Winner - Inspiring Stories from Destinations 2014
The way Kutch Adventures started and introduced a completely different way of offering local experiences could be considered inspirational. By Kuldip Gadhvi, founder of Kutch Adventures India.
It all began for me after the terrible earthquake of Gujarat in January 2001. We, the survivors of Kutch region were put in the awkward situation of having to accept aid. At the age of 18 I had to leave my school to help to support my family by working with various organizations that came to Kutch for earthquake relief, rescue and rehabilitation.
While working in various villages and with local communities of Kutch, I came to learn more about their culture, traditions and the way of living in India’s most western district, and the Great Rann of Kutch, which borders Pakistan. My long term involvement with rural development helped me understand the traditional community cultures in Kutch. These fascinated me so I started conducting guided tours focusing on local crafts, culture and communities, which are the strengths of this region.
Initially I served as local tour guide for other tour organisers but it was not allowing me much liberty, freedom to develop the tour programme or introduce some least known artisans of Kutch. These limitations helped me to understand the limitation of tour operators who were not local, who have very limited understanding about the region, its culture or who were only interested in making money.
I observed this in many outside tour operators. Many times I felt that local host communities were under obligation, sometimes tour guides would take the tourists to only those places where they have corrupted some locals who would give them “commission” on the sales. The financial need of these local artisans and manipulations eventually increased their greed and created disputes among locals.
As a result, I set up Kutch Adventures India as an avenue where visitors can interact with genuine locals who are willing to welcome people, share their culture and traditions and – most important - be the real cultural ambassadors.
Kutch Adventures is entirely based on local involvement. During each tour of local communities, artisans are involved from the beginning to end. We have introduced some least visited villages and communities, some of the traditional artisans who were struggling to sustain a business, and some of them who were being exploited by big businessmen. These locals had not benefited even though Government highly advertised Kutch as a destination and visitor numbers had increased in the last 5 years.
I organise and operate each tour myself. This ensures that visitors, due to their limited access and understanding of local culture, don’t leave bad impressions on locals by dressing, greeting, home visiting, or not knowing what to expect and what not to do right. It also means that locals, due to lack of English or understanding of outside world, are keen to share their thoughts, stories, realities and any subject that may come during the tours/visits.
Today we are proud that we have contributed something to sustain the local people and their crafts. We informally educate locals and visitors as well. We share our thoughts on what is fair and what not, what to expect and what not to and how to act more responsibly and honestly that visitors/locals can notice the difference.
Even better, we are happy to be long-listed for World Responsible Tourism Award for Best in Engaging People & Culture 2014.
We believe that most significant achievement so far we could claim is “introducing some least known traditional artisans of Kutch whom we promoted during the tours”, by offering them not only our moral support but also speaking on their behalf, their stories, their skills, their needs, everything.
Each visit gives locals an opportunity to familiarise with their guests, enabling locals to communicate directly to the visitors though many language barriers. Some of local artisans are now encouraged by international visitors who are supporting them directly, to cut the chain of the middlemen. Kutch Adventures always gives priority to least known and struggling artisans who are still not known to the world.
Kutch Adventures India tries to visit random, interior villages to give a chance to meet and interact with the least known local artisans far away from the reach middleman and without paying commission to bring visitors to their doorstep.
Our home stays concept was introduced in 2012 to allow visitors to experience staying with local families, to understand local culture, exsperience home cooked food and not just support giant hotels/businesses that get plenty of business anyway.
Interestingly Kutch Adventures India was founded pretty much without funding. What was needed to offer “Guided Tours” was already there: a car, a network of locals and a willingness to offer different experiences to our visitors.
We have spent very little money on advertisements, promotions or on anything to set up the business, but I set up websites on Google and Facebook that let the world find us – and that is what eventually happened.
Organization: Kutch Adventures India
Destination: Bhuj, Gujarat, India
Inspiring Stories from Destinations 2014 was jointly organised by WildAsia and Gaia Discovery. Three winners were chosen and announced at ITB Asia Responsible Tourism event in Singapore. Gaia Discovery at ITB Asia shared how these winning entries tell a good story, and how storytelling is important to draw travellers to a destination.
Follow us on Facebook and Twitter @malgaia.