Maroon Migrates develops innovative responsible tourism experiences in the Indian state of Gujarat. For the first of our new style Spotlight, Jeremy Smith speaks to the company’s founder, Nischal Barot, about how the company’s approach to responsible tourism and the lessons he has learned along the way.
What inspired you to create your business?
My hometown is the source of my Inspiration. I am from the Narmada District of Gujarat. Returning home after my Masters in Environmental Science, I was taken aback by the degradation of the region’s natural resources. The area was being totally discriminated against and under tremendous pressure to modernise. I started visiting forest villages and meeting with local community members towards developing ecotourism in the Narmada district.
How does being responsible help your business attract potential customers?
Mostly, tourists are attracted to the places where we operate and to the way we work. Although we talk about responsible tourism in our marketing, we don’t state directly ‘We practice responsible tourism’. Rather we describe the area, its activities, and how the communities are involved.
How do you engage guests in your responsible tourism activities?
Our products engage tourists directly in responsible tourism. For our latest programme – Live GANDHI for a While – we enable tourists to live, work, act and dress like Gandhi, all while staying in the Kochrab Ashram which he established.
Through this product, our goal is to promote simple and sustainable lifestyle. We give people the opportunity to observe alternatives in life which might change their perceptions – they might find themselves during the tour. Otherwise it is not that simple to understand the simple message of Mahatma Gandhi ‘The earth has enough for everyone’s need but not for everyone’s greed’.
Without engaging directly with tourists about why we operate the way we do, we see the impact directly – people switch off their music to listen to the peace of the jungle. They start recognising birds and plants. They request the recipe for local food. Make friends with the local people. We connect the tourists directly to what is happening on the ground. And believe me, it works.
What is the responsible tourism initiative of which you are most proud?
This is a difficult question, as I have always put my heart into any part of our work. But if I have to choose, I would say, back in 2006, when we had just started, I introduced a Tribal Boat Safari. The Narmada district of Gujarat state holds the largest dam in India, the Sardar Sarovar Dam, and another that has submerged huge forest area of the Shoolpaneshwar Wildlife Sanctuary, known as Karjan Dam. Those living downstream are very wealthy due to the irrigation but those upstream have been totally discriminated against. Some of the tribal villages were barely surviving, using their own, handmade, boat for fishing. I transformed their fishing boat into the Tribal Boat Safari. Now many tourists visit them at weekends and festivals. The locals have learned to provide hospitality, manage their needs, and earn more than their average daily income – that is more than enough for me.
What positive impacts does your business have on the local community / environment?
Locals, who were shy talking to the tourists, now deal with groups of tourists without our involvement. They have learned to use tourism as a tool. They have realised that the forest-surrounding them is the USP of their business and have learned to say NO to tourists littering plastic in their area.
What has been biggest challenge you have faced?
When I started tourism in the Shoolpaneshwar Wildlife Sanctuary, I was confident that I could connect people in urban areas with the local tribal community. But I underestimated the requirements for operating in a remote area with no telephone network. You cannot contact the locals from the outside world and you cannot connect tourists when on site. But we learned to make plans, design schedules for tours and fixed meeting points, and ensure we had the equipment required for any emergency.
What advice would you give to any entrepreneur starting a responsible tourism business?
Go with your instincts and be patient. Don’t plan on the basis of ‘what is in demand?’ but rather ‘what demand can my project generate?’ Realise ‘money is not everything in the world’ and take joy in your work bringing positive change to a few lives forever.