Monday 3 October 2011

Un(t)ravel: A unique get together in Bangalore on Responsible Tourism

It was a balmy Saturday morning in Bangalore, the earth fresh and brown from the rains of last night. Jaaga (meaning space), with its shape shifting grid structures that could be put together in a myriad of interesting patterns and ways seemed like an appropriate venue to talk about ‘untravelling.’ ‘Come discover travel that is out-of-the-box, exciting and responsible’, our invite had boldly claimed. Would the traveler bite?

Untravel was a day long experimental, perhaps a first of its kind public event where we hoped to bring together travelers, travel entrepreneurs, students and responsible travel companies, to talk about making a difference while having a great trip.

The Blue Yonder opened the day by leading a hall filled with curious people through stories of how travellers could contribute to positive change in the places they visit. TBY spoke about recreating the sound of music along the banks of the Nila, engendering sustainable livelihoods through local homestays, building a local school for traditional music, and nurturing the world’s largest palliative care unit in Kerala run mostly by volunteering. The audience was enthralled right through - glued to their seats and eyes widening regularly through the talk with all the possibilities being laid out in front of them.

Informal stands like these gave opportunities for travellers to interact with innovative companies.

An open discussion came up next on all that makes up responsible travel. Jose Ramapuram of Orange County talked about a policy on responsible travel being an essential guide to their functioning. They believe strongly in stewardship and the idea that business should be for the ultimate good of all, but going the responsible way actually drove their costs down and made perfect business sense, he said. Pradeep from the ANT, an NGO working with weavers and craftsmen in the North East, spoke about craft creating an interest in their customers to explore places and people beyond the regular tourist circuit and sustain livelihoods for the locals in turn.

Mainstream travellers respond to stories that they can connect with, visceral experiences that go beyond the regular, said Prateek of mygola, a travel planning company. People are increasingly looking for the offbeat stuff, ways to immerse themselves in the places they visit, and therein lies the case for attracting them towards travel that is kind, he said. Sridhar Pabisetty of Tour of Nilgiris spoke about reaching out to the community in the places they visit - riders in their annual endurance cycling event help forest dwellers in Nilgiris, firm that they are the only ones who could preserve the bio-diversity of the region. Kalyan Akkipedi who was hitchhiking across the country to understand the poor in India said a traveler must first go outside his comfort zone. Resilience, he said, brought in the greatest change.

Post all the chicken soup for the travelling soul, the audience thronged the stalls to interact with travel providers, swap stories, and learn more. Workshops on committing a travel memory to drawing, being a healthy traveler, photographing on the move, and bicycling to work, were a source of much fun and excitement.

So, where can I go tomorrow? We wound up with a baithak inviting budding offbeat travel entrepreneurs to discuss their stories. People spoke passionately about a whole load of things – from going on trips to rescue wildlife to organic farming and backyard history tours.

Would we be able to attract a happy-to-travel yet spoilt-for-choice crowd to come see the world through a new lens? A world hidden away from swanky resorts and to-the-minute tours, and thriving on first principles – lending a hand to your host community, respecting the place you visit, leaving no footprints or simply racing the wind on pedal. For all of us at The Alternative, the day revealed to us that a lot of people out there were indeed interested and happy to be involved, it is just that we were probably trying to discover each other through some means.

Most people came by and talked about how it was refreshing not just to listen to a new perspective, but meet so many like-minded folks working on responsible travel. Some were thrilled about having so much choice in planning their next trip and contributing to social good, while others were enthused about coming back for more such sessions to connect.

The responsible travel story seems to be finding greater resonance with mainstream travellers. People are waking up to the fact that they need to help and now and in some sense they owe it to the people and places they leave behind. To everyone we meet these days, we say “Hop on board the Untravel bus. May we find inspiration.”

Aarti Mohan - Editor of The Alternative

Join the Untravel Facebook group to be a part of all the conversations, events and happenings around responsible tourism. Help us increase this tribe of untravellers!

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