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Friday
Oct212016

Village Ways: Improving Rural Livelihoods Through Community-based Tourism

Creating an authentic experience in remote villages has its challenges. With persistent persuasion and engagement with communities to trust in future tourism prospects, one operator has succeeded. Prerna Shah reports on Village Ways’ journey in building a new eco-tourism venture with demonstrable social outcomes.

Singapore, 20 Octoer 2016: Waking up to a spectacular Himalayan sunrise, walking through pine-clad forests, passing by women carrying head loads of grass, hearing a tinkle of goat bells or a distant cry of a barking deer, anticipating an encounter with a wild boar, foxes or even the elusive leopard, enjoying the humdrum of village life, probably learning a thing or two about traditional craft, and finally ending your day beneath the stars, tired, yet rejuvenated in the midst of a home away from home.

This is what a holiday with Village Ways offers you – an authentic experience in remote villages with unique community involvement and direct social benefit.

Village Ways offers eye-opening experiences in India, Nepal and Ethiopia. In each destination guests can experience the essence of the place by spending time with local families and communities. Each place of stay is an autonomous business belonging to the community, typically a specially constructed or restored village guesthouse, providing direct benefits to the hosts. Village Ways was a 2014 Finalist in Wild Asia’s Responsible Tourism Award in the category of ‘Best in Community Engagement and Development’.

Eco-tourism Beginnings

Village Ways was born out of a need to empower the rural community in Binsar village, Uttarakhand (India). Owing to the area being declared as a wildlife sanctuary, there was tension and uncertainty among the villagers whose livelihood depended on the forest. Like many other remote villages, a loss in economic viability, migration to urban areas and loss of traditional knowledge and skills was an imminent threat. This led like-minded individuals to come together and start a venture that would offer inspiring holidays while creating a livelihood for the villagers.

Village Ways offers Unique Travel Experiences to its guests, each tailor-made to fit their requirements (Pic courtesy: Village Ways)The social enterprise started in 2006 by floating the idea among the Binsar community. “Initially the villagers were skeptical as they never had tourists visit them. And there was a lot of discussion. Finally they got hooked to the idea and the community constructed guesthouses in 2006. Shortly after this the first guests started coming in and after that there was no looking back,” says David Quick of Village Ways.

Unique Travel Experiences

At Village Ways, tourists stay in guesthouses at picturesque locations and experience village life first-hand - whether it is hiking in the mountains or sailing around the backwaters of Kerala, each package is tailormade to fit the requirements of the guest. A local guide acquaints the tourists to rural village life and helps them interact with rural communities, participate in local activities and understand their heritage and culture.

Village Ownership

Village Tourism Committees are an active partner of the Village Ways business (Pic courtesy: The Alternative)The rural community is an active partner of the Village Ways business of sustainable tourism. The guesthouses are managed by the Village Tourism Committees, who are not professional hoteliers but have received training in hygiene, house management, hospitality and cooking. The houses are furnished, simply yet attractively, with local materials, wherever possible. Delicious food, often vegetarian, is prepared in the dedicated kitchens over open fires, with most of the produce coming from the farms in the village.

Village Ways works with the Responsible Tourism Partnership to monitor the local economic impact of the tourism on villages. In the partner villages of Binsar, the enterprise helps generate 14% of the income. The enterprise provides funding for renovation of properties meant for tourism. They provide 40% grant and 60% interest free loan, payable only if they send guests there. All Village Ways staff is local and the committees have a member from each household.

Environmental Upkeep

Village Ways nurtures the traditions and indigenous knowledge that has helped communities live in harmony with nature over generations.  Guides are trained to value and share their knowledge of local flora and fauna; local craftsmen use traditional skills and materials to build or restore guesthouses and at the same time incorporate energy-saving technology such as solar photovoltaic panels for lighting and heating water.

Village Ways Charitable Trust

Village Ways Charitable Trust works with skilled and underexposed villagers and encourages them by elevating local handicrafts through market linkages, community development, and healthy living practices.

Restoring the age-old craft of Ringal weaving (Pic courtesy: Village Ways)In the Livelihoods Project in Supi, a remote hill village situated in the Himalayan ranges of Uttarakhand, the village community is trained in making and promoting cotton shopping bags, Ringal baskets, woolen products and other local handicrafts. Around 40 women are now trained seamstresses stitching domestic and export orders.  The Trust also acts as a bridge between global markets (with no rural outreach) and skilled artisans through a reputable Delhi-based handicraft manufacturing and export house, Kapkol Exports Pvt. Ltd. A fruitful synergy between the Trust, locals, and market partnerships has helped the Trust build and finance a Supi Community Centre. It has also provided a conducive work environment for artisans with supply of information and training.

Green Fuel Project in Kerala has been another environmental project that has been initiated and supported by the Trust. The Trust bought a Fuel Pod and formed a women’s committee to convert waste cooking oil into biofuel. This biofuel is used to run a houseboat in Kerala. It is far less polluting and creates income for women-led self-help group in the Chenganda village, Kerala.

Community Impact

Due to the additional income generated, many villagers who had migrated to the city have returned back to their homes. They have developed an appreciation for their culture and traditions and learnt how to make informed and independent decisions for their lives. “There is a change in the mindset of these villagers. Where there was once resistance, there is now only cooperation as they have understood the need to conserve the rich and bio-diverse life around them. And they have started caring,” says Quick.

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