and to wind, tides and currents. Where outboard motors are used they operate with 40hp outboards, the lowest safe in that environment. Rather than use a houseboat from Kerala they use a Goan trawler, all the employees are Goan and 40% are women… The judges also recognised high level of training provided for the guides and the company’s expectation of personal fitness when taking clients into the wild.
Best Cultural Immersion Operator
Kerala RT Mission
Gold: The Folk Tales
Established in 2013 as a “Responsible Rural Travel organization” offer a deep cultural immersion and “hands-on experience of local culture, food, art & craft, music, architecture, wildlife and natural beauty.” The experiences are designed to have positive social, economic and environmental impacts. The judges were impressed by the ethics of the business and their commitment to the principles of the Cape Town Declaration on Responsible Tourism in Destinations. They have a Code of Conduct which defines the character of the services and experiences which the traveller will receive and which ensures that the travel experiences they provide are based on Responsible Tourism principles including local sourcing, respect and meaningful interactions. The judges were particularly impressed by their immersive tour to Meghalaya where tourists spend two days with weavers in the village and weave their own local silk or cotton cloth on a handloom before spending a day with the tea pickers working through the whole process from plucking to drying and packaging. Guests then spend two days living with the indigenous tribes of Meghalaya, their engagement with the folktales, traditional ceremonies and honey extraction practices helps to maintain the culture. They have eliminated the use of plastic water bottles by providing safe potable water. Operating in 11 states they have capped numbers at 500 guests annually so that no village receives more than 50 guests per year. Enough to secure a sustainable additional income without hampering their way of life.
Silver: Culture Aangan
Formed in 2010 and based in Mumbai Culture Aangan’s purpose is to build communities through tourism providing education and using a self-help group model developing branded homestays and the reviving endangered traditional art forms. The judges were particularly impressed by their Sindhudurg tour which over four days offers the guest the opportunity to engage with their hosts’ community life and to understand the four pillars of an Indian village: the panchayat, the temple, well and the school. The guest has an in-depth experience of Indian village life enjoying folk theatre; setting up and dancing Pinguli shadow puppets, visiting the market and mango and cashew orchards; and engaging with the marginalised camel herders. This tourism intervention has revived the Pinguli puppet craft. The community is asked whether they wish to receive guests before any booking is accepted, they have an effective veto over the arrival of visitors if they choose to use it. Culture Aangan now offers similar programmes in two additional states: Rajasthan and Uttrakhand.
SAI Sanctuary Trust, Karnataka
Off the Grid, Karnataka
Fringe Ford, Kerala
Habre’s Nest, West Bengal
Gold: Fringe Ford, Wayanad, Kerala
A former cardamom and coffee plantation stretching over 1000 acres, 520 acres of which have now been rewilded. The fences with the Wyanad and Tholpaty reserve forests have been removed creating a borderless reserve of Malabar rainforest. There are just five rooms, a very low impact wilderness guesthouse. Guests eat in the kitchen where local delicacies are cooked. The only activities offered in the wilderness reserve are guided walks. The Travancore flying squirrel, Nilgiri marten, Lion-tailed macaque, Brown palm civet and the Nilgiri langur can all be seen in the reserve along with elephants, gaur, tiger and leopard. The regular presence of wildlife enthusiasts and fieldwork students in the forest has significantly reduced poaching, cannabis cultivation and illicit liquor manufacture. The guesthouse has grid hydroelectricity, grey water is cleaned through a reed bed, brown water goes into septic soak pits. All the staff are from local villages, fresh fruit and vegetables come from the villages, spices and honey comes from the local tribal co-operative in the village.
Silver: SAI Sanctuary, Karnataka, South India
The SAI Sanctuary Trust (SST) is a registered non-profit organisation located in the Western Ghats of southern India—the heart of the watershed area for the entire south Indian peninsula. From the initial purchase of just 55 acres of private forested lands in 1991, the Sanctuary has grown to more than 300 protecting a biodiversity hotspot. They have recently opened two eco-friendly cottages each having two three bedded with attached baths. The sanctuary has strong environmental credentials, and the judges wanted to recognise this as an example of a wildlife sanctuary using tourism as a supplementary income. Guests are welcome, but the flora and fauna of the refuge come first, all travel through the sanctuary is on foot with small groups, trekking through the core area is done only once a day and only with an experienced guide. Silver: Wildernest, Chorla Ghats, Goa,
Sixteen eco-cottages designed out of eco-friendly acacia wood, Wildernest has strived to make living in the wilds a totally new experience to cherish. They actively market both the winter and the monsoon experiences. With foot trails, hides and machans (tree platforms), guided close encounters and talks the judges recognised that Wildernest offers a special wildlife experience; combined with an Ayurshala, local ethnic traditional food, cultural experiences and visits to traditional sanctuaries, holy forests conserved for generations by local people. A mere 10 acres of the private sanctuary of 700 acres sustains the flora and fauna of the sanctuary, and supports 200 families, directly benefitting seven villages.
The judges recognise the importance of the Fringe Ford model, rewilding former plantation land to create a wilderness reserve which creates a larger contiguous reserve by linking Wyanad and Tholpaty reserve forests. Too often the most biologically productive land is take for cultivation and denied to native flora and fauna. Fringe Ford has been championing a White Paper on “Private land participation in preservation and conservation of forests” at the national level. This approach to re-wilding former plantation or agricultural land is increasingly common in southern Africa bringing benefits for wildlife conservation and rural communities. The judges recognise the national importance of the re-wilding initiative at Fringe Ford as a harbinger of change, critical to the future of wildlife in India.
Kerala Responsible Tourism Mission
The judges were pleased to receive an application from the Kerala Responsible Tourism Mission in the Best Cultural Immersion Tour Operator category. The judges wanted to recognise the outstanding achievement of Kerala’s Responsible Tourism Initiative which over the last ten years has piloted a range of approaches to securing additional livelihoods for local communities and enhancing the guest experience. The Village Life Experiences provide a cultural immersion for guests who benefit them and the villagers who create and share those experiences with their paying guests. These interactions are based on mutual respect and create shared memories and provide an additional income, an incentive, for those villagers to maintain their traditional practices. Forty farmers have restarted paddy cultivation and local arts have been granted a new lease of life. Some 1,100 local people are benefitting from tourism to Kumarakom. This is an exemplary initiative which has been recognised internationally. Now moving beyond the development phase, Village Life Experiences will in 2018 be extended to 20 new villages in all 14 districts of Kerala. Rarely are initiatives piloted, tested, assessed and fine-tuned and then rolled out at scale. This is an outstanding achievement and one that should be widely replicated.