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India is now the world's leading Responsible Tourism destination. In 2021 India won four of the six Global Responsible Tourism Awards presented at WTM, London. In the ICRT Awards for India in 2022 some very strong contenders were recognised, they can be found here. In 2022 Lemon Tree Hotels and Water Street, Kerala won two of the six Global Award categories.
Those that have won Gold in the India Awards will be entered into the Global Awards to be announced from London in early November.
In the view of the judges, none of this year’s applications met the standard now required for a Gold award.
Silver: Surwahi Social Ecoestate, Kanha, Madhya Pradesh
The judges were impressed by the range of eco-friendly initiatives deployed on the Surwahi Social Eco-estate Kanha, using locally sourced soil, sand and lime for construction, avoiding greenhouse gas emissions in transport, the minimal use of glass to reduce warming of the interiors and maintaining tree cover to shade the buildings providing natural cooling. They have used recycled terracotta clay-based country tiles sourced locally from the ‘Kutcha Homes’ of neighbouring villages to provide thermal insulation, reducing the need for air conditioning in summer and heating in winter. A 3kw solar panel installation has reduced monthly grid consumption to less than 100 units.
Silver: Waghoba Ecolodge – Pugdundee Safari, Tadoba, Maharashtra
A 50 KV Solar Plant supplies 75% of the power required to run the ecolodge. The lodge is built of non-fired, naturally dried adobe bricks made on-site from the earth dug for the foundations. Assisted by the local Centre of Science for Villages (CSV) Guna vault rooves have been built. These rooves use significantly less concrete and steel than modern concrete roofs, and broken mosaic tiles reflect the sun’s rays and ensure that the building is waterproof. Natural ventilation helps with insulation and keeps the buildings cooler, thereby reducing the cooling load and consumption of electricity and air-conditioning.
One to Watch: Bhasa Sutra, Sustainable Journeys on Wheels, Kolkata, West Bengal
The Safar Leisure Consultancy has collaborated with local cyclists, e-rickshaw riders, and boatmen to introduce e-rickshaw tours in Sukchar, Panihati and Kolkata to promote local heritage and cultural experiences. These eco-friendly tours offer a unique way to explore hidden gems while supporting sustainable transportation practices. The judges recognise that relying on local transport that does not generate greenhouse gases makes a difference. They hope that others might follow their example and that the Safar Leisure Consultancy will decarbonise other parts of their business.
Gold: Department of Tourism, Union Territory of Ladakh
The Ladakh Department of Tourism was established in 2019 when the Union Territory of Ladakh was created with a brief to restore sites of all religious faiths, promote Pilgrim Tourism and, through the development of tourism, contribute to the preservation of the unique culture and heritage of the territory. There is an extensive programme of work encompassing infrastructure development (accommodation, roads, transport & sanitation) in rural villages, hospitality and guiding skills training designed both to develop tourism as a livelihood activity in rural and border areas, building on the ‘Vibrant Village Programme’ of the Government of India to reduce the outward migration of young people from the tribal villages. The Department of Tourism launched the Homestay Initiative in 2020. Working inclusively with marginalised groups such as women, youth, and people from remote areas, over 1200 homestays have been established across more than 200 villages, including remote and border villages. Over the last five years, 34 handicraft training centres across Ladakh have trained ~3,000 craft workers.
Silver: Aura Voyages, New Delhi
Aura Voyages has created a division to provide travel in India for differently abled travellers having assessed the accessibility of monuments, hotels, restaurants and activities which are accessible for wheelchair travellers and their wheelchairs. They use Indian Sign Language to communicate with the deaf and dumb community and they are starting to provide for Visually Impaired travellers. As they said in their application: “More than funding, we need to have an understanding with our partners that we all need to make a collective effort and make minor adjustments in our already operating business to make it more accessible to everyone.!”
Silver: City Explorers Pvt Ltd (India City Walks), New Delhi
City Explorer takes a holistic approach to inclusion, recognising that sensitisation training is key to delivering diversity and inclusion. They strive to create an environment that embraces the uniqueness and individuality of each person, understanding that diversity extends beyond race and gender, encompassing a wide range of backgrounds, experiences, and perspectives. By nurturing an inclusive culture, they strive to create a space where everyone feels valued, respected, and empowered to contribute their best. Friendly Routes® provides safe and welcoming spaces for the LGBTQ+ community, promoting acceptance, and fostering equality. Slum Souls® shines a light on the resilience, strength, and untapped potential of slum communities, working towards improving living conditions and promoting social equality. Explorers Beyond Border® breaks down barriers and bridges cultural gaps by promoting cross-cultural exchange and exploration. City Explorers promotes cultural sensitivity among their team members and travellers, through training programs, they educate their staff on respecting and appreciating different cultures, traditions, and social norms.
One to Watch: Maharashtra Tourism Development Corporation
Maharashtra Tourism Development Corporation is developing outreach programmes, this year providing promotional support for a tourist camp organised for a group of the specially-abled on the occasion of World Autism Awareness Day in April and logo support for a Tourist Summer Camp for the specially-abled with Mental Disabilities in May, there are plans for Gender Tourism & Women’s Empowerment.
In the view of the judges, none of this year’s applications met the standard now required for a Gold award.
Silver: IHCL, Mumbai, Maharashtra
India’s largest hospitality company has eliminated plastic water bottles and replaced plastic bathroom amenities & keys with biodegradable alternative materials. They have replaced two million plastic straws across all its properties with paper & bamboo straws equivalent to (5,000 kgs tCO2e). IHCL recognizes the importance of aligning with changing consumer preferences for sustainable practices they aim to enhance the guest experience and meet evolving consumer expectations for sustainable and eco-friendly practices. They have launched their first “Zero Single Use Plastic Hotel”, the Taj Exotica Resort & Spa, Andamans and reduced the consumption of PET bottles by installing twenty Glass Water Bottling plants and are replacing plastic bathroom amenities with bamboo.
One to Watch: Odisha Ecotourism Foundation by Heritage Tours Puri
Their Puri beach cleaning event in September collected 324 kg of plastics and other litter from the 3.5 km of beach within 3 hours through the active participation of our dedicated 130 volunteers. On the brackish Lake Chilika, they are working to reduce the use of plastic and save the lake and Irrawaddy dolphins found there.
One to Watch: Meluha – The Fern, Mumbai, Maharashtra
Meluha - The Fern has won many awards for its environmental performance, Ecotel certified and with a LEED Gold rating. Within the hotel, in the rooms, bars and restaurants, only glass bottles are used, and produce arrives in cloth bags. The laundry and shopping bags provided in the guest rooms are made of jute bags. All plastics are either reusable or recycled.
Gold: Soar Excursions, Ahmedabad, Gujarat
Soar Excursions describes itself as “dedicated to offering meaningful, experiential, and responsible tourism experiences to a diverse range of clients”, which includes pleasure tourists, craft and heritage professionals, international students, and research scholars. They provide customised and curated slow travel options in Gujarat, covering nature and wildlife, cultural and craft exploration, history, heritage and architecture appreciation, field research, as well as photography and videography. Their immersive tours offer experiences ranging from bicycling through the Rann of Kutch to exploring modernist architecture in Gujarat to walking alongside the nomadic Mirasi community. Their textile tours provide workshops with artisan communities, allowing participants to delve into the history and evolution of specific crafts, understand the communities practising them, and have hands-on experiences. Soar Excursions is a small specialist carrying between 150 and 200 guests annually, with five core team members providing small group and individual tours for Indian and American travellers.
Silver: Holidays in Rural India
Recognising that there have been both positive and negative consequences for communities evicted from their land to make tiger reserves, Holidays in Rural India seeks to show guests both sides of this history and to spread awareness (and income) to villages beyond the immediate park gate area, giving guests a less superficial understanding of life in rural central India close to a tiger reserve. Their approach is to slow people down, persuading them that there is more to see than ‘just’ the tigers and that Kanha can be a core sole destination for inbound travellers, book-ended by Mumbai or Delhi, providing a lower impact, more deeply impactful holiday than a multi-destination one.
In 2018 Holidays in Rural India started ‘Walks for Water’. Guests visited villages in Kabirdham, Chhattisgarh, with UK charity Frank Water’s Indian partners Samerth and fundraised for them. In learning about water supply, guests learn about farming, cooking, hygiene and even schooling (as the NGOs support the education systems too, and the pumps are often placed by schools). Pre-trip engagement about the NGO means guests arrive with some knowledge, so they ask pertinent questions about people’s lives, which leads to more interesting connections. A Cycle for Safe Water tour in November 2022 raised £32,000/32 lakh INR for Frank Water. As they say in their application: “The upshot of longer stays in one place is the opposite of what you might expect. Far from feeling they have ‘done’ Kanha; guests return, often for longer, less activity full holidays.”
Silver: Making Heros Out of Youth Ranmangli Foundation Nagpur, Maharashtra
Ran Mangli Foundation (RMF) is a registered not-for-profit company working in Maharashtra in partnership with the Forest Department, skilling local youths from the forest neighbouring communities, to benefit from Eco-Tourism. This reduces conflict and improves relationships with the Forest Department. Youths are trained as forest guides, safari drivers, activity providers, gate managers and other service providers. In Tadoba alone, 1,000 youths are earning respectable livelihoods. Similar beneficiaries are spread across the Maharashtra state. Amongst them are renowned storytellers, very popular among the visiting tourists, who insist on going on safaris only with them. In Southern Assam, in the Barak Valley, where tourism benefits were unknown to the local communities, the RMF has established a community-run campsite and boat safari experiences in partnership with the Assam Forest Department. In Arunachal Pradesh at Eagle Nest and Ziro, adventure setups were established and handed over to the local eco-development committees to operate.
One to Watch: Fernweh Fair Travel, Chamoli, Uttarakhand
Fernweh Fair Travel is a women-led, award-winning and internationally recognized youth & women empowerment project. They offer guided tours for small groups that integrate nature-based adventures and spiritual retreats with Indigenous cultural activities in the Indian Himalayas. The initiative was sparked by the realisation that in the inner Himalayan range in Uttarakhand, there was an alarming number of young widows who could never marry again and victims of domestic violence.
Thuer guests are screened for their open-mindedness, an introduction to the place and culture is provided pre-trip and a list of dos and don’ts is shared. Guests dress modestly when visiting villages (local attire) that way villagers open themselves to the guests and a beautiful intercultural exchange happens. The judges were excited to see their plans to expand the programme in other parts of Uttarakhand and look forward to hearing about them in the future.
Gold: Kerala Responsible Tourism Mission, Government of Kerala
Kerala and the Responsible Tourism Mission have won Gold and Global Responsible Tourism Awards multiple times, particularly for its programme of Village Life Experiences and the producer groups that have been developed across the state to enable small farmers collectively to supply at scale to resorts and hotels. There are now some 25,000 households benefiting from RT Mission activities. The Village Life Experiences often involve a visit to a craftworkers’ workshop, an opportunity to see the craft done and to have a go. Not surprisingly, tourists often buy directly from the craft workers and get their photographs taken with the crafter, enhancing the value of the experience and ensuring that the producer captures the full value with no commission to the retailer.
This year, the judges wish to recognise the work of the Responsible Tourism Mission in promoting the ethnic and traditional foods of each locality through tourism, providing authentic local food experiences enjoyed in local homes for tourists, and generating additional income for those households that participate. The Kerala Agritourism Network, part of the Responsible Tourism Mission, connects small-scale farmers to the tourism sector, generating additional income for the farmers and ensuring local availability of fresh agricultural products to the tourism industry.
Silver: Madla Village Tourism Development Committee, Madhya Pradesh
The Madhya Pradesh Tourism Baird provides the platform for skilled artists, the training is provided through the technical support organisation Pashoo Pakshee. The mission is to give tourists a meaningful takeaway by providing socially responsible souvenirs, through training of the local artist The artisans are trained to meet market preferences, and customer demand evolves over time. The artisans have the skill in the traditional art form. The modernisation in the material used, colours, medium, and objects are diversified to ensure that the art looks unique. At Madla (Panna), vocational trades like cutting, stitching, and screen printing are taught to enable crafters to create beautiful artefacts like bags, pouches, purses, t-shirts, tiffin boxes, and file folders, beautiful earrings, garden stacks, and diffusers are made from terracotta, and papier mâché, date leaf packaging material is made at the Dhamna centre.
Silver: Pashoo Pakshee. Mumbai
Pashoo Pakshee gives tourists a meaningful takeaway by selling socially and environmentally responsible, destination-specific souvenirs at India's tourist attractions which are made by artisans and locals living near the destination. The core purpose is to generate sustainable livelihoods and a sense of inclusion for locals so as to preserve what is special about the destination. Design-Train-Sustain is their motto.
The artisans, mostly women, are trained by Pashoo Pakshee to make the souvenirs. They provide the raw materials and tools and ensure sustained income by purchasing the products made by the artisans. They market and sell the souvenirs through park shops, gift shops in resorts, hotels, lodges and through tour operators with the idea that guests can take back tangible memories.
PashooPakshee stands for Animals and Birds in Hindi because they work with communities that live near national parks and whose lives are heavily dependent on forests. By providing them alternative craft-based livelihoods they attempt to wean them off using forest resources and create a win-win situation for women and wildlife. This unique offering has opened doors to about 60 hotels + 10 tour operators across the country that retail or gift their souvenirs to their guests.
One to Watch: Wild Flower Villas, Goa
Wildflower Villas is a family-owned and family-run property, guests are welcomed by the family. Over the years, guests who have walked into the property have turned into friends and family friends. Their hosts show them around the estate along with narrating the stories from the past and present of the estate and the family history. Many guests return every year and they have seen children growing up from toddlers to young boys and girls. They value these relationships as the strongest pillar of running the business with 70% repeat guests or referrals.
One to Watch: Fagan Tourism, Assam
Fagun Tours & Travels (Tour Operator) offers cultural experiences of the rituals & customs of Boro Society, religious and social festivals and the theory and techniques of Boro & Assamese dance forms, traditional dress and textiles.
Gold: Pench Tree Lodge (Pugdundee Safari), Seoni, Madhya Pradesh
Pench Tree Lodge, 6 treehouses & 6 cottages, sits on 40 acres of wilderness in the small tribal hamlet of Sarahiri, close to Pench National Park. Since 2016, Pench Tree Lodge has served close to 20,000 guests. No trees were cut down in the building of the lodge infrastructure and some 10,000 Plants have been added. The lodge encourages non-vehicular, low-impact, greener & sustainable experiences such as Walk the Runi Jhuni Trail, Nature Walks, cycling excursions & wildlife photography at The Kipling Hide, is a professionally-designed, subterranean wildlife photography hide that allows photographers and wildlife enthusiasts to get one with the wild at eye level in a secure, discrete manner. The bird list extends to 170 species. Camera traps reveal the presence of leopard and tiger. They are currently building a Mushroom Hut & Butterfly Garden.
Silver: Secret Paradise, Maldives
Secret Paradise Tours use public transportation ferries and speedboats and avoid the use of private speedboats for transportation during their tours, which only within the atoll where they are based or which they are visiting as part of a multi-day tour. Since 2022 they have ceased to offer tours within South Male, North Male and North Ari Atolls to new B2B partners as they believe that this triangle of the Maldives is on the cusp of overtourism. They have introduced a Conservation Cruise joined by the Maldives Whale Shark Research Program and Save the Beach a local NGO. For the first time in 2023 they have partnered with Path Net Zero to measure carbon emissions for all their B2C tours and they include a sustainability audit in their annual property audits. All guests participating in ocean-based activities are briefed using the Green Fins Guidelines on how to be responsible in the water. They minimize waste by supplying guests with reusable water bottles, avoiding single-use plastic wherever possible and intercepting SUP water bottles used on tours collecting and passing them onto Parley Maldives for recycling. 100% of the team have completed Travelife Sustainability online Diploma.
One to Watch: Sabarvani Village Tourism Development Committee, Madhya Pradesh
The Sabarvani Village Tourism Development Committee (SVTDC) was formed in 2022 by the community to develop and promote tourism activities in the village, providing additional income. Located near the buffer zone of Satpura National Park the area offers opulent beauty of the countryside, wildlife and local architecture. The village offers folk dance performances, bullock cart rides, and nature trails to provide visitors with an unforgettable experience. The village development committee devised norms and policies for the preservation of cultural and natural heritage. The whole tribal village welcomes visitors as a family to offer experiences of culture, art, cuisine and lifestyle. Visitors can learn local customs, traditions and beliefs through one-on-one interaction with the community.
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