Overall

Snow Leopard Conservancy — India Trust
Planet Abled

Best responsible tourism property

GOLD:
Farm of Happiness
The concept at the Farm of Happiness is simple—a homestay on a 20-acre organic farm with wild patches. 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 its 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 agritourism and organic farming. The organic practices on the farm, the traditional structure, the focus on local cuisine, are all steps towards using tourism to encourage locals and tourists alike to be guardians of their environment and culture.
SILVER:
Dewalokam
Dewalokam is an organic, self-reliant farm in the Idukki district, which also offers organic interactions with the local community. The staff here — 15 men and 10 women employed directly, and just as many employed indirectly — belong to the village, which benefits from the enterprise. For a relatively small, family run, ancestral property, it ticks all the big boxes, such as equitable employment, gender balance, sustainable practices and promotion of local food and culture. With consistently good traveller feedback, at Dewalokam the emphasis is not on what the guests want, but on what it can provide as a matter of course.
SILVER:
Atali Ganga
The Aqua Terra Alternative Lifestyle Initiative or ATALI Ganga, near Rishikesh, combines smart accommodation with safe adventure. A viable model built in an overstretched, touristy area, it sources locally, minimises water consumption, carefully manages waste, contributes to local schools and provides pre-arrival guidelines for guests to avoid any embarrassment. Built using local stones, Atali leads by example, and its impact on the surrounding ecology is impressive, especially in the light of the new rafting and camping policies in the state.

Best contribution to wildlife conservation

GOLD & JOINT OVERALL WINNER
Snow Leopard Conservancy — India Trust
Of course, the Snow Leopard Conservancy—India Trust works to protect (among other animals) the snow leopard—a globally endangered species with only 200 to 600 individuals left in the higher reaches of the Himalayas. 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, reducing 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 by them to offer 165 homestays in 40 villages across Ladakh—10 per cent of all homestay income is invested in village conservation. The Trust has sought to maintain traditional Ladakhi values, particularly by serving Ladakhi food to guests and by housing guests in existing traditional rooms, rather than constructing new dwellings, to maintain a living culture. The model is being considered for replication in five countries.

SILVER:
Madras Crocodile Bank Trust & Centre for Herpetology
Chennai’s MCBT celebrates its 40th anniversary this year, and for most of those 40 years, it has played a crucial role in raising awareness and conserving reptiles and amphibians, including crocodiles and snakes. It has worked with the tribal Irula snake catchers, and its anti-venom research has been crucial in India, where several people are affected by snakebites. Although its reptile park in Chennai is a crucial source of funds for it, the MCBT’s research footprints can be found in more than one region—including central India, the Western Ghats and the Andaman & Nicobar islands.

 

Best for cultural immersion

GOLD:
The Blue Yonder
The Blue Yonder was launched in 2004 to promote the River Nila in Kerala. They took a ‘negative’ space and made it positive—by setting up a tourism operation to solve a problem, and not by creating a destination and then looking for problems to solve in it… They used the rich cultural heritage of the area to bring visitors to celebrate the river, enhance local pride in it and in the people who live along it, even as they created sustainable livelihoods—not entirely dependent on tourism—to check migration, revive crafts and cultural activities. The musical trail that they started 12 years ago, for instance, with 4 beneficiaries, now supports over 850 students and more than 15 teachers. Although the Nila has been their focal point, The Blue Yonder’s footprints can be found across India and its neighbouring countries. The travel experiences offered by them are developed through community consultation and co-creation, and are both replicable and scalable.
SILVER:
Rural Pleasure
Rural Pleasure is a social enterprise primarily operating in south Gujarat, where tourism is still finding its feet. They encourage tourists to participate in the chores of villagers, which give them an insight into their life. 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, and Rural Pleasure has helped in this revival. Although it only operates in one state at the moment, and the numbers are humble—seven houses have been decorated with Warli art, about 750 travellers have been immersed in cultural activity and the tribes have earned close to Rs98,000—Rural Pleasure is reaching out to otherwise untouched communities and attempting to highlight tribal culture sensitively.

Best community-based homestay project

GOLD:
Biksthang Heritage Farmhouse
Biksthang is an ancestral 18th-century house, which has been developed by the family into a ‘destination’, bringing tourists to a relatively remote and undeveloped village. The aim was to preserve the legacy, 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 the countryside to create sustainable livelihoods through 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 when they return—much like the owner of Biksthang, Deyki Gyatso. This is a fine example of an individual attempting to affect real change.  
SILVER:
Kabani Community Tourism & Service
The Kabani Community Tourism & Service is a non-profit community association that has been promoting a model that benefits local communities and attempting to reduce negative impact, since 2005. 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 eight villages, involving 450 villagers. They have understood and utilised the local panchayat system to their advantage.
SILVER:
Daragaon Village Retreat (Gurung Homestay)
Daragaon is a family run homestay with seven rooms in a relatively remote Sikkimese village called Darap—home to the Limbu people, originally from Tibet. The judges were impressed by the way in which the opening of this homestay, which offered rural and birdwatching experiences, has resulted in the formation of an association and spawned more locally owned homestays, creating additional income for the village, and raising its living standards, even as it inspired local youth to consider farming for a living.

Best innovation by a tour operator

GOLD & JOINT OVERALL WINNER:
Planet Abled
Planet Abled encourages trips with mixed groups of people who face a wide variety of challenges—not just the visually impaired or wheelchair-enabled—and help them travel with friends and family. They work to provide mainstream itineraries and avoid the ghettoisation of travel for specially abled travellers. Creating an environment of inclusive tourism and spreading awareness amongst the volunteers, who then become ambassadors for inclusion and accessibility in their respective communities, it discourages china doll treatment and differential pricing for its patrons. Although they mostly operate in north India at the moment, their model is replicable and scalable. It’s early days yet for accessible holidays in India, therefore, the judges felt that such inclusive, mixed group, equitable trips are ‘innovative’ in their own way.

SILVER:
Grassroutes Journeys
Grassroutes Journeys offers an experience of off-the-grid, rustic and authentic holidays with rural communities and tribes. An opportunity to learn about and experience local, pastoral traditions. 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 per cent increase in average annual household income for those families through 6,000-8,000 days of employment in the villages in which they work. They work with simple, replicable and innovative concepts, such as firefly tours and rice harvesting.

Best built-heritage conservation

GOLD:
Arco Iris
Arco Iris is a Colonial Portuguese Manor dating back two centuries. It had been abandoned for 40 years before being restored by a family from Bangalore. Arco Iris highlights the best of the rural, agrarian side of Goa, not its touristy, overstretched, beach-centric aspects.
The judges were impressed by the way in which the decision to restore a ruin had resulted in a sustainable boutique homestay. The restoration was done sensitively, using local knowledge and material for conservation. The family decided to live here and open it up to guests, instead of using it as a holiday home.

 

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 somanjan@outlookindia.com