We travel because we must! It's almost a primal drive... a need for movement, for seeking and finding the unknown, the untold. The pandemic has only shown us, yet again, just how strong that drive is, deep down, drilled into our bones. But with more and more people travelling for leisure today, and a changing climate that is blindsiding countries and continents alike, can we continue to travel as we always have?
As the cry for sustainability gets louder and louder with each passing year (and greenwashing threatens to become more normalised), we find that our role both as the touchstone of responsible tourism and the amplifier of best practices in India becomes more vital than ever. It is with great pride and joy therefore, that in 2023, we begin the next leg of our journey at the Outlook Indian Responsible Tourism Awards (IRTA) with our knowledge partner, the Global Sustainable Tourism Council (GSTC), which has been consistently setting standards and creating goalposts for the international tourism industry. Together, we shall vet, celebrate and learn from individuals and organisations who have been fighting the good fight for low-impact, locally relevant, and truly responsible tourism.
Sustainable Leadership: Homestay:
One to Watch: Raptors Inn Guesthouse, Tal Chhapar
Located amidst Rajasthan’s wilderness, Raptors Inn is an earnest, family-run stay that acts as the perfect pitstop for birders and bird enthusiasts. The owners are actively involved in wildlife conservation and awareness efforts and work closely with the local forest and tourist departments.
One to Watch: Isoti, Pauri Garhwal
A true community project, with end-to-end ownership lying with the villagers, Isoti Village has cemented its position on the map as a community tourism destination, allowing its guests to experience an authentic & unadulterated village community life. The house has also preserved the hallmark Koti Banal architecture of the region.
SILVER: Jacob And Klooster Farms, Chennai
Built entirely on rewilded land, Jacob And Klooster Farms is an attempt to live life as one with nature and to give back to the local community, whether it be through rejuvenating a 100-acre lake close by or raising awareness amongst schools in the neighbourhood.
SILVER: The Retreat, Bhimtal
A former tea estate, one of the firsts in India, The Retreat in Bhimtal is a charming example of celebrating the ‘home’ in the word homestay. Guests are welcomed to step back in time at this heritage estate, and encouraged to go on nature trails nearby.
GOLD: Gold: H2O House, Chamba
Built on a traditional gharaat or water mill, the H20 House, a 150+-year-old building, is a celebration of Himachal’s rich heritage. Nestled in a remote village in Chamba, the H2O House is also taking their local community along on their journey of responsible tourism.
Sustainable Leadership: BnBs & Guesthouses.
One to Watch: Kisan Ecofarm, Thane
Based on agri-tourism, Kisan Eco Farm is sustainable on almost all fronts. It is powered by solar energy, they have bio-toilets and they actively practice composting on the property.
One to Watch: Wind Chime, Mulshi
Located in the foothills of the Sahyadri mountain range, Wind Chime is actively working towards increasing the green cover in the region and the owners have so far planted 1000+ trees themselves. They have also started a seed bank as a way to encourage guests to take the seeds and plant them.
SILVER: Poothali, Kasargod
Poothali allows you to experience village life at its finest in picturesque Neeleshwar. The local community is involved and supported in several ways, be it through inviting the local grandmothers to cook sadhya or by engaging local artisans.
SILVER: Surwahi Social Ecoestate, Kanha
Built on 10 acres of rewilded forest land near Kanha National Park, Surwahi Social Ecoestate is built on the ethos of being eco-sensitive. They are constantly experimenting to make the property more sustainable.
GOLD: Ullar Homestay, Lansdowne
Recognized by the local government, Ullaar has been built sensitively by an architect, who came back to his homeland and now supports the local community in multiple ways. Ullar ensures its guests have a fully immersive experience of rural Uttarakhand.
Sustainable Leadership: Hotels
One to Watch: Aashraya On The Ganga, Rishikesh
Built on a 100% organic farm, guests have to trek for 45 minutes to reach Aashraya on the Ganga. Focused on sustainability, recycling and generating local employment are priorities for them.
One to Watch: The Lodge at Wah, Palampur
Home to a family that owns a tea estate in Palampur, The Lodge at Wah is built in the local Gaddi architecture style. The 500-acre farm this 6-room hotel is planted in follows permaculture and is slowly working towards a fully organic certification.
SILVER: Bari Kothi, Azimganj
A heritage property originally built in the 1700s, Bari Kothi was restored painstakingly to offer a luxury experience in a relatively lesser known destination. Bari Kothi is an inclusive employer and is focused on curating experiences for its guests and acts as a platform for the tangible and intangible heritage of the region.
Sustainable Leadership: Travel Enterprises
One to Watch: Baswant Honey Bee Park
India’s first api-tourism centre, Baswant Honey Bee Park is actively involved in the conservation of bees and is continually training the local community in doing so. They encourage the local schoolchildren to participate in awareness programs at the park.
One to Watch: Oddessemania
A travel tech startup, Oddessemania, uses cutting edge technology like offline GPS to aid travellers to travel to the remotest parts of North East India. They have partnered with state governments from the region, and are working to train and create market linkage for 600+ guides in the region.
SILVER: Darjeeling Walks
The primary focus of Darjeeling Walks is community development and social engagement through tourism without hampering nature. The bootstrapped company leads slow-paced and research-led walking tours in and around Darjeeling.
SILVER: Make it Happen
Make it Happen, an experiential travel company, is building a robust network of storytellers across the country, and are actively looking to divert tourists from overburdened regions and help them explore newer terrains by bringing in a fresh perspective and promoting the sustainable travel industry.
GOLD: Unexplored Bastar
Built on the ethos of social entrepreneurship, Unexplored Bastar operates in a region that faces several environmental as well as social challenges and where tourists are few and far between. They are working with the local administration and the local communities to put Bastar on the responsible tourism map.
Sustainability Champions: Grassroots Heroes
Juror’s Award: Anurag Karekar
Juror’s Award: : Anurag Karekar
A naturalist and conservationist by profession, Anurag Karekar, is the co-founder of Naturalist Foundation, a Mumbai-based not-for-profit that leads workshops and nature trails. He is currently working towards setting up the Habitat Institute Activity Centre in Havelock Island to promote responsibly immersive wildlife experiences.
SILVER: Mani Mahesh Aurora
Founder of Impact Investors, Mani Mahesh Aurora, works towards creating socio-ecological impact through sustainable development. He has worked extensively with the local Gaddi community in Uttarakhand in the past, and the Santal community in West Bengal.
SILVER: Dharmen Momin
Dharmen Momin, Founder of Dopatchi Homestay in Garo Hills, Meghalaya, has been conserving local bird-friendly architecture. An avid storyteller, he actively promotes local music and rare instruments, local food cultures, and he has been instrumental in encouraging others around him to join him on the path of responsible tourism.
SILVER: Muzammil Hussain
Muzammil Hussain, Founder of Roots Ladakh, has worked tirelessly to change the narrative of Kargil as a war zone. He has undertaken several heritage conservation efforts including the setting up of several community-led projects like a museum in Hundurman, Himalayan Brown Bear Conservation Trust, the Suru Outdoor Festival and Jumping Ibex, a local apricot-produce brand.
Sustainability Champions: Pathfinders
SILVER: Amitava Bhattacharya
With over two decades of experience as a social entrepreneur focused on the Intangible Cultural Heritage of our country, founder and director of Banglanatak, Amitava Bhattacharya, has worked extensively in Rajasthan, Goa, West Bengal and the North East. He has helped in transforming fringe cultural activities to mainstream sources of income for several communities across the country.
SILVER: Lokesh Ohri
Anthropologist Lokesh Ohri, Founder of Been There Doon That, has worked in the Himalayas for over a decade, and authored several books documenting the region. He has introduced several sustainable tourism practices in the ecologically fragile region and has worked with the community and inspired youth to join him on this journey of promoting experiential and slow tourism.
Gold & Overall Winner:: Indi Glow
Indi Glow has led the setting up of Arunachal’s first ever low-impact tourism program targeted towards birdwatchers and wildlife enthusiasts in the Singchung Bugun Village Community Reserve (SBVCR) and in Eaglenest Wildlife Sanctuary (EWS). He is a passionate supporter of wildlife and habitat conservation and has substantially transformed the local economy by generating significant rural employment and inspiring others to follow his path.