Friday, 25 February 2011

Being Responsible

One of the first TBY-Vayali micro-credit beneficiary

Last year at the World Travel Market in London, one of the leading destination management companies from Cochin asked us this question. “All your talk about responsible tourism is fine. It’s easy for a property to be more responsible than a tour operator like us. They can make simple changes like install energy saving bulbs or setup rainwater harvesting in their property. They might purchase local produces. Even if we had aspirations to be a responsible tourism operator, frankly we don’t know how to do this. Do you have some suggestions?”

We work with several social sectors in India and the world over. Tour operators claim to be ‘destination experts’ and in most cases, the insight on the destination provided is limited to the quality of hotels or the best restaurants, mostly in touristy locations. So called ‘cultural creatives’ who travel to destinations like India are no longer happy with what conventional travel companies are offering. Enquiries are very much focused on local experiences, interactions with local people. Most travelers also want to understand the social fabric that makes India what it is.

We find today that the borders of social engagements between organizations are fading. Organizations like Institute of Palliative Medicine (IPM) and The Blue Yonder are finding common grounds despite the differences in their respective core-competencies. We believe, this is opening up the potential of tourism as an industry to be engaged in social business.

The Blue Yonder uses its national and international networks to bring the attention of the world to the unique work that is done by thousands of local volunteers in the Palliative care movement. Our travelers bring in small revenues as well as volunteering opportunities to IPM and IPM-supported projects in Kerala. Some of these initiatives may be small presently, but they have possibilities of scaling up, creating opportunities for the rest of the travel industry in terms of partnerships and business and social engagements.

Mary Mulvey from Greenbox, Ireland while travelling with us gently reminded us that we might be ‘green muting’ by not talking about all that we might be engaged in. Her view was that that her choice of holidays we offered might have been different if she knew how deeply we were involved in local issues. This opens up a new opportunity for travel companies and tour operators in particular, where we can keep interested travelers more deeply engaged in tourism destinations.

Perhaps this is one direction where tour operators can demonstrate their commitment to responsible tourism. It’s a good direction to take- not just for doing a business well but also for the well-being of the business of tourism.

Thursday, 24 February 2011

Social enterprises redefining sector boundaries?

I am investigating the possibilities of creating awareness of non -malignant palliative issues among various communities and to encourage community participation, and would like some ideas and advice. Thank you very much

We are quite certain that not many travel companies will receive enquiries that are unrelated to holiday planning! Especially something like the one above. This was a message The Blue Yonder team received from a pathologist in South Africa recently. For us, this is a proof of what an impact a maturing relationship between two social enterprises can create. One- working to spread the community owned palliative care to rest of the world (Institute of Palliative Medicine) and the other- a sustainable tourism operator using tourism as a tool to bring attention of the world to successful and inspiring initiatives like Kozhikode model of Palliative care (The Blue Yonder).

The Blue Yonder (TBY) is not into palliative care. But what we are attempting to provide is a platform for domestic and international travelers to experience the unique model of community owned palliative care which the The Economist Intelligent report had called “a beacon of hope. We believe that if we are able to inspire even one person or organization to replicate this in her town or country, our endeavour will be successful.The engagement between The Blue Yonder and The Palliative Care movement is deep and multi-faceted.

We share here a few areas where this engagement is maturing well. It’s a small step towards ‘Creating better places for people to live and people to visit.’

The Blue Yonder runs workshops for IPM volunteers to other social engagements that they could participate. Some of the ideas that these workshops generated caused the ‘Students in palliative care’ to apply for Change looms awards, which they subsequently won.

Concern Without Borders is an initiative that grew out of the experience of the Palliative Care movement in Kerala in training and involving over 30,000 volunteers to care for the incurably ill. The Pain and Palliative Care Society which initiated this movement now aims of expanding its reach and the network of volunteers to replicate this model of the community network in Kerala to other parts of India and the world. TBY is a part of the team that conceptulised this idea and will be closely involved in the rollout of this programme.

The Blue Yonder is currently exploring opportunities with UK based vocational skill development organization City & Guild to build capacity among various partner projects including ‘Students in Palliative Care’ and Institute of Palliative Medicine. The Blue Yonder is redesigning it’s travel itineraries so that our travelers can spent a significant amount of time at various Pain and Palliative Care Society and Institute of Palliative Medicine (IPM) run and supported link-centres to be inspired and learn from such initiatives.

Tracks We Leave is an initiative launched on 09
th Oct 2010 on the World Hospice and Palliative Care day. The Blue Yonder employees save 3 Rs per day which is equally matched by the management to help raise small donations for the Pain and Palliative Care Society. We are a small organization with currently nine employees spread out of India, Germany and Norway. In a year we contribute a small amount of INR 18,000 to Pain and Palliative Care Society. There are more several tour operators in Kerala. By promoting this among peers, we believe we can contribute significantly to making Palliative Care management in Kerala largely self-sustaining.

The Blue Yonder is one of the social enterprises, along with the IPM involved in promoting the initiative of Our Responsibility to Children (ORC), a brainchild of Vijayan IPS, the erstwhile Police Commissioner of Kozhikode in Kerala. Observing the trends of teenagers and youths with delinquent behaviour, the police commissioner approached civil society organizations in the city of Kozhikode to help the police in helping these youth to be part of main-stream society. The Blue Yonder has committed to train these youth as guides and interpreters and be absorbed subsequently by the tourism industry. Given the paucity of good interpreters in the tourism industry, this initiative could be a win-win situation for travelers, the tourism industry and the communities in question.

Footprints is a social rehabilitation project by IPM for physically and mentally challenged people. Patients with debilitating spinal injuries and those with advanced renal diseases and chronic psychiatric illness are the main beneficiaries of this initiative. Patients are trained to make various items like umbrellas, environment-friendly pens, paper bags etc., through interactive training camps organized at the IPM. Raw materials are supplied to the patient after the training, and the products that they make are collected, sold and the profit returned to them. The project depends heavily on the involvement of the students from various campuses in Calicut city who are linked to the patients. The Blue Yonder brings travelers to assist the patients as well as local volunteers in these socio-economic rehabilitation initiatives.

Meet us at ITB Berlin 9-13 March 2011

The Blue Yonder will be exihibiting at Hall 4.1/201 showcasing our holidays and new experiences for the coming season. Our colleagues Sandra Wels and Gopinath Parayil (Gopi) will be glad to meet up with you. We have some more slots available for appointments. Kindly write to Sandra (at) theblueyonder (dot) com for more details.

This year is also special for The Blue Yonder because we are the official sustainable tourism partner of ITB Berlin. Gopi will also be talking at the ITB Congress on a panel discussing the topic “The CSR Conscious Tourist: Marginal or High-Potential?”. Listen to our views at 1600 on 10th March 2011, which is also incidentally ITB CSR day.

As in previous years, we will be taking the lead to organize Responsible Tourism networking on the 11th of March 2011. 1630 will saw the launch of presentation of five inspiring stories from destination.

The VESTAS 2011 nominations will be presented at ITB at 1800, showcasing the 'best of the best' certified or prize-winning sustainable tourism destinations and businesses in Europe. Participants will be shown a map of best practice in sustainable/responsible tourism, highlighted by experts from the Ecotrans Network for Sustainable Tourism Development. The Blue Yonder is also a partner in launching this award worldwide.

1900 will see the launch of Responsible Tourism Networking event.

Inviting inspiring stories from destinations at ITB Berlin: submit your entry

Let the world know what you’ve been up to in your local destination.

Share your inspirational story about the destination you work in and have the opportunity to present at ITB Responsible Tourism Networking in Berlin. This is your chance to WOW industry associates and potential buyers with real life examples of how responsible tourism is powering positive change in your destination.

The Responsible Tourism Networking Event at ITB Berlin has grown substantially from its humble beginnings in a London pub. Four years on, this fringe event is now an official partner for ITB Berlin. Uniting dedicated initiatives around the world to propel the Responsible Tourism movement forward.

This year the Responsible Tourism Networking organisers from pocketvillage, Tripbod, The Green Circuit, The Blue Yonder, Vision and ITB Berlin are inviting inspirational stories direct from destinations. Story submissions are open to anyone with an amazing tale to tell. Successful selections will be based on the stories power to inspire responsible tourism in respective destinations.

Six successful entries will be selected to present their five minute story of local inspiration to kick off this years Responsible Tourism Networking Event at ITB Berlin on the 11th of March 2011 at 4:30 pm. In addition to presenting your story at the world’s leading travel trade show, selected applicants will be featured on the soon to be launch pocketvillage; an intuitive search engine to find and enjoy exceptional travel experiences.

Entries are requested to email their 5 minute stories (or 1 A4 page) to: by the 1st of March 2011. Successful applicants will be notified by email by the 5th of March 2011. Please mention the following information at the beginning of your story: Your Name, Email, Organisation and Destination.

Saturday, 19 February 2011

Nila in mourning. one more legend passes away..

Many of our guests who experience The Blue Yonder legend trails says,"He is our hero. What a man!". This was about 'Aazhvanchery Thamprakkal', who passed away yesterday in 'Aathavanad' in Kerala.

'Thamprakkal' was a legend by himself. Generations of 'Thamprakkal' from 'Aazhvanchery Mana' were the supreme authority when it comes to religious issues of Kerala Brahmins. He was the one who anointed many Maharajas in the three 'countries' of the land that came to be later known as Keralam. When all the landlords, Brahmins and Kings pay respect to the Maharaja of Travancore, he in turn visits the guest house of "Aazhvanchery Thamprakkal' to pay his respect. So much was the respect he held and he was the only person who didn't not have to stand up when the Maharaja arrives in the vicinity.

Uthradam Thirunal Marthanda Varma - Erstwhile Maharaja of Travancore once said, "If he were in Rome,he would be the Pope", referring to the authority he carried when it comes to his public prominence.

The English revenue collector William Logan's historic publication called 'Malabar Manual' has several anecdotes about 'Thamprakal'. One such describes him as "the most respected among the human race". Another description calls him as the "Representative of the Gods on this earth". This could be about any of the representative of various generations of 'Thamprakkal'. The legend of 'Thamprakkal' is linked to the origin of the land of Kerala. When warrior saint, 'Parasurama' after annihilation of all the 'Kshatriyas' created the land of Kerala from the ocean to provide land to the Brahmins, appointed him as the supreme authorities of the thirty two Brahmin villages that constituted Keralam.

If not by physical presence, there was not a single auspicious event that would happen in the households or temples or palaces in Kerala without his 'spiritual' presence. As a representation, all rituals used to keep apart a special wooden platform for the 'Thamprakkal', which stays revered and respected throughout the ceremonies.

Many of the story books in Malayalam like "Aitheehyamala" has numerous tales linked to the family of "Thamprakkal". From how the name "Ponnani" (one of Kerala's oldest trading ports, where River Nila joins Arabian Sea) and 'Athavanad" are all related to Aazhvanchery Thamprakkal'. Apparantly, he made a golden statue of an elephant walk to his palace on arrival at the port. The land where the golden elephant was made to walk by Thamprakkal came to be known as "Ponnani". ('Ponnu' means gold and 'Aana' means Elephant in Malayalam). Young children of the Travancore dynasty used to 'passed through' the belly of this gold elephant as part of their naming ceremony or when they were given various titles as per the rule of the land.

Legends apart, 'Thamprakkal' was so much part of our day to day realities. A man who held together the secular network of central and North Kerala especially was till recently an active social presence. He was an active supporter of 'Changapilly family', of Tulu Brahmins, who were forced to convert into Islam during the invasion of Tipu Sultan to Malabar region. Their Kalari in Tirunavaya is probably the only martial arts centre in Kerala which has an access through the right side of the building ( representing the Islamic practices in holy Mecca and Kaaba. Till this day, one can see the massive teak-wood made flag-post donated by 'Thamprakkal' standing in front of the memorial of Muslim warriors who were martyred in the wars near the ancestral house of Changampilly.

Yesterday was one of the most popular and fascinating festivals of 'Chinakkathoor Pooram' and 'Vairamkodu Vela' in the Valluvanad region. It was while wondering where all the people went and why the festivities were not visible on the streets that we came to know of the death of scion of Aazhvanchery. Most of the processions were cancelled or festivities toned down. The loss of this man and the fact that this 'Thamprakkal' is the last one to be called a Thamprakkal has slowly dawned on us.

We hope the present and future generations will be able to do justice to the family and man by at least sharing the stories for the humanity.

Friday, 18 February 2011

Revisiting in search of music...

Picture:A plaque announcing the inauguration of the foundation laying ceremony by David Stott from Australia.

David is a frequent visitor to India. It's a country that he calls home. Two years ago, David had to 'agree' to 'lay the foundation' of an innovative experiment in Kerala. He inaugurated the construction of the campus dedicated to the memory of legendary musician and spiritual nomad, 'Njaralathu Rama Poduval' who is credited for bringing out the temple related devotional singing style of 'Sopana Sangeetham' out to the public.

When The Blue Yonder designed a musical trail with young musical prodigy Harigovindan, the idea was to give voice to many unconventional musicians of lower strata of the society along river Nila. This half a day experience became an instant hit among travellers from around the world. Conde Nast traveler called our trip one of the '8 Great Trips' that give back to destination based on the content of this experience. As Harigovindan, who took up the role as a key interpreter says, "This initiative gave self-respect to our musicians in the region. It was a wonderful experience to have music-loving travellers coming to enjoy the unique music style of River Nila and its people'.

Harigovindan was 17 years old when his father, Njeralathu Rama Poduval died. Hari used to accompany his father occasionally during his travels and performances at various temples and public arenas in Kerala. Troubled that the “Idakka” that was his father’s life, lying unused after his death, Hari taught himself how to play the instrument to keep the memory of his father alive.

Soon he realised that his father's name and devotional songs were fading away from the public memory. He came across many other musicians whose voice were not even recorded in their whole life time. He had the foresight that a generation might live without ever experiencing all those magical voices. He approached the Government and many cultural stalwarts of the state proposing to build musuems and art school to preserve their voices digitally and give recognition to up coming artists. Other than hollow promises and unnecessary controversies, it didn't result in any thing productive. However Hari fought the system, got attention from the public and international travellers like David Stott.

Lecture demonstration of various drums including Idakka and Chenda at the Kalasramam

Exactly after two years of laying foundation for the music campus, David Stott along with a group of travellers interested in music and yoga came back to River Nila to see the developments in the location. Seeing a fully functional music school and museum with an open air auditorium and audio library, all David could say was "WOW"! This is solely an achievement of Harigovindan though he humbly acknowledges the generous support he received from ordinary public and travelling community for providing inspiration and energy to go after his dream.

"I didn't set this up because I wanted to do something selfish related to my father. I wanted to do something like this precisely for the reason that many such artists memories were fading away from our memories. For those people who spent their whole life dedicated to music and enriching our traditions, this is the cruelest thing to happen. Representing this generation, people like us have a responsibility to respond to our surrounding. This was mine and I am glad I didn't give up' Hari says.

Picture above:
David Stott and a group of music loving Australian travellers in front of the newly constructed temple dedicated to music. Instead of a conventional idol of God or Goddesses, the temple has the 'Idakka' which was favourite musical instrument of Njaralathu Rama Poduval. What better way to pay respect to a man who spent his life dedicated to music, especially devotional songs? The woman standing (3from R) is Kalyanikutti Amma who donated the land to build the campus including her own house to make dreams come true!