Innovative, Responsible, Regenerative, Sustainable Tourism For Rural Development

ARTI (Association for Agri and Rural Tourism in India) proposes to organise a global convention in January 2021 at Kumbakonam, Tanjore District in Southern India. In an interview BW HOTELIER, Steve Borgia, CMD, INDeco Leisure Hotels shares more.

2020 has been a challenging year for the hospitality industry to say the least. In hindsight, what is your take?

Yes, it was. We could have handled it better and without pain and pangs, if only our economy in the last five years would have been stable. Unfortunately, it was not. We were on the edge and therefore we collapsed when COVID-19 hit. Secondly, it was all new to us. But somewhere some innovative guerilla practices have helped us pull through. After all, it is the entrepreneurs who built the Indian economy. Even if we have slipped about a decade, I'm sure, we will climb the ladder again. I only hope we do it sustainably and responsibly. Having said all this, I must admit that COVID-19 has done what ecologists and environmentalists could not achieve in the last several decades.

Kindly articulate for us as to how rural tourism can help grow the rural economy and how have you been successful in the same?

I pioneered Rural tourism in the country just to mend the backbone of the broken rural regions. It's a fascinating tool and a quick fix solution at that. The Government alone cannot do this. Tourism should go into remote rural pockets and start with what the Rural people KNOW, HAVE & DO. We must offer benefits to them otherwise it is not fair tourism. INDeco Hotels has been extremely successful. Wherever INDeco established hotels, we took not only the per capita income up but also the happiness quotient. Yes, we preserved, conserved, and protected. We built schools. We built toilets. We cleaned roads and we treated the solid waste. It was not only sustainable development it was also regenerative growth. Pray this happens in every village of this sacred land and eradicate the rich - poor divide. Do update us further on the convention on Rural Development which was scheduled for January.

AARTI, ASSOCIATION FOR AGRI & RURAL TOURISM IN INDIA, unites all organisations and individuals engaged in the rural tourism space with the sole objective of mending rural broken backbone and regenerate their poor economy with what the local communities know, have and do.  Tourism that does not share with local communities is not fair tourism. The founding members of the association include pioneers in the field, stalwarts, bureaucrats, educationalists, policy makers etc. most are hands on operating or governing projects across India. AARTI (Association for Agri And Rural Tourism In India) proposes to organise a global convention in January 2021 at Kumbakonam, Tanjore District in Southern India. Innovative, Responsible, Regenerative, Sustainable Tourism for Rural Development.

It is a dual event. One is the seminar and the second one is the rural tourism region specific workshops and fairs which will exhibit all rural tourism products to train and skill rural tourism product managers and owners.
The seminar brings in global speakers to India, it will also bring pioneers in India who have produced great results in Rural Tourism. On the other hand, the fair event will aim at showcasing rural tourism as a product through parallel sessions.
The site visits, product development programmes, rural tourism project visits will be an eye opener to the stakeholders. This will also be bringing in the pioneers of rural tourism across India to do region specific workshops. and act as a monitoring and guiding body to make the project successful.

As of this day the organisers have drafted a programme that is necessary and essential. Yes, it is of tall order, but necessary to take India in par with other countries that have used sustainable tourism as a tool for Rural economic development.

What has the revival been like for Indeco? Kindly support the revert with average group Occupancies. Are all of your hotels operational right now?

Corona has made all of us more innovative, responsible, and regenerative. It is the locking down of the hotels that costs the damage. But once we opened, the revival was pretty quick. Today from an inbound hotel we have transformed into a domestic hotel. We are now a popular wedding destination. Our teams have become smaller but highly efficient. Our profits are not due to higher revenues but lower cost of operations. Ten people are able to handle the load of a hundred. Government banned the use of swimming pools in the hotel. We converted our swimming pool into fish tanks and harvested a ton of edible fish every 75 days. Like this, we got into many programmes, just to survive. But these are lessons for life. But I think we will hold on to it very dearly all through. What are the trends that you are noticing among travellers in the revival stage?

All for good. Especially for people like me, who created sustainable hotels in the rural pockets. Travellers will take to road travel, explore their neighbourhood. Take the road, less travelled. will not hop destinations but do long stays. Will be more responsible, sustainable, and regenerative. Domestic tourism will grow faster than expected. As hoteliers, we will provide frilless rooms. Luxury will take the backseat and safety SOPs will emerge. Traveller will go deeper and not wider. Will certainly try to not just to see destinations but feel and touch as well. Travellers will also take better care of our dear earth. 

While it would be best for hoteliers to remain self-dependent, what revenue challenges can we expect the government to smoothen for the hospitality segment?

Expecting much out of the government, will be a dream in vain. As I already said, the industry will spring back. The government needs to look at policies and very supportive assistance, if they want the travel trade industry to continue to be the highest foreign exchange earner and employer. The government needs to work on profoundly serious guidelines and be of solid support to this formidable industry. Which states have gone ahead and made some fantastic policy changes, kindly explain with examples? How can other states emulate these changes and help grow hospitality and tourism in their respective state.

From time immemorial, most states have done very superficial policies. For instance, several hundred crores have been dumped in a destination called Mahabalipuram in Tamil Nadu, but nothing has changed. It is still deteriorating at a break next speed. It is time we look at other destinations from the world over. We have tons to learn and miles to go. That is why smaller nations like Rome, Singapore, etc are far ahead of us. It is time to learn from there and the hour is now. Having said all this, I appreciate the efforts of Kerala in trying to be sustainable. Madhya Pradesh is always aggressive in doing the right things. Karnataka goes the popular way so on and so forth. But the proof of the pudding is in the eating. What is the real impact that each one of them have made on the market, its land and its people. 

What will be high on the agenda for you in 2021? What kind of developments & challenges are you expecting in 2021? Any new openings scheduled for 2021 in India?

2021 is going to be a tough climb. But not a confused one. INDeco's POA is clear and very well defined. We will be creating newer hospitality products and move further ahead of rural tourism. While we will be working towards offering experiential and emotional tourism to the tourists, we will want to offer immense benefits to the local communities. As I said earlier, tourism that does not offer benefits to the local people, is not fair tourism. Post Covid-19, we will want to be involved in fair tourism. We desire not to encourage tourists to add to the carrying capacity of the rural areas. But we will create new villages in verdant spaces for desirous tourists to engage in its emotion. 

What do you feel can be done to grow the brand ‘Incredible India’ especially post Covid-19?

This is serious business. And we have stalwarts in the private sector and in the government, who can handle this with great ease. We need political commitment and Government's will. It just can't be through the normal channels but innovative and multitudes of channels. INCREDIBLE INDIA needs to have a constant and continuous ripple effect. India not only speaks in 200 languages, writes in about 50, taught the world how to count, contain the oldest universities in the world, flew the first airmail, etc. Friends, it is the only country in the world that can sell EMOTION. The world will then see India with new eyes. What more do we need to soar high, far and wide. The hour is now. We must must do it. Not doing it is not an option.

This article was published in BW hotelier issue dated '' with cover story titled 'BOUNCING BACK - FROM SURVIVAL TO REVIVAL ISSUE VOL 6, ISSUE 6'


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