Sustainable Travel in Mainstream Destinations

At the start of the pandemic, there were a lot of knee jerk reactions as to what would save tourism in India.  Many rightly said, domestic and in terms of many hotels this is correct, however many DMC’s, the ones who deal with inbound are still struggling. Another reaction was that sustainable travel would save the day, rural travel, off beat destinations, whatever the preferred terminology. There was then much discussion about traveling to remote areas and risking the lives of the populations in rural communities who do not have the access to decent medical facilities. I didn’t join many of the hundreds of webinars and discussions on all of the above, after all, it was all just a guessing game, no one knew how prolonged the pandemic would be and how long the recovery would take and how the industry would adapt. What I did gather was that the general consensus was that sustainable travel and rural travel would save the day. I was quietly pleased if not that optimistic. For 20 years I’ve been promoting travel beyond the bucket list, however for 20 years I’ve felt that I was banging my head against a brick wall. 90% of travel companies just promote the same old same old. If the pandemic could change that, all well and good, but realistically, after the initial knee jerk reactions, how many have truly had a really good look at the programs they’ve been offering for years and gone out into the field to discover new horizons, make good on their promised and deliver a new, more sustainable India to the market?  I have seen a handful and that in itself is heart warming, but on the other-hand, I’ve received a lot more emails from companies, promoting the same old packages for the Golden Triangle and banking on the inevitable price war to save the day. I think that the industry is not solely to blame, yes there are a lot of companies who don’t want to break away from the financial opportunities that the main circuits bring, but they are also fuelled by clients with a bucket list mentality who want to simply visit these destinations and tick them off the list. One vitally important question is, how can this change? More focus in travel media about other destinations? Yes, that’s one way, and there must be others, I’d love to discuss these at some point. However, at some point, I also have to stop battling and admit defeat. As a dear friend and colleague who has been in the industry for 30 years told me just last week, ‘The industry hasn’t changed in 30 years Philippa, it won’t change in my lifetime.’ He has a point. I think for the majority of travellers, it is what it is. Yes, the work we do and the experiences and experience providers we promote through Indian Experiences are all, by their very nature, more sustainable in their approach, more authentic in the experiences that they offer and there is a small, but hopefully growing number of travellers who don’t want to follow the herd, preferring to follow their passion, and I will never give up on this. But a part of me has to rethink. If we can’t get people away from the Golden Triangle and mainstream circuits, how can we ensure that the travel that is done there, is more sustainable? To borrow from one of the wonderful experiential travel companies we work with: WHAT IS SUSTAINABLE TRAVEL? In simple words, sustainable travel is when –

  • Your money goes directly to the local economy and the people.
  • You leave a minimal carbon footprint on the environment.
  • Your holiday is immersive and encourages ‘authentic’ interactions with the local communities.

So, lets look at the classic itineraries where people are rushed around on itineraries as follows: Delhi: 1 night, main monuments and shopping emporiums. Agra: 1 night, main monuments and shopping emporiums, Jaipur: 2 nights, main monuments and shopping emporiums, Jodhpur: 1 night, main monuments and shopping emporiums, Udaipur: 1 night, main monuments and yes, you got it, a shopping emporium. Each of these destinations has far, far more to offer than the monuments that have made them famous. Take Jaipur as a classic example.  It used to be the centre of the world jewellery trade and has a rich tradition of traditional and modern jewellery design and making, it has textiles, it has blue pottery, it has great adventure options from mountain biking to half day treks to jeep safaris. It has wonderful dining experiences from street food to dining with royals. It is famous for its bazaars. It is a destination that it would be easy to spend 4 nights in. Let’s have a look at Jodhpur. Beyond the fort it has wonderful jeep safaris (and I don’t mean the standard Bishnoi tour that is done to death) it has zip wiring, it has the Rao Jodha Desert Rock Park, it has wonderful Marwari horse safaris and royal picnics, it is famous for its furniture production and dhurries, its tribes, photography opportunities and yes, a unique wildlife. I have never sold Jodhpur as less than a three-night destination, ever. Udaipur: There are wonderful treks or bike rides into the surrounding villages, visits to Eklingi and Nathdwara, Kothariya and Raj Samand Lake are possible, visit the Koftgiri workers (gold inlay, the only people left doing this in the world). On the other hand, this is one destination where  it is lovely to simply spend time sauntering around the old town and enjoying sundowners on the terrace of a restaurant or bar. I’ve often given Udaipur as a 3 or sometimes 4 night destination at the end of a trip. In all of the above destinations it is also important to take time to have time. Even if that is just a half day breather. Give client the opportunity to relax, absorb all that has been seen, nip back to that market/temple/walk/stepwell, they didn’t have time to see on the main tour. India is overwhelming, a step back and a breather is appreciated. As a tour operator, if you only follow one rule which will help put you on the path to a more sustainable way of travel and lead to happier, and therefore repeat customers’ it is this: Slow it down. Why rush through these destinations in a way that ensures that the clients leave exhausted, frazzled and frustrated? Give at least one extra night in each destination. To do this effectively, you need to do three things:

  1. Get to know the client, their interests, hobbies, reasons for travel beyond the bucket list.
  2. Take time to truly get to know the destinations and their potential for other interests and experiences.
  3. To have the desire to operate more sustainably.

Once travel is slowed down the basic tenets of sustainable travel are automatically covered.

  1. There is the time to include more authentic experiences, from simply trying a chai at the local chai stall to visiting local NGO’s to shopping at places which give back to the local community rather than over-priced emporiums.
  2. By staying longer, your carbon footprint is reduced, from sheets and towels being washed in hotels to the fuel used to travel between destinations to name but two.
  3. The holiday is more immersive, there is time for more authentic interactions with local communities. Your clients will have a richer and more rewarding holiday and will be more inclined towards visiting India again.

  I’ve said it before and I’ll no doubt say it again:

‘Monuments provide the backdrop, but people create the experiences.’

Slow it down, less is more, be more sustainable.  To discover some of the additional experiences in these destinations, click on the links below:  

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