The Changemakers The Projects Reviving Rural Tourism

Projects like NotOnMap and Help Tourism aim to educate communities about health, hygiene, sustainability, and responsible tourism practices
NotOnMap volunteers with members of a rural community
NotOnMap volunteers with members of a rural community

At a time when the world is still trying to adapt to the new normal and struggling to keep up with the pandemic, rural tourism has emerged as one of the developing trends. Apprehensive about staying in hotels and visiting popular tourist spots, travellers are seeking offbeat and secluded experiences.

Homestays across the country, especially those in rural areas have been welcoming guests ever since the lockdown restrictions were lifted.

Rural tourism has always had its share of takers but the global outbreak of the coronavirus has been quite harsh on the rural tourism eco-system. Rural pockets of India have dried up economically and socially, owing to the loss of revenue during the lockdown. The sector is slowly bouncing back thanks to growing trends like workations and staycations.

This is the time when rural communities need assistance in catering to the evolving needs of their guests. And this is where initiatives like Project TraVival come into the picture.

Launched by sustainable and socially-driven platform NotOnMap and tour operator and destination management consultant Help Tourism, in association with The International Centre for Responsible Tourism, the initiative aims to educate rural communities and property owners to get back on their feet so they can maintain their properties and work towards reviving the tourism industry while maintaining hygiene guidelines and safety precautions. The initiative is being backed by and aims to cover all stakeholders of the rural tourism sector in India.

As part of the initiative, a series of more than 150 training videos have been produced in over 18 regional languages divided in 2 modules for homestay owners, village panchayats, teachers, youth and women of villages and travellers across the country.

The training is free of any expenses and it aims to touch around 1 lakh villages in India over the next one year. The project is an outcome of three months of continuous efforts after conducting more than 30 webinars involving over 2,000 community members and around 50 organisations from across 17 states in India.

The videos will not only cover topics around homestay and personal safety and hygiene but also educate people about sustainable practices and homestay business during the pandemic. They cover a range of subjects related to safety guidelines and the new normal. The training modules are inclusive of guidelines suggested by the government and international bodies and include policies to be followed by the hosts to maintain a guaranteed safe stay.

With the pandemic affecting small businesses of villagers across the country, the initiative might come as a saviour for many. The village panchayats are also being roped in for this project to ensure its smooth implementation.

The initiative aims to help the rural communities protect their tourism spots and reopen with standard safety and hygienic environment so that they can make an impactful revival when the pandemic ends.

The initial phases of the project involved introducing the rural communities to webinars and technologies like Google meet and Zoom calls.

The organisers also wanted locals to seek inputs for traditional local practices and techniques being followed to address hygiene issues and maintaining safety. Hygiene guidelines for homestay owners and travellers were also made after consulting various directives including WHO and the central government directives. The final phase of the project will be the audit process, which will ensure that all training imparted in the past is being followed.

 &ldquoWe are training them about the basics of operating a homestay, how to maintain it and how to market it. The modules will be focusing on rural communities and what they can do to revive tourism. We are going to identify local champions, across communities in India, so we can train them to be a trainer so they can physically conduct TraVival Training on the ground, within their community,&rdquo say Kumar Anubhav, Founder and Director, NotOnMap. &ldquoWe will train and guide all homestay owners and villages to become a sustainable tourism destination because sustainability is the need of the hour.&rdquo

When asked about the importance of responsible and sustainable tourism in the pandemic-hit world, Anubhav says that sustainable tourism is no longer a choice, but a necessity, as most travelers will now increasingly prefer holidaying with companies that show commitment to green, environment and socially friendly practices. &ldquoSustainability is no longer interpreted as something to do with the environment alone, it further covers a much broader connotation and includes the social, cultural, economic, and physical aspects of a destination. Which makes it important for the stakeholders to work together in order to emerge out of the current crisis and make tourism more sustainable as a long-term goal,&rdquo he says.

Speaking about the initiative, Raj Basu, Founder Help Tourism and a Rural Tourism advisor with the Government of Arunachal Pradesh, says that interestingly, the new millennium saw the gradual shift of tourism from urban to rural. &ldquoNot that tourism was not there in the rural areas, but the same was not recognized or there was tendency to urbanize the destinations,&rdquo he quips.

The pandemic has brought a special focus on rural tourism again, the reason, Basu believes, is the sustainable lifestyle practiced in villages. &ldquoThe soil and working on it makes you humble, the air, the lack of mechanical sounds, the forests, the organic fields and naturally collected food, the natural stream waters, all help in the process of physical and mental healing. The senses are activated, city dwellers with fast lives slow down after reaching the village and reinstall happiness in their minds,&rdquo he says.

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A post shared by Notonmap (@notonmap) on Aug 22, 2020 at 147am PDT

Basu says that only reaching a village, staying in a homestay or indulging in a few activities in fields and forests is not enough. His company started the concept of Folkathons, under which travellers are introduced to folk music, storytelling, food, painting, and architecture. He adds that rural traditions could heal the pandemic stressed urban population as a natural vaccine. &ldquoWe saw that this was a perfect opportunity for the revival of travel, which is why we named the initiative as Project TraVival.&rdquo

Another commendable initiative started by NotOnMap is NotOnMart, which offers a platform to address problems faced by farmers and artisans. It aims to connect the farmers and artisans across the nation by bringing to a common platform extending a holistic approach.

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A post shared by Notonmap (@notonmap) on Sep 3, 2020 at 408am PDT

&ldquoNotOnMap addresses the ethical problems of the existing systems and distinguishes between them through building new and alternative supply chains that are more beneficial for the welfare of the actual supplier,&rdquo Anubhav tells us.

The platform is equipped with the latest technology to trace the supply chain. The initiative is basically helping those who have little reach in the market due to various challenges by providing a robust platform that has local produce along with farmers' contact details where consumers can directly contact the family to purchase the same. In comparison to most e-Commerce platforms, commercial discussion, transaction and all other logistics take place offline between the consumer and the villagers.

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