Maria Victor: On A Mission To Showcase The Real Goa
Maria Victor, the Founder of Make It Happen, is a Management Accountant by profession but a traveller by passion. She realised that Goa's rich cultural histories and colourful local communities were forgotten in a rush to capitalise on the "sun, sand, beer, casino'" narrative. Maria realised that if this narrative were to change, travellers needed to learn about local culture from the locals themselves.
Leaving behind the protected pattern of a salaried job, she dived right into the heart of the storm. She formed a team of young travel enthusiasts and launched Make It Happen in 2014 as, an experiential travel company that specialises in curating heritage trails and cultural experiences conducted by local presenters.
What led you to Responsible Tourism? Tell us more about Make it Happen.
There comes a time in everyone’s life when circumstances force us to pause and re-prioritise everything we know about. For me, that moment came in Germany while attending a trade fair. Almost everyone acknowledged the vibrant, colourful era of the early 60s and 70s associated with the popular Hippie culture.
No one spoke of the Goa I grew up in or even seemed to know about it. At that moment, I realised I wouldn’t wait for anyone else to take this initiative and showcase the real true essence of Goa; I realised that the responsibility lay with me and in that instant, I knew what needed to be done. How I was going to achieve this goal was a whole other story!
I started “Make It Happen” to change the stereotypical image of Goa as a fun and party hub. Yes, it is all these things, but there’s a rich cultural heritage embedded in tiny corners and memories securely kept in the treasure troves of our streets. Ironically, a new narrative was needed to showcase the history, heritage and, art and culture of Goa. I wanted to be the voice and mind behind this new narrative, showcasing the true ethos of Goa, presented by Goans.
What can travellers expect when they sign up for a tour?
When travellers sign up with us, they are in for an experience of a lifetime. We are different from the usual tour guides who give a brief history of a monument or the story of its existence. We are helping create an acquaintance with people, places and surroundings. A familiarity that will stay with them long after they have returned home, a story where they will feel transported to an era they only read about.
Our carefully curated experiences keep in mind individual desires, thus offering a plethora of alternatives to choose from. Patrons who enjoy the human experience of life and living can indulge in community walks that include a detailed peek into our community. For our “we live to eat, and eat to live” patrons, we offer special culinary tours in Chorao, Divar Island and Mapusa, where the grand finale is a traditional home-cooked meal with locals welcoming our guests into their homes like their own.
Mr. Chico, a renowned musician and an expert in Fado music, provides a sneak peek into the fine china that graces his vintage home on the street of Fontainhas. As we walk into Chico’s home, an air of elegance overcomes us and lifts our spirits with the soulful tunes of Fado music coupled with Chico’s magical voice.
What are some of the challenges you have faced?
To be honest, I am not much of a glass-empty kind of person. From the start, my attitude has been of troubleshooting rather than troubleshooting when a problem crops up. It takes more energy out of us when we focus on the problem rather than on the solution.
However, like all startups, we do face issues from time to time. Few of these explain "Local Experiences" to travellers who are entirely new to this concept. A funny incident comes to mind: a prospective guest was quite alarmed that we were charged for organising a heritage walk. She, in fact, expected to be paid since she would walk herself! Finding humour in such conversations is more encouraging rather than focusing on the negative.
However, The more realistic problem is maintaining steady bookings to keep our work sustainable and the community engaged in our personalised tours. So, we work on the two angles simultaneously, one from the consumer and the other from the experiential end.
What has been the impact of your organisation?
The impact of our organisation is that we showcase our country's grassroots beauty and culture. Our guests meet artists, and renowned bass and acoustic musicians, see beautiful family homes, learn culinary art from home chefs and local bakeries, experience traditional occupations like toddy tapping, fishing, weaving, clay art and organic farming, plus enjoy traditional games.
We have expanded our horizons beyond Goa to reach across India in our quest to encourage cross-cultural sharing. In Bylakuppe and Mundgod, we closely work with the Buddhist communities and monks who kindly share Buddhist philosophies, Nalanda teachings, traditions, art and culture with us. We work with historians in Ladakh who give orientation to Drukpa sect of Buddhism. In the Nilgiris, we take our guests to meet and interact with members of the most prominent tribal communities, the Todas and Kurumbas. They teach about the art of traditional embroidery, painting with natural paints and the science of medicine making from forest gatherings. Fontainhas's walk ends with a rhythmic bang from Chico Fonesca, a renowned Goan musician. At the same time, chronicles and echoes of Divar showcase an experience of quaint village life with fish being caught in the traditional methods and bread being baked in the traditional wood-fired oven.
The reason of listing all this is to show that we stand apart from stereotypical tour guides; ours is an inclusive, personalised initiative. The stories from these experiences can’t be manufactured; they are to be relished with an impact that lasts a lifetime.
What are your plans for your organisation regarding expansion or new initiatives?
We are consistently trying to identify communities across the country, organising training to upskill presenters with knowledge of the uniqueness of a destination, it's evolving culture, natural heritage, architecture, and archaeology, along with presentation and storytelling skills, thereby increasing employment opportunities for locals and promoting sustainable tourism.
We are also venturing into Experiential Marketing, where we help brands create a closer bond between the consumer and the brand by immersing them in a fun and memorable experience. We are working with brands who want to build a community of like-minded individuals. By curating experiences for special interest groups–art, architecture, cuisine, and organic lifestyle, we enable brands to engage and build relationships with their target audience.
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