Now that tourism experts are cautiously confident about recovery, that travellers are seeking travel that will transform their lives with the life of those they visit, and that consumers increasingly believe in acting in an environmentally responsible way, then it is the perfect time to visit Madhya Pradesh. We were there with the experts and we found a model of responsible tourism based on empowering rural tourism and women, with a distinctive public-private collaboration and community involvement.
It’s no coincidence that, in September 2022, the International Center for Responsible Tourism (ICRT), honored the Madhya Pradesh Tourism Board with four Gold and one Silver awards for projects like Rural Tourism, Safe Tourist Destination for Women, Access for the Differently Able, Responsible Souvenirs, Clean Destinations. <<This is the first time I am leaving my village, but I am proud of our people- told me Kamala during the ceremony, hiding shyly behind her yellow embroidered dupatta- my son is getting on stage for the Natural Heritage and Biodiversity Category>>. The forest-dwelling tribal communities are just a part of this project: in fact, Madhya Pradesh (the second largest Indian state by area, with 72 million residents), not only hosts the highest population of tribals in India, but also many of the six hundred thousand Indian villages.
Since rural areas can definitely be a great development opportunity here, the Responsible Tourism Mission in Madya Pradesh (RTMMP) created with them eleven projects: Homestays, Responsible Souvenirs, Clean Destinations, Accessibility, Rural Tourism, Skill development, Astronomy tourism, Safe tourism destinations for women, Tribes Tourism, and Solar energy. The result, up to now, is a network of tens of accomodations, 50 tour operators, 76 guides, across six cultural zones, 41 must see spots, located along 23 suggested itineraries, plus an amazing catalogue of 182 beautiful crafts and the not to miss rural experiences in Khokara, Ladpura Khas, Madla, Thadipathar. And still growing, planning to reach 300 villages, involving 11250 women and around 50 main tourism destinations.
The aim of Dr Manoj K Singh, Director at Madhya Pradesh Tourism Board, with his team of young officers is: << To support the communities as the real owners and promoters of responsible tourism, sensitizing the travelers to contribute to the livelihoods of the local community. The mission and the values -community driven and community led- expand into a field that goes from Increasing job opportunities to reducing carbon footprint, to transparency, to Equal opportunity for all and Respect for cultural diversity>>.
How to operate a complex mechanism of so many projects?
According to Amit Singh, advisor at Madhya Pradesh Tourism Board, <<Rural tourism must go hand in hand with several projects, it must be the catalyst of everything a region can produce. In our case around the two main targets of empowering rural tourism and women, we included developing capacity building, participation, empowerment, protecting eco-sensitive regions, development of skills, entrepreneurship, certification, training of stakeholders and partners. On the ground, communities establish to maintain living cultural heritage and develope a sense of pride; some hotel chains employ differently-abled workers; the homestays buildings are designed by architects, two rooms per family in order to share the funds equally, based on the personal taste of the hosts>>.
Some exclusive data:
A complex mechanism, with transparent control of the budget and a look to the future: <<These projects - as in the document kindly sent to us by the board’s specialists- are specially designed: i.e. 30 crores (a crore denotes ten million and is equal to 100 lakh in the Indian numbering system) for Safe Tourism Destinations for Women in MP (60% funding is from Govt. of India, rest 40% from state govt.), 2 crores for Solid Liquid Waste Management project, approx 1cr. is expected to be incurred to convert each village into a Rural Tourism Project. We are collecting monthly reports from the field and planning to have mid-term evaluation in two years. With the expansion in the number of villages, approx 75000 women will be involved in the future>>. All this was made possible by private and public cooperation with the support of 36 Organisations for Rural Tourism, 6 Technical Support Organisations for Responsible Souvenir Project, the Tour Operators association, and with 110 people as staff.
Step by step, brick by brick, here tourism is changing from the foundations.
How were the projects developed? In each project, the strategy has been the same, from Selection of Project support organization, to Identification of Villages, approval by the village Gram sabha, beneficiary identification, technical support, Development and marketing, test guest.
As noted by Santosh Ojha, journalist visiting with us the projects, in his article Rural Getaways for a rejuvenating experience <<Tourists now want to spend time with nature, far from the crowds. Rural tourism is an option that is slowly getting popular. Madhya Pradesh is one of the states which has taken this up on a war footing, and the spin-offs from this initiative are pleasantly surprising and potentially transformational>>.
Indeed, if you are going to Madya Pradesh, you are going to meet rickshaws driven by women, artisans selling artcrafts and organising workshops, you will choose among picnics and excursions, sports and art events, evenings with music, stories, the best local food with local families and nights in comfortable homestays, astro tours, guided walks in the jungle or cycling through hills and rivers, wellness treatments, cooking or foraging classes.
What’s new for the tribal populations?
One of the themes that are interwoven in all projects is that of Vulnerable Tribal Groups: a very innovative one is the training of women as guides in the parks, useful to give a job to those who have been exploited from their land, in five national parks- Kanha, Panna, Pench, Bandhawagarh, Sanjay Dubri. The program set up with the NGO Gram Sudhar Samiti, perfect for tourists who love to share the local’s lifestyle, includes village visits, nature walks, boating, storytelling, discovering the medicinal plants, local flora and fauna, cuisines, music, dance, art and crafts
What’s new for women travelers and women entrepreneurs?
The “Safe tourism destinations for women Initiative” is one of the projects core and hopefully it could become a model for many: to provide a safe, secure women-friendly environment in and around tourist destinations; to enhance women's confidence to visit destinations without any fear for their safety; to create women-friendly spaces, job opportunities and self-employment. For the delight of women travelers, who will meet women shopkeepers, guides, naturalists, artists, taxi driver, guides in the forest or decorating villages homes with traditional paintings. But, above all, local and foreigners will feel safe thanks to the trained girls working as security guards against harassment, in schools, hotels, shops, associations and in the beautiful and crowded markets of Gwalior, Chambal, Orchha, Khajuraho, Panna, Madia, Bhopal.
A few examples among many initiatives?
• The 200 women farmers of the Haritika Jhansi Ngo, offering pottery, bird watching, bycicling on the river Betwa, happy about the 1500 clients who came during the safari season (some just for the renowned cuisine).
• The Rekha and Kamla Homestay in the remote village of Ladpura Khas, where women are welcoming you singing Bundelkhandi folk songs.
• The ten agriculture tourism villages identified for organic farming and horticulture activities with advanced technology.
• The show organized by the young boys and girls at Madla village, with an amazing demonstration of the ancient art of Indian gymnastics Malkhamb.
• The picnics planner: Vandna Dubey founder of Ramraja Adventure Picnic Planner, who organizes cooking classes, heritage tours, boating and rafting, local food, and picnics in green beautiful bowls made of weaved leaves full of delicious bafauri, maheri, gulgula, murabba, and kauri.
Some ideas from a hospitality excellence
The Taj Lakefront hotel in Bhopal has done a great job by empowering local women and the community through skilling and offering jobs in theri unit.
We asked the director Kanika Hasrat to give us some details: <<We have signed a Memorandum of understanding with the MP tourism board to train women from the community and get them employed at the Usha Kiran Palace , a Place property in Gwalior (Taj Usha Kiran Palace, Gwalior - Palace Hotel in Gwalior | Taj Hotels) . The girls are currently being recruited and trained by Tata STRIVE (www.tatsstrive.com). Tata STRIVE champions the cause of community skilling and in this programme we will aim at empowering women to manage the palace ( a large responsibility ) . The MOU was signed in Janaury 23. As part of the IHCL’s commitment known as Paathya (Paathya (ihcltata.com)) we aim at sustainable development and focus on community . With the Usha Kiran Place opening we will set a benchmark for a luxury experience with persons from the community. As part of our Paathya focus we offer tourists to get involved in Eco tourism by collecting non organic waste while on treks in the local areas and get a free waiver for certain services>>.
The super favourites of women travellers?
• In Madla and Dhamma you must not miss the souvenir training center Pashoo Pakshee, as the blogger Lakshimy Sharath suggests in her newsletter: <<While you plan your itinerary, also make a list of the social entrepreneurs. Some I met during the trip are Savini Sonavaria who runs PashooPakshee, Manisha Pande from Village Ways, Deepa Dixit who trains women for the Ragini Foundation, Mehrun Siddiqui from Adhar India. At PashooPakshee you can buy from T-shirts to figurines, earrings to bags, stuffed toys to backpacks, directly at any MPT hotel or even visit the centre near Panna and Chattarpur, where you can interact with the artisans>>.
• No doubts from Charmarie Maelge, consultant in the tourism industry:<< I have two favourites: first the acrobatic team of the gymn show, very powerful message, in a rural village, girls and boys as young as 3-4 years and teenagers, exercising together, very modern and over stereotypes. The other one is Vandna Dubey with her picnics and catering: I thought that was brilliant as it is being the experience to the next level>>.
• Sophie Hartman, a tour operator specialised in nature and cycling tours, with her project "Holidays in Rural India", right now cycling around Kanha National Park, answers from the Shergarh Tented Camp Lodge: << What I loved best it was the self defence-trained girls. Obviously, they were never going to be strong enough to fight off a gang of men but their attitude had been changed, they had this absolute inner ‘don’t mess with me' confidence that was so impressive. For sure those three hundred self-defence-trained women transmit great confidence>>.
• The favourite of award-winning travel blogger Mariellen Ward, publisher of Breathedreamgo.com, and founder of India for Beginners custom tours, was Orchha. Mariellen has travelled extensively through India -- a country she describes as "confounding, overwhelming, bedazzling, exhilarating, and magical" -- and she feels Orchha is a special place. A small town on a rushing river, Orchha is imbued with the peaceful energy that pristine nature endows. But it also has a historic past that lives on in a surprising collection of majestic palaces, forts, and monuments. Basing yourself in Orchha is an ideal way to discover rural Madhya Pradesh.
• My favourite is the Clean Destination project, by SAAHAS: a bunch of women entrepreneurs with 146 female staff who started distributing big blue bags, knocking door to door in order to spread the idea of “making India a leading Circular Economy where Nothing is Waste” . <<In Madhya Pradesh- says the program manager Hetal Jalad- right now we are covering 30 villages near Panna national Park: peoople are now collecting, reducing, recycling, cleaning and caring, achieving 90% resource recovery>>. How did they do this? They have built local support, orientated newly elected government members, created events to clean up markets and shools, organised a collection center for recycling, and even rewarded people for “correct dumping”.
Making better places for people to live in and better places for people to visit
It starts from the Cape Town Declaration, the mission of the innovative award winning Project Humsafar, one of the Madhya Pradesh most innovative projects, rebuilding tourist sites with the lens of accessibility. Here, the tourism board and Arushi, the organization born in Bhopal to integrate people with disabilities into the mainstream of society, did a huge job, starting with accessibility checks at 30 tourist sites, continuing with capacity buildings programmes of stockholders, a program of training to hotel staffs, boatmen, local guides, archaeology staff, shopkeepers, then built accessible ways, braille menues and information plaques in historical site, improving recommendation.
INFO TO KNOW MORE
MP Tourism Board
Clean Destination project, by SAAHAS
- India Artcrafts
- India Blind Disabled Temple
- India Clean Destinations Projects
- India Girls Safe Streets Project
- India Rural Stay Rural Experiences Girls Safe Streets Markets
- India Rural Stay
- India Rural Tourism Experiences Gymn
- India Safe Destination For Women
- India Sustainable Souvenirs Project
- India Women Jobs Jungle Guide
- India Jobs For Women Project