Eco tourism-an emerging rural enterprise

Inir Pinheiro

Creation of sustainable opportunities for local communities helps in conserving and promoting local cultures, traditions, environment, knowledge systems and lifestyles. Grassroutes, an NGO, through its concept of village tourism, has demonstrated newer opportunities for villagers of Puruswadi and Kohane villages of Maharashtra.

In rural areas, most villagers have farms which keep them busy for 8-10 months in a year. Besides farm income which is meager, they need additional income to manage other requirements like costs of education, health and social events. To be able to access this additional income, rural communities have had to adopt various survival strategies. Very often, these strategies lead to exploitation of already over stretched natural resources, migration to towns and cities and most importantly, erosion of local cultures, traditions and lifestyles. All this happens owing to ‘lack of opportunities’ in the place they live in.

Grassroutes is a social enterprise involved in the development of a network of over 200 ‘responsible village destinations’ across India where in the local village communities ‘own, manage & run’ these village tourism destinations. Grassroutes believes that responsible rural tourism is a means of creating sustainable opportunities as recognized by the government too. For the past three years, Grassroutes has been working with the tribal communities of Kohane and Purushwadi villages in Maharashtra on community managed rural tourism which has yielded promising results.

The Grassroutes model

  • Suitable locations are identified followed by village level meetings
  • Orientation programs are done followed by exposure visits.
  • Primarily, women and youth are involved. Women are trained as cooks and the youth as guides and housekeepers.
  • Infrastructure is built to accommodate tourists (e.g. washrooms)
  • Institutions like the village tourism committees are formed and trained to manage tourism in their villages.
  • Monitoring and quality control systems ensure quality of the hospitality services

Grassroutes has been primarily involved in facilitating the development of the village as a tourism destination; marketing and product development of tourism in the village and quality control and monitoring of tourism in the village.

Kohane and Purushwadi villages have been developed as village tourism destinations. Kohane has150 households and Purushwadi has 109 households. Presently, over 15 households in Kohane and 50 households in Purushwadi have been involved in tourism.

The process

After these two villages were selected based on certain criteria several rounds of village meetings were organized. It takes about 2-3 months of orientation before the community decides to initiate the program with the support of grassroutes.

While developing the village as a tourism destination, the uniqueness of the villagers’ lifestyles is documented and is showcased.  Infrastructure support, training programs and institutional building programs are followed after the community gives the green signal. Around 65 households in Kohane and Purushwadi have been trained on different skill sets as guides, housekeepers and as cooks. Some of the training modules are handled by hospitality experts while most of them are done by Grassroutes staff.

Tents and empty homes of villagers are made available for tourists to stay. Each accommodation has clean mattresses, linen, chairs, water containers and dustbins. Toilets and bathrooms have been constructed. Lightjng is provided through solar lanterns.

A village tourism committee comprising of representative of various sections of the village is formed to oversee the functioning of tourism in the village. The village tourism committee is a committee that oversees the management and the running of tourism in the village, comprising of representatives of different sections of the village. For instance, Purushwadi tourism committee consists of 6 members. There are 2 women in the committee along with 2 youth as well. The committee currently meets every 2 months.

Role of women

The women of the village cook traditional food, very seasonal in nature. The food is traditionally cooked on chulas. Their meals are very simple food comprising of roti (made from bajra, jowar, rice, wheat or nachni) dal rice and the occasional vegetable, pickle and onion. “What quantities to cook?” and “what to cook?” “how to serve?”.  Initially, the women who undertook the responsibility of cooking faced many such uncertainties. Feedback from the tourists along with the knowledge & experience sharing among women has resulted in more efficient cooking.

With interaction with tourists, women have understood the tastes of tourists who visit them, and have made several changes not only in the  way they prepare food but also in the way they serve. Women no longer prepare food too spicy. They have learnt to prepare tea without sugar and sugar in a separate bowl. They have realized that city folk eat lesser amount of food as compared to an average villager. This awareness has resulted in less wastage and more returns of income.

Zunkabai is one of the 2 landless laborers in village Purushwadi. She is a widow and a mother of 4. Her main sources of income are as a migratory laborer and tendering to other villager’s goats (she takes care of other villagers goats for Rs. 20 per month). Being a Migratory labour means she cannot attend to the needs of her children. Zunkabhai was the first woman to be selected as a cook for the ‘community managed tourism’ project. Prior to the guest arriving, she was asked to freshen up her appearance and hygiene. The change in Zunkabhai was so obvious, that most villagers complimented her on her change. On the first day, she was visibly shy, while serving food to the tourist group. However by the end of the second day, she was chatting with the tourist and telling them the story of her life. Even her children who normally had a messed up appearance were smiling and clean. Zunkabhai’s effort of cooking for the tourists for 2 days has ensured her the same income that she would have received if she had migrated for 15 days to work elsewhere.

Initially, women used to cook in the common kitchen. But, serving in one of the cook’s home was tried out which evoked positive response from the tourists. This was liked by tourists as well as the women cooks. By this arrangement, women started enjoying the security and comfort of working at home.

Women were also responsible for housekeeping, initially. An important part of the housekeeping responsibilities involves heating of hot water for bathing. Water used to be heated in the housekeepers home and then brought in steel mudkas to the camp site of the tourists. This was turning out to be very laborious. The villagers themselves came out with a possible solution. They bought a big container, placed near the campsite of the tourists, thereby reducing the labour needed. Gradually the housekeeping responsibility was shifted to youth of the village, also as a means of involving them in the initiative.

Quality control mechanisms

Quality control is to ensure that the various tourists groups get a certain quality of services. Also, monitoring enables to modify the marketing strategies (in term of sensitizing tourists groups), as well as develop systems which would ensure that a clash of civilizations does not occur. Quality control systems involve trained village supervisor who is from the same village, to ensure quality checks for the cooks, housekeepers and the guides. Monitoring systems ensure that the socio-cultural change brought about in the village is desirable and controlled. For this, meetings are organized with various service providers and with the village tourism committee at least once a month. Tourists also provide their feedback which helps in maintaining the quality.

Marketing and promotion

While designing the marketing for each village, special emphasis is paid on the uniqueness of the villagers’ lifestyles, cuisine, culture, knowledge systems, and biodiversity. The marketing of villages to various target groups also includes sensitization of village realities & sensitivities to each target group. The programs are popularized through the website

Attracting tourists

Around 500 tourists have visited both the villages. Around 95 % of the tourists have been domestic urban tourists, primarily from the cities of Mumbai and Pune. The tourists include, corporate teams, youth groups and college students and small groups of families & friends. Around 5 % of them are individual travelers as well. Tourist groups have thoroughly enjoyed staying in the village. 

The villagers showcase the following activities/ systems to attract the tourists

  • Local lifestyles
  • Daily chores like chopping wood, cooking, collecting water
  • Livelihoods like farming, cattle rearing
  • Local cuisine – Organic, locally grown seasonal foods cooked traditionally over fire wood
  • Local environments – the landscape – Trekking, swimming in local ponds, vantage views, places of solitude
  • Local site seeing to historical, natural and religious places. Explorations are organized – Locating a Banyan tree, 55 Km from Purushwadi, which is over 1.5 acres big. The sites are located in a forest and known only to the locals. Several other legendary locations, some based on local belief systems.
  • Local festivals, legends and celebrations
  • Local plants & insects, how they interact and could be useful for medicine

Benefits to communities

Payment to services, has increased substantially the income of households. Tourists pay Grassroutes in advance who in turn pays the service providers.  eg. Presently, in Purushwadi 50 of the 109 households have been directly involved in tourism, and have benefited with a 20 – 30 % increase in annual household income. These villages have an average annual household income of Rs. 12000-16000. It is estimated that at least 50 households would benefit with an increase in annual income by 4000 – 5000 a year. On a conservative estimate, a direct average annual inflow of over 3-4 lakhs per village is envisaged after 3 years of intervention. This is besides the village common fund of Rs. 2 -3 lakhs per year.

Gangaram’s story

Gangaram, as with most of the people in Purushwadi, speaks only Marathi. When Gangaram was appointed as a guide, he did not know what to do. He was nervous and mostly quiet throughout the first visit. He was shy of even speaking in Hindi. However, with encouragement and training, and interacting with more groups of tourists, Gangaram has not only fine-tuned his communication in Hindi but now attempts the ‘queen’s language’. He cheerily greets tourists with “good morning” and “How are you?” Gangaram’s aspirations have turned a new chapter. He is currently studying to become a teacher.  

Tourism has a great multiplier effect for the local economy. The government of India has a 2.1 multiplier for income in tourism, and 1.8 multiplier of employment in tourism.  During the last financial year, over 700 person days of employment were created due to tourism in the village.

The locals realize that the tourists relish and enjoy their local culture and traditions and love to hear out local stories and local treatments. There is a sense of pride in the villagers as they share their lifestyles and traditions with the tourists. This has led to a revival of traditional culture and knowledge systems in the village. The youth have revived the local theatre of the village and have won 2nd place in the local market festival last year.

There is a positive impact on the environment too. The villagers are given an incentive to conserve their biodiversity and also showcase their beautiful environment.

Enhanced demand for poultry, kitchen gardens, agricultural goods like grains, medicinal plants, and processed village food like, pickles has been created.

One of the most important benefits that the communities perceive is the positive development of the youth in the villages. Out of 15 youth trained as guides in Purushwadi, 7 of them have started going to college.

Inir Pinheiro

No 3, Silver Coin,

D’monte Lane, Orlem,

Malad, West Mumbai,

Mumbai- 400 064



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