The India Responsible Tourism Awards are part of the World Responsible Tourism Awards family of awards programmes licensed by World Travel Market London, the rights holder. The judges are mindful of the international benchmarks within the family which includes the African Responsible Tourism Awards. Generally, there are Gold and Silver winners in each category, but where there are no applications which meet the benchmark for Gold and Silver, there is no Award. The judges have identified some exciting newcomers and new initiatives which they have recognised as ones to watch, and we hope to see them apply again and win, in the next two to five years.
Gold and Overall Winner: Himalayan Ecotourism
Himalayan Expeditions offers opportunities to explore the nature and culture of less-visited parts of the Himalayas. Himalayan Ecotourism is a co-operative society engaging individuals from 72 families in villages in the buffer zone of the Great Himalayan National Park offering the experience of travelling with locals – for example to travel from Delhi to Leh by road rather than flying. 20% of turnover is profit for the co-operative. The co-operative is the operating company managed by the partners who work as mountain guides, cooks and porters. Much of their profit is used to support eco-development. The porters carry loads of no more than 20kg. The trekking staff have been trained at the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute and operate as teams of ten.
The judges recognised the good practices of the GHNP Community Based Ecotourism Cooperative Society in its tour operations, the use of local community expertise and the strength of the marketing and management partnership with the commercial firm Himalayan Eco-Services and Products. The mountain guides, cooks and porters are now partners in the co-operative and no longer sell themselves as day labourers. Himalayan Ecotourism is working with village women to develop value-added products for sale hand-made soaps with apricot oil, local fruit jams, chutney & pickles, and felted wool products. They have trained and developed female trekking guides. The co-operative is working to raise awareness of the damage caused by intentional and repetitive forest fires and promoting and encouraging the use of clean wood stoves and solar cookers.
The judges recognise the co-operative structure linked with a more internationally oriented marketing and management company, but with guaranteed profits for the staff-owned co-operative as a model for tourism development which ensures local benefits and control, empowers local communities and provides a viable route to market as a model which could, and should, be replicated.
Silver Winner: Expeditions India
Expeditions India offers high-quality expedition backed with rigorous safety standards, operating on the Ganga with intentionally small group sizes and a high staff to guest ration, average group size for day trips is five and for multi-day trips, eight. All their multi-day trips are expedition style, camping on river beaches with a strict leave no trace set of operational practices. The judges were particularly impressed by their closed-door policy in May and June. Until there is more regulation in place, they recognise that running Ganga trips at the height of the season would make both harm nature and deny their clients the experience of the Ganga that Expeditions India cherishes. They launched a Paddle Safe India campaign and offer a significantly discounted rate to women for their Beginners Kayak session each year.
Best Earth Friendly
Gold Winner: The Goat Village, Nag Tibba
The Goat Village at Nag Tibba is one of three developed by the Green People blending Eco-Tourism, Agro-Tourism and Rural-Tourism to bring sustainable economic development by reviving old traditional forms of farming and bridging the gap between urban and rural India through tourism. This development of 10 Garhwali cottages, at the 2000m midpoint on the trek to Nagtibba, has used a thousand-year-old architectural technique called ‘Koti Banal’ to minimise earthquake damage. The buildings are of mud, cow dung, wood and stone, there is no electricity by design they use candles, kerosene and solar lamps. There is no swimming pool by guests can use the mud pool when there is water enough to have created mud. Guests have to trek 2.3km from the 9km off-road jeep drop off point. If you want to get there, you have to walk or use a mule. Showers work on the BYOB principle, BringYour Own Bucket, no more than half a bucket once per day. The Green People are uncompromising is the application of green “earth-friendly” principles, They have an inflexible policy on plastic and litter – if you bring it, you have to carry it out. The Goat Village is an example of a rural development initiative using tourism and not compromising its earth-friendly principles.
Silver Winner: The Sarai, at Toria, near Khajuraho
Thick walls create traditional village style buildings with eight unexpectedly elegant interiors. The rooms are designed to preclude the need for energy-intensive heating and cooling. The walls, constructed of mud and thatch, are two feet thick stabilising the ambient temperature. The windows are positioned for light and to create a cross breeze when open. Much of the grounds comprises grassland and an area of wild tree cover to provide a diverse habitat for birds. The Sarai has set menus to reduce food waste, and guest soaps and shampoos are sourced from a local women’s co-operative. The Sarai provides accommodation for travellers visiting Khajuraho and the Panna Tiger Reserve. This is an example of an earth-friendly accommodation which provides high-quality accommodation for sightseeing travellers in Madhya Pradesh as well as being a destination in itself.
One to Watch: Hearth Hostel
The Hearth Hostel is a backpacker community hostel; guests stay with other travellers in a remote rural area in a place offering a wide range of facilities and activities for travellers seeking a rural setting. Established in June 2018 it is too soon to be awarded.
One to Watch: Banlekhi Resorts
Established only in May 2017 the judges recognised this new stylish ecologically responsible resort built of local materials by local artisans, with adventure and nature activities, as one to watch.
Gold Winner: Journeys with Meaning
They offer earth friendly-travel which they claim is “one of the most beautiful ways to take us from theory to practice, from reading to experiencing, and from watching to doing.” All their journeys are designed with local communities and with organisations like the Students’ Educational and Cultural Movement of Ladakh and the Himalayan Institute of Alternatives. The guests stay in homestays and guesthouses and eat local food. The judges were impressed by their engagement of their clients in conversations about the challenges of climate change, unbridled consumption and the consequences of irresponsible travel. As they say “we use the time we get with our groups to educate them about inspiring environmental solutions that they can adopt in their lives.” The judges wanted to recognise their commitment to transformative travel and to encourage others to consider adopting a similar approach to achieve change through travel experiences.
Silver Winner: Open Eyes Project
In August 2014 they started a vocational tourism training course for young people with limited access to education and with a lack of employment opportunities. They offer cultural immersion tours in rural areas of Rajasthan and Tibet, and they have developed an ethical fashion project as part of a two-day cultural immersion tour, in a rural area close to Jaipur. The judges wanted to recognise their Women in Tourism initiative which has, over seven years, created employment for twelve guides, thirteen artisans and two visually impaired women. This initiative has significantly increased the earnings of artisans, taxi drivers, guides and the blind female massage therapists.
This homestay offers an immersive experience of the warmth and hospitality of the indigenous Lepcha people in the Dzongu reserve, to bring sustainable development and empowerment to local communities in a way which enables them to thrive without endangering the pristine nature of their environment. The accommodation is authentic, and one-third of the food served is foraged, guests are encouraged to wash their own clothes. The judges wanted to recognise the replication of this initiative in Passingdang Village, which now has ten homestays and across the state.
Silver Winner: None
Gold Winner: Kaadumane Homestay, Near Dandeli
A three-acre wilderness “hideaway” with three varieties of forest -semi-deciduous, deciduous and evergreen, improved with substantial planting of medicinal plants, fruit trees and bamboo. The conserved wilderness now attracts deer, gliding frogs, flying squirrels and 65 species of birds and a bee park with three varieties of bees, a popular attraction for visitors, which employs five village women. All the staff are local, achieving the necessary service standards was a struggle, but the tourism work provided by the Kaadumane Homestay provides significant additional income for local people. This small homestay has demonstrated how a small tourism business can create significant conservation and local economic development benefits.
Gold Winner: Kaadumane Homestay, Near Dandeli
Mangalajodi is a community owned and managed wildlife conservation venture. The Mangalajodi Marshes have been restored as a bird sanctuary, able through tourism to provide sustainable livelihoods. The bird sanctuary now hosts 227 bird species of which 117 are migratory. The judges we particularly impressed by the way in which the erstwhile poachers of Magalajodi now actively patrol and protect the birds in the marshes, tourism has been successfully harnessed for the conservation of birds and other species. Birdwatching is available from hand sailed country boats, staff for the bird watching and resort are employed from the local community.
Silver Winner: None
One to Watch: Kundan Homestay
Developed by a vegetable seller in his century-old home, the guests eat with the family on a traditional homestay fashion. There is no local association of homestays nor organised visits with other families or associations in the village.
RT Pathfinder Category
Overview: The Responsible Tourism Pathfinder is a unique category introduced this year to celebrate practitioners whose outstanding contribution to tourism has changed the narrative of inclusive travel in India. In choosing to celebrate individuals rather than institutions, we are breaking format to applaud and acknowledge the power of dynamic and passionate practitioners, whose vision transcends their individual enterprises to embrace and impact the macro through the creation of replicable models, their role in advocacy and shaping policy.
And for the Responsible Tourism Pathfinder Category, the jury has chosen not one but two remarkable individuals from over 30 nominees recommended by a closed group of over 60 public officials, journalists, tourism practitioners and travel industry insiders/leaders from all the States and Union Territories of India.
Parag Rangnekar’s passion for the environment is awe inspiring. It has led him to engage with a mind-boggling array of interventions- ranging from bird conservation to impacts of mining and eco-tourism. Credited with setting-up Goa’s first tourism cooperative, Parag also has the unique distinction of discovering the Goan Shadow Dancer Dragonfly, and documenting for the first time in the state, 17 species of butterflies and 64 dragonflies.
Pema G Bhutia
Pema G Bhutia is a founding member of the Khangchendzonga Conservation Committee (KCC), a pioneer in environmental interventions and ecotourism in Sikkim and other parts of India. Over the last two decades Bhutia with other members of the KCC have built Yuksum community-run homestays, trained tourism service providers in ecological management, built waste management & recycling systems. In 2009, they developed a zero-waste trekking trail to mitigate the impacts of climate change and mass tourism in the Kanchenjunga National Park region.