Saturday 11 November 2006

Awards and more

There were many moments in life where I felt like giving ONE-TIGHT-SLAP to:

*The System
*Relatives and more importantly..

Frankly, I haven't given much thought about how I would like to see this blog now and later in the future. I don't write a journal any more, but there were several moments in my life when I thought it would be wonderful to read through all these and share the same with others. I am not sure if I should stick to a topic, or just blog some incidents or events as and when they happen or note down memoirs that still makes me smile, laugh or make me sad.

Let's see how things evolve from here :A year back, i.e November 2005, I was attending the Responsible Tourism Awards Ceremony at the World Travel Mart, London looking at the joy of those people gathered there. There were winners, short listed nominees, members from the travel industry and quite a lot of people who mattered, people who could make changes to the lives of many others through their work.

It was just the second year for us in the business. I was there basically to understand the trends, meet the movers and shakers and learn. I was sitting behind a woman smartly dressed in a beige suit with short hair who was obviously nervous. Her partner (I presumed), was sitting next to her and it was only when she stood up to walk towards the stage that I recognized her as Sofia de Meyer, as winner of the 2005 First Choice Responsible Tourism award for Innovation. Whitepod, her company, provide alternative ways of exploring the Swiss Alps. They have pods (dome shaped tents) pitched on raised wooden platforms and offer low impact accommodation in a pristine environment.

After staying back for the debate on sustainable tourism, I bumped into her and congratulated her for her achievements. I still remember that her hands were still shaking and damp! Looking around, I saw almost all the winners in the same situation, happy, overwhelmed, excited about the work they were involved in and happy about being able to connect with like-minded people and recognized for their achievements.For a small company, still struggling to position ourselves and be known within the travel industry, these were the kinds of people we wanted to be associated with. These were the people who not only talked, but acted in running travel businesses in a responsible way, in a way that doesn't create negative impacts on the environment or on the people / culture they work with. Rather, they all genuinely worked hard to increase the positive impacts of tourism.

Very impressed, I thought for one brief moment…."Maybe in another 5 years time, it would be great to see The Blue Yonder up on the stage." Until that trip, I wasn't really aware of Responsible Tourism as an organised way of travel, the way it is now (Though, this was the foundation on which we built the company). In the first year and a half of the business, I didn't venture out of India. We were busy setting up the business piece by piece, day by day. Until we were sure we had a solid foundation beneath our feet, we were ready to lie low and this decision was shared by all those involved in the company at this time. Once we developed the "products", (I dislike this word very much and prefer to say that we provide an “experience” and not just a saleable commodity that anyone can buy from a supermarket!), and had developed the capacity locally to operate, we decided to slowly move out and find out what was happening elsewhere in the world.

The idea was to raise funds for the Nila Foundation, that we had set up three years ago to share our passion for Bharatapuzha (River Nila). It was pure joy to know that what we were practicing a business model that had a market, something that was practiced elsewhere in the world as well and was being documented well. All of us in the team had an academic interest in what we were doing, we were keen on sharing, as well as learning what we had tried, and here was an opportunity to interact with the leaders within the industry.

Three months earlier, Arun came screaming to my desk in the office yelling, "Gosh, I have JUST forwarded an email to you, read it"……. This was from the 2006 First Choice Responsible Tourism Awards committee advising us that we being considered for an award for using tourism as a tool for "Poverty Reduction". There were more than 1200 nominations for thirteen different categories and irrespective of having an outside chance of reaching the final stages, Sajo and I smiled. A smile we have seen on many people's faces in the last couple of years. A smile that has changed our lives, a smile that has touched many hearts. A project/concept that was conceived whilst lying down on the sand banks of the Nila, whilst staring up at the stars…… was finally making sense to the world too.

Arun, Vinod, Sajo, Sanila and I were in office that afternoon. If I remember correctly, we were writing the concept paper for The Blue Yonder Associates and scratching our heads how we were going to make up for the absence of a colleague who was asked to take a break from work. The award committee had sent us an email with a LOT of questions including :

* Our single most significant achievement
* How do we reduce negative social and cultural impacts of tourism
* How do we increase the economic benefit of tourism to the local community
* How do we reduce the environmental impact of tourism
* How we monitor our commitment to responsible tourism etc etc etc....

After setting up the company three years back, those two hours were the most exciting for us as we were being asked by someone else to explain and convince them about what were about and more importantly how we were doing it. The experience was truly amazing as it took less than two hours for us to reply to those questions. That was when I felt so happy about the "healthy growth" of the organisation (irrespective of the financial constraints we faced until recently) and how strong we were on the concepts. Even those who joined recently (Vinod for that matter) had observed and studied so much and that he could just give his input as if he was an expert in the industry!

If we ever get to meet those people who reviewed our nominations, we would like to ask them one day if they had ever before received answers to all those questions in such short time ;) hehe!

Anyway, to cut a long story short, The Blue Yonder was up on the stage at the World Travel Mart in Excel London on the 8th of November to receive the 2006 First Choice Responsible Tourism highly commended award for Poverty Reduction. When our name was called out and displayed on the World Stage, I think my hands were equally shaking and damp as were Sofia’s at the last awards ceremony!!

© 2006 GP