Promoting ecotourism while empowering local communities
Aditi Balbir is the Managing Director and Founder of V Resort. In this interview with India Global Business, she discusses the company’s model for ecotourism, the latest travel trend, and how the company is at once offering a confluence of cultures to the evolved travellers and generating local employment.
When did you first learn about sustainability in relation to tourism?
Founded in 2014, V Resorts is a micro-tourism focussed hospitality management company, which provides boutique local experiences in the leisure travel space. Our model of ecotourism emerged from our business needs. For instance, to ensure longevity, we have recruited and trained locals. Since we do not have a centralised procurement system for remote locations, we tied up with local entrepreneurs to procure locally. To ensure low costs, we adopted eco-friendly methods for cleaning, waste management, and energy use. This is ecotourism in its true form because it stems from a business need and is therefore sustainable in the long run.
As we went deeper into our project, we soon realised that it was checking all the 12 UNWTO’s sustainable development goals, and in fact, we were creating a circular economy in the process. Our efforts have been recognised by UNWTO. At the 23rd session of the UN General Assembly held in Russia, in 2019, V Resorts won the UNWTO award for sustainable tourism in India.
What inspired you to leave your lucrative job and make the professional transition into the ecotourism industry?
I am an avid traveller. I went on a world tour when I was six-year-old, and ever since that trip, I have jumped on to every chance of going to different places. My love for travel grew with age and I would often explore offbeat places and connect with locals. To date, I have visited more than 50 countries and 200 destinations across the globe.
My wanderlust across the length and breadth of India made me realise the gap between the new age traveller’s demands for escape and what they got – the same old predictable conception of vacation. This led me to establish V Resorts. The company plugged this gap and standardised guest experiences with a strong focus on its environmental, social and governance responsibilities.
Combined with my passionate advocacy of sustainable development and community inclusiveness, V Resort offers a confluence of cultures to the evolved traveller while boosting the micro-economies of the local communities simultaneously.
How is V Resort positioning India as an eco-destination?
Primarily built on the concept of introducing the harried Indian traveller to new and unexplored places in the country, V Resorts is developing new destinations that promote ecotourism. V Resorts has over 120 properties spread across 21 Indian states and offers experiences in some of the most pristine and untouched corners of India like Orchha, Mahendargarh, Sattal, Mandawa, Koti, Barkot, Wai amongst others. Keeping with principles of ecotourism, it employs 90 per cent of its staff locally, ensures 100 per cent local procurement, assimilates local culture, and brings empowerment to local communities without causing harm to the natural environment.
Can you explain the concept behind V Resort’s Farm to Fork initiative and how are you boosting the micro-economies of the local communities through this initiative?
Our farm to table experience is one of the various initiatives that we have adopted across our resorts for the local upliftment and economic prosperity of the host destination. Under this initiative, we not only try to offer our guest a locally authentic experience but at the same time offer the locals, who deliver the experience, an income generation opportunity. For instance, at one of our resorts in Madhya Pradesh, we offer an experience where our guests get the opportunity to enjoy a Budelkhandi dinner cooked in village-style right in front of them. The preparation for the farm dinner begins in the morning. A local guide takes our guests to a nearby farm from which the guest picks their vegetables. Later, in the evening, these freshly picked vegetables are cooked in a village household and served in a traditional manner to our guests for dinner.
At the present time, people everywhere are looking for a more local authentic experience, starting with what they eat, leading to increased scrutiny on the origin and procurement of their food. Taking this into consideration, we have been very specific about our food procurement policy at V Resorts. We ensure that all our produces are fresh, naturally grown and procured directly from the farmers. For example, we have tied up with a group of local farmers under the Andhra Pradesh government’s Zero Budget Natural Farming (ZBNF) programme to supply fresh fruits and vegetables to our beach resort in Vizag.
What are the steps the Indian government should take to promote ecotourism post-COVID-19 pandemic?
Covid-19 has made a positive impact on the environment. Consumers have now become very conscious of consumption. Today travellers are more interested in responsible and sustainable travel. The current travel trend shows that the classic road trip is ready to make a comeback as most of the tourists are looking for a close-by offbeat destination, away from the crowd and close to nature, which can comfortably reached by car rather than requiring a flight or train travel.
Currently, there is no policy related to sustainability in India other than in the solar industry, where the policies are clearly defined and there is a department that specifically works on solar projects. The need of the hour is for a holistic sustainable development policy that focuses on all the SDGs defined by the UN across various sectors.
India is a country that boasts a picturesque unexplored destination. We believe post Covid-19 pandemic, a special focus should be given to the development of basic tourism infrastructure that includes road development, wayside amenities, etc. so that tourists can easily reach their desired destination.
What challenges did V Resort face in regard to ecotourism development in India?
Scaling business across states has been quite tough due to the complexities of compliances, taxes, etc. which are different for each state. The presence of a single-window licensing can be of great help in this case. Also, as mentioned above, there is no specific policy related to ecotourism or sustainable tourism in India and this has also created a lot of difficulty for us in promoting ecotourism across the country.
Lastly, what advice would you give to the women looking to start their careers in the tourism industry?
Women should make sure that they put their skills to the best of use be it in tourism or any other industry. They should always stand up for what they feel is right, and should always make sure that their opinions are heard and never shy away from asking for what is rightfully theirs.