In a year that has tested the travel community like no other, how can we even think of celebrations and awards, you ask? Well, how can we not! As the Covid-19 crisis began unfolding in alarming installments in mid-March, and the world nearly stopped spinning on its axis, we watched in awe as the boldest and the bravest among us stepped forward to lend others a hand, even as their own incomes dried up overnight. From selling apples that were yet to blossom on the tree and hosting online shows for out-of-work folk musicians, to creating digital health solutions for rural India and yes, providing bags of rice where there were none, the community rallied together and how! So, here we are, celebrating the most inspiring, most responsible individuals and organisations, who turned a global crisis into an opportunity to drive change. Already, the Indian Responsible Tourism Awards 2020-2021 promises to be the best yet! Now in its fifth year, the Indian Responsible Tourism Awards is proud to be the flagbearer of travel that is gentle on the earth and invested in the growth and happiness of the local communities across India. And we believe our role — of celebrating and supporting pathbreakers and leaders — is more crucial this year than ever before! The Covid crisis may have thrown the travel industry into the deepest end of the adversity pool. But it has also shown us what courage, kindness and a sense of community can do.
Overall Winner - Delhi Food Walks
Delhi Food Walks was launched in 2011 to enable tourists, and later students and corporate groups, to experience the best street food that Delhi has to offer. They subsequently branched out to curate food festivals. More recently, they have extended their programme of culinary walking tours beyond the Capital city.
When Covid-19 struck, they restructured all their walks and tours to ensure their guides and clients’ health and safety. Their website lays out clearly the Standing Operating Protocols from the contactless booking system, through expectations of tour guides, guests and food vendors. During the lockdown, Delhi Food Walks connected with those confined to their homes through a live Talk Series to acquaint and enrich people with India’s vast and vibrant culinary and cultural heritage. As that series gained momentum, they launched their Stand With Street Food Vendors campaign and a Cook With Delhi Food Walks series. The presenter guides encouraged people to stay safe and practice physical distancing. Those from the health and fitness sectors shared tips and suggestions about leading a healthy lifestyle and tackling anxiety and depression. Their “motive was to cater to curiosity about culture, cuisine, history and heritage as they missed exploring it in the way prior to the pandemic.” Simultaneously, telling them to stay safe at home because of the pandemic.
Their campaign to highlight the plight of street food vendors battered by the pandemic was particularly noteworthy. Using their online presence, they encouraged people to continue to support the vendors during and after the pandemic. This demonstrated immense responsibility on their part.
BEST COVID-READY INNOVATION
GOLD: MOUNTAIN HOMESTAYS
Working with 15 health centres in 30 villages across Ladakh Mountain Homestays has developed a real-time health monitoring system, DEMETRA, for travellers and local communities, with strong privacy measures. The health data is auto-deleted after 30 days, with strong controls to ensure confidentiality. Already pilot-tested, this scalable app enables travellers to receive current information on the health situation in the villages they are travelling to and enables local communities to health check their visitors. It also bolsters healthcare systems in remote locations, reducing the community’s need to travel to health centres. Eventually, the team hopes to also monitor the health of the environment or sustainability indicators. Mountain Homestays is a livelihood generation initiative by Global Himalayan Expedition (GHE), which is also installing solar power and critical care equipment at local health centres in remote corners of the country.
Augtraveler has combined Augmented Reality (AR), Geo-Fencing and Multimedia to provide an enhanced experience for travellers at UNESCO World Heritage sites in India through visitor interpretation created and curated by experts, while also providing opportunities for engagement with local communities. The judges were impressed by how this mobile app draws users’ attention to engage with authentic cultural environments and purchase local arts and crafts. Craftspeople are trained to add their products and services on Augtraveler’s Curated Online Marketplace, and its platform is open for other ‘authored experiences’ too. In the light of the Covid-19 crisis, Augtraveler facilitated individual self-guided touring and signposted opportunities to meet with and purchase from local people.
SILVER: IMMERSIVE TRAILS
Immersive Trails is a research-driven company that runs guided walking tours of Kolkata (and beyond) for locals and tourists to connect with diverse communities, and support urban heritage conservation. When Covid-19 struck, they started offering free, live virtual events on social platforms. Their India’s Oldest Chinatown Walk was converted into a virtual product by combining walkthrough videos and 360-degree photographs, apart from archival images, newspaper clippings, and documents for a global audience. Immersive Trails has been able to demonstrate scale, depth of audience engagement, and the ability to go beyond the geography they started in.
BEST RESPONSIBLE COMMUNICATION CAMPAIGN
GOLD: DELHI FOOD WALKS
Delhi Food Walks has been helping travellers discover India’s most delicious secrets for a decade now, starting with the Capital city and later expanding to several other parts of the country as well. They also curate food festivals. But when the pandemic forced them to rely entirely on their online platforms at first, they used the opportunity to run several campaigns and a Talk Series, most notable of which was the Stand With Street Food Vendors campaign, to highlight the plight of street food vendors battered by the pandemic and encourage people to continue to support them. They also restructured all their walks and tours to ensure their guides and clients’ health and safety.
The judges wanted to recognise the contribution which Booking.com made through their ‘Rebuilding Together’ campaign working with customers and accommodation partners to make it easier for everyone to make informed and safe decisions and navigate the travel-related issues arising from the pandemic, and their ‘Travel Rediscovered’ campaign promoted domestic travel, reminding everyone that happiness cannot be measured in miles. But it was their ‘The World is Waiting For Us’ campaign, which encouraged travellers to make a wishlist and linked deals with it, that was particularly significant. This campaign helped keep hope alive and gauged where travellers were likely to go, when they got the opportunity to travel again.
BEST ALTERNATIVE LIVELIHOOD
GOLD: KAARWAN EDU TRAVEL LLP
Mumbai-based Kaarwan offers community learning opportunities for architects and other professionals, qualified or aspiring, to work with communities, often in remote areas, to share skills and learn about building techniques not covered in the formal curriculum. One of their referees wrote: “It amazed me how Kaarwan made travelling to a remote earthquake hit village with no electricity or internet to learn and build earthquake-proof structures from the local communities so much fun. We didn’t just learn how to build a resilient structure; we learnt how resilient communities are built.” When Covid-19 struck, they successfully pivoted to offer the same learning opportunities online and helped local communities create a digital presence and earn from it. Artisans continued to gain a sense of pride and confidence from promoting and sharing their skills online. Kaarwan has grown exponentially since, with a five-fold increase in Instagram followers.
SILVER: AATHUN, RAJASTHAN STUDIO
Aathun is a not-for-profit initiative run by Rajasthan Studio to preserve, support, and empower the folk musicians of Rajasthan, whose lives and livelihoods were disrupted by the pandemic. Largely dependent on earnings from tourism, they were now jobless and struggling. Aathun was launched in August 2020 as a response to enable folk musicians to earn from donations made directly to their accounts during online performances and through sponsorship. The judges recognise that these are very new initiatives but they show great promise and could be replicated. Like its parent outfit, Rajasthan Studio, a vibrant hub for online learning and cultural experiences, Aathun now has its own online platform to showcase the talent of unknown musicians and artists, and rare, forgotten folk instruments.
SILVER: PASHOO PAKSHEE
Pashoo Pakshee designs and retails craft products made by local, predominantly female, artisans from marginalised communities living in wildlife conflict areas. They work with Forest Departments and NGOs to develop skills and sustainable livelihood opportunities for tribal and underprivileged communities to reduce their dependence on the forest and enable them “to perceive wildlife conservation as an avenue for prosperity rather than a hindrance”. Crafters are paid a stipend as well as for finished items. Prior to the pandemic, Pashoo Pakshee sold in the traditional way around the wildlife zones in hotels, lodges, resorts, park gate gift shops, and through tour operators. When Covid-19 struck, they pivoted from offline to online platforms and sales increased dramatically, enabling them to support more crafters, even as they listed products of three more NGOs.
Ones to Watch: MADHOUSE TO MUDHOUSE, NAT-RURAL AGRO TOURISM PVT. LTD, UTTARAKHAND
BEST STRONGER TOGETHER EFFORT
GOLD: WASTE WARRIORS, UTTARAKHAND & HIMACHAL PRADESH
Since 2009, with roots in volunteer-driven clean-ups in McLeod Ganj & Triund, Waste Warriors has grown to a team of a hundred working to build sustainable, affordable, and replicable Solid Waste Management models in three different regions: urban Dehradun, hilly Dharamshala, and the rural forested landscape around Corbett Tiger Reserve. Although Waste Warriors is not a tourism organisation, they operate in tourist areas. The judges wanted to recognise their efforts to help waste workers cope with the lockdown during the Covid-19 pandemic. They launched a relief fund and distributed over 2,000 dry food ration kits to support over 5,000 people in Dehradun and Dharamshala. In Dehradun, they distributed over 2,500 preventive care products to those who needed it, and provided refreshments to people travelling on trains and buses. Apart from providing protective equipment, they also conducted tranings and raised awareness, and sensitised drivers in the transport hubs to arrest further spread of the disease.
SILVER: MANAS MAOZIGENDRI ECOTOURISM SOCIETY (MMES), ASSAM
MMES is a community-based society for conservation and ecotourism. When Covid-19 arrived, they started a campaign to help the needy in fringe villages of Manas National Park. Using their own funds and contributions from the Ketto platform, the Bhutan India Friendship Association and WWF, they were able to provide relief parcels to 2,140 households in 24 villages, containing 20kg rice, 2kg dal, 1ltr oil, salt, soaps and sanitary napkins.
SILVER: KALAP TRUST, UTTARAKHAND
The Kalap Trust was registered in 2014, one of the first organisations to do development work in the upper Tons Valley, a remote, inaccessible and neglected region in Uttarakhand, working with 37 villages providing high-quality direct services in healthcare, livelihood development and education. The Trust is supported by Tons Trails Travel Services Private Limited, an ecotourism social enterprise that donates 10% of its annual profits. They provided vegetable seed and veterinary kits to assist in maintaining livelihoods through the pandemic and PPE for frontline workers. They also created opportunities for apple farmers to sell their produce long before the harvest season through an online campaign.
Ones to Watch: CHHOTARAM PRAJAPAT HOMESTAY, RAJASTHAN
BEST FUTURE-FORWARD STATE
While Kerala’s Responsible Tourism Mission has previously won the Indian Responsible Tourism Awards for many of its initiatives over the years, this award is specifically for the Department of Tourism’s efforts to support the tourism industry during the pandemic. In addition to providing regular and detailed advice to all parts of the industry, there has been substantial financial support. In 2020, this was provided through the Chief Minister’s Tourism Loan Assistance Scheme (CMTLAS), the Tourism Working Capital Support Scheme (TWCSS), Tourism Employment Support Scheme (TESS), Tourism Houseboats Support Scheme (THSS) and the Tourism Guides Support Scheme (TGSS). The State organised Kerala Travel Mart 2020 as a virtual trade show and ran social media campaigns #TripAtHome campaign, #TripOfMyLife, #StaySafe, #TravelLater, #WorkAtHome, and promoted virtual travel videos by rural travel providers, craftspeople, artists, musicians and home cooks.
The judges recognised the efforts made by the state government through the dedicated Covid-19 Odisha State Portal to provide comprehensive health advice and information about registration procedures for people returning to or visiting the State, for migrant labour returning to the State, and guidelines for tourism service providers. Odisha’s tourism website explicitly acknowledges that the guest’s safety is the travel and tourism sector’s responsibility with detailed advice for travellers on accommodation, natural environments, attractions, accommodation and public transport. Accommodation providers are featured with videos about their Covid-safe protocols. The state also ran several social media campaigns to raise awareness and keep up the spirits of travellers.