Monday, 2 November 2009

The first Update

The First Update – to say THANK YOU

Travel Another India started as a kernel of an idea, way back when we travelled another India to visit partners of ActionAid India. The visits took us to places which were often not found in any school atlas. (This was in the days before Google Maps, Wikimapia et al.)

Amongst development professionals, we often discussed how tourism would flourish in these beautiful villages; mainstream tourism was still taboo. The only images of tourism that most of us had were of the beaches of Goa or (worse) the streets of Bangkok.

The discovery of rural India as a tourist destination rests squarely with the Ministry of Tourism and full credit must be given to them for this. They tied up with UNDP and soon realised that they would need to set up tourism ventures where the ethos of the village was as important a fact as they infrastructure they were to set up. What resulted was the Endogenous Tourism Project piloted in 36 villages across India. (

Coincidentally, both Vinay and I had started our professional lives wanting to get into the Hotel Management Industry. Life, however, charted a different and perhaps, more interesting course for us. We went through several development projects, programmes and agencies before deciding to set up Travel Another India.

In Kutch, a lady with vision, Sushma Iyengar, picked up the taboo tourism Project and putting all her faith in it (in2005), transformed far away Hodka into one of the big successes of the Ministry of Tourism’s Explore Rural India campaign. I joined Kutch Mahila Vikas Sangathan at around the time Hodka was being set up and totally enjoyed getting fully involved in the Tourism Project. The kernel of an idea was getting watered, fertilised and ready to grow.

The concept of Travel Another India was written up and circulated amongst some fifty friends and well-wishers in February 2008. I asked for advice and suggestions and warning, and I also asked for those who wanted to be part of it. I got a lot of encouragement and the courage to actually take it forward. And I also got two friends who were actually looking to be part of it. I couldn’t believe my luck that I had managed to interest two such experienced and senior professionals – Vinay Raj and Meera Menon. The icing on the cake was an invitation from Chirag, a leading NGO in Uttarakhand, asking me to do an assessment right away!

We were spread between Bangalore and Chennai. Modern technology made bridging the distance easy enough. We met up in September 2008 for the first time to discuss the numbers behind the concept – how many, how much, by when – and to pin down this concept into an action plan that could be implemented. Our vision emerged in this meeting:

TAI is in the business of providing an experience to discerning clients exploring another India, rich in diversity of cultures, cuisines and comforts, while enriching lives along roads less travelled.

We argued endlessly and agreed to disagree on a logo to capture our spirit – a pin wheel – capturing the idea of playfulness and vibrancy of colours that India offered; of travel being fun, unpredictable and an experience to cherish.

The website evolved with our angst shared with Naga Nandini – a designer based in Bangalore. She offered her services pro bono, till we could afford to pay! She also went on to design our logo, our stationery, in fact, our whole look. And all this while we spoke Greek and she, Latin – where does creativity meet management-speak? We spoke more at her than to her and yet, she captured Travel Another India and defined it in colours and pictures that speak to more people than mere words ever will.

In December we made our first joint visit to Banavasi to convince the Village Tourism Development Committee (VTDC) of the need for TAI support to take forward the Endogenous Tourism Project in their village. The VTDC was more than happy to take our support, as the UNDP support was to come to an end by December end. They needed management support till they learnt the ropes themselves. As they were not in a position to pay us, we agreed to share their revenues over the next three years. This increased our stake in the venture as now our success was closed tied to theirs.

And we were in business!

From January to April we have conducted many more Tourism Potential and Needs Assessments (TPNA) across India.
Ø                  An existing tourism venture on the West Coast would like to work closer with the village where they are based and ensure greater revenues to the village
Ø                  An entrepreneur in Kutch would like to highlight his village
Ø                  Another Endogenous Tourism Project in Tamil Nadu would like our support in marketing
Ø                  A micro-finance organisation in Tamil Nadu would like us to visit three of their sites to see if Responsible Tourism is a worthwhile investment for them
Ø                  Two leading development consultancy organisations would like to explore setting up training centres that could double up as a tourist facility to provide an alternative livelihood to the village where they are based
Ø                  A national micro-finance institution would like to explore Responsible Tourism as an alternate livelihood option which they would like to support; appropriately enough we conduct the assessment in the heart of India.
Ø                  A group of wildlife enthusiasts would like us to help set up a series of home-stays in forest-fringe communities so as to contribute to their wildlife conservation work
Ø                  A craft village in the Thar desert of Rajasthan wants to share their craft with Guests
Ø                  An NGO in the Himalayan hills keen on setting up home-stays and training local youngsters to be Naturalists
Ø                  An ardent biker in Chattisgarh wanting to set up homestays on roads less travelled

We hope to tailor our support and our sustenance on each of these initiatives taking off as much as those to follow in future - as we go about the business of “creating an experience” for discerning clients while “enriching lives” along the road less travelled.

Meanwhile on 16th April 2009, we were formally registered as a Private Limited Company. Our legal name is Tai Responsible Tourism Consultants Private Limited. (Tai is “mother” in Tamil.) Currently, the two Directors are Vinay and I.

We were unfortunate to lose Meera, partially, along the way. While she will continue to be associated with TAI, she is no longer able to focus on it full time.

We have linked up with others, across India, who work in the same space. Much of the dialogue is conducted electronically currently. We hope to have more personal interactions as we travel and as we find opportunities to work together.

In February, we received an invitation to apply for the Sankalp award for social entrepreneurs. The application process forced us to work out our business strategy and plans and put them down on paper. We took full advantage of our friends’ network to submit a well thought out business plan. And we won! We were judged the best Emerging Enterprise in the Rural Innovations and Agriculture category! It is a huge boost to our morale and reinforces our conviction in the idea of Travel Another India.

We could not have done it without the support of all of you – family and friends, definitely. And also all those who believe in Responsible Tourism and its potential to offer a unique experience to guests while enriching lives along the roads less travelled. We have not named you all in this update, but we thank you for your support in spirit and deed.

We end this Update with further requests for your time:

First, may we continue to send you quarterly updates on our work? Future updates will focus on new destinations and special events rather that on us! (No response will be treated as a resounding YES!) We have been warned that if we don’t get your permission, our domain could be blacklisted for spamming!

Second, are there any of your family or friends who would like to receive updates about Travel Another India – especially about new destinations? Please send us their email ID. We assure you that we will first get their consent before adding them on to our mailing list.

Finally, are there any places that you would like to recommend to us to add to our list of Responsible Destinations? It could be an existing destination, tourism venture or it could be a destination that you visited which you believe has potential or would add to our portfolio. Our criteria are simple and just three:

  1. Is the place easily accessible by tourists? And are there tourists nearby? Our definition of “easily accessible” is to be within a two hour drive of an airport or railway station or within 5-6 hours drive of a large city.
  2. Is the place safe? No terrorism? Naxalism? Caste, religion, political party violence?
  3. And perhaps most important, is there a local host who has a strong sense of ownership and pride in the destination who would be willing to ensure that the guests experience the culture, cuisines and comfort of the destination? The host could be an individual or a group based at the destination.

I have gone on longer than I intended to, but will now end!

Do write or call – we are waiting to hear from you.

Gouthami – 9940 559 513 –
Vinay Raj – 9448 829 408 –

Gouthami (with inputs from Vinay)
May 2009

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