Business Today

Ride into the hinterland

E. Kumar Sharma        Print Edition: June 27, 2010

Fancy a weekend holiday in a village away from your city surroundings without having to rough it out or wear your heart on your sleeves? Call Grassroutes Journeys.

The model, says co-founder Inir Pinheiro, "is unique because it enables tourists to experience authentic village lifestyles and provides the local communities incentives to conserve and promote their unique lifestyles, bio diversities, knowledge systems, traditions and economies."

Grassroutes runs like a tour operator- it insists bookings are made at least four days in advance-and earns its revenue by marketing tourism in the two villages it has "developed" and through consultancy projects.

The facilities at each village are designed to accommodate around 1,500 tourists a year with per night stay priced at Rs 1,200 (it costs Rs 11.6 lakh and takes up to 18 months to make a village ready for city tourists).

The income is shared between the village tourism committee, high net-worth investors providing soft loans, Grassroutes and those monitoring the project and its quality.

What's in it for the villagers? "Sustainable livelihood opportunities," says Pinheiro. "We conservatively estimate a direct average annual inflow of over Rs 5-6 lakh per village (after three years of operations)."

Take Zunkabai, resident of Purushwadi, a village 250 km away from Mumbai. In two days, she earns as much by cooking as she would have received if she had migrated for eight days to work elsewhere. Or, Gangaram, a Xth class graduate, who has a job as a guide, is studying further with ambitions of becoming a teacher.

FOCUS: Rural tourism

FUNDING: Grants, social venture funds

COMPETITION: Village Ways, Travel Another India, Government of India's rural tourism initiative

BUSINESS: Sold 800 bed-nights in two villages last fiscal year


BIGGEST RISK: Market is niche

BIGGEST MISTAKE: Free advice, free volunteers are the most expensive and unreliable. I've learnt to pay for professional work and to expect competency

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