About a week ago, I traveled for the first time since February 2020, and to a destination I have grown to love over the past decade. The camera and I never grow tired of Jaipur, and we both are what Booking.com’s Future of Travel study calls Familiarists not Tourists.
With Covid-risk being a constant, I chose the Tree of Life’s flagship property outside of Jaipur for our stay. With 13 villas spread across 7 acres of verdant landscape, it was an easy decision to make. It also helped that I have been professionally curious about the Tree of Life Resorts and its strategic approach to surviving and thriving during tourism’s worst times, even recommending it for a case study recently. Short verdict- it did not disappoint.
The resort’s rural setting in the thick of the Aravalis, its remoteness, and comfortable seclusion, were the highlights for Covid-wary me. On my last morning, I stepped out of the resort walls in the wee hours, and explored Kacherwala, a neighbouring village, with my camera. A few households and residents of Kacherwala, gifted me the most authentic experience of the entire trip. For an hour, I chatted, laughed and participated in the early morning routines of my hosts. Conversations with them circled around my profession, and the constant occupation of TikTok/similar in the minds of the young in the village. The chatter was often punctuated by repeated invitations for tea with them (or milk if I didn’t drink tea). Several photography subjects were eagerly recommended to me- baby lambs, tractors, human babies, or themselves!
As a traveler, these are the experiences I always seek, for they spell a destination out to me more than any ticketed attraction. The Future of Travel study from Booking.com also highlights the growing preference for activities best described as “simple pleasure”, with over two-thirds of travelers (69%) looking to appreciate simpler experiences, such as spending time outdoors while on vacation. Over half (56%) will seek out more rural, off-the-beaten-path experiences to immerse themselves in the outdoors. For the industry, it isn’t difficult to package this experience and process it down the tourism value chain, with intermediaries turning into ‘suppliers’. It has been done before, but rarely without losing the authenticity of the experience.
To ensure the tourism inclusion of rural communities while maintaining authenticity of experience, authorities should strive to facilitate an organic development of less-frequented destinations in rural India, while actively fostering the inclusion of local communities that serve as destination hosts and stewards. By investing in improvements in infrastructure and connectivity; enhancing the quality of natural and cultural attractions, facilitating service improvement through capacity development, community participation and project management, and helping create low-impact, authentic and community-based activities, state governments and policy makers can tap the tourism sector's potential to contribute to sustainable and inclusive economic growth in rural India.
The benefits of such an approach are manifold:
Direct economic opportunities to rural areas which are currently economically disadvantaged compared to urban areas,
Infrastructure improvement in rural geographies leading to improved quality of life for residents,
Creation of local employment opportunities in place of living, that can be a solution for interstate migrations and their ensuing problems
Mitigation of overtourism in popular destinations of contracting carrying capacity,
Diversification of tourism products offered by India as a destination, especially in light of a growing trend towards experiential travel
Meeting the needs of the burgeoning and oft-demanding domestic market that increasingly seeks destinations and experiences off-the beaten-path
Support of community based tourism that is inherently sustainable and climate-conscious
Direct benefits to the conservation and upkeep of tangible and intangible cultural and heritage assets
As the world recovers from Covid, albeit in a less than straightforward manner, India has an opportunity to present itself as a renewed destination to domestic and international visitors, one that is sustainable, climate-conscious, community-oriented and innovative. Rural India could have a substantial role to play in presenting Incredible India anew.
A note on photos: all permissions were sought and granted, except from lambs and buffalos.