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RARE India Discusses about Sustainability, Community Engagement and the Way Forward post COVID-19

As COVID-19 pandemic brings the entire globe to an indefinite halt, the travel and tourism sector is battling its hardest battle to save itself from a tailspin. To discuss ways of sustenance, economic stability, life during the lockdown and the future of tourism industry, RARE India, which is a community of some of the best conscious luxury hotels and travel experiences in India and the subcontinent, recently organized a virtual event called 'RAREfied'. This event witnessed a lineup of hoteliers, wildlife experts and hospitality entrepreneurs engaging in discussions with a multitude of audiences via digital platforms.

“RAREfied was literally a physical event we took to the clouds, inspired by the sheer richness of content, design and concepts that are a part of the RARE India Community. The two days were to ignite memories and celebrate nostalgia around travel to India and the subcontinent, emotions that embrace every travel story. In doing this we set out product updates, some fun with music, dance and food and also celebrated the World Heritage Day hinting on the themes of tangible and intangible heritage which are key to the RARE stories,” Shoba Mohan, Founder, RARE India, said.

Need for sustainability, community engagement and business during lockdown

As the fear of job losses and salary cuts lingers in the tourism sector, hoteliers and industry experts briefly talked about how they are dealing with the crisis and how they are standing together with their workers during this time. Amit Sankhala, the owner of Jamtara Wilderness Camp in Kanha, Madhya Pradesh and a well-known Safari expert, stressed on the importance of community involvement. He said, "Most of the staff are from local communities and are a part of our family. During lockdown, businesses should understand that firing them would be disastrous as they won't find any other job and businesses too will not find suitable replacements for them". He added, "Over tourism is seen to be an important factor behind the spread of the Corona virus in popular tourist destinations in countries like Italy and Spain. The concept of eco-tourism is the need of the hour. All must work together to bring a movement towards protection of nature. We must ensure certification of lodges that promote and practice sustainability to protect nature. Most of the local communities don't own farmland and if left in the middle of nowhere, they might resort to illegal activities like poaching.”

Similarly, a pioneer of river cruises in India since 2003, Assam Bengal Navigation (ABN) in Guwahati too believes that protecting local workers now should be the first priority. During an Instagram live session, Antara, who represented ABN, shared her experiences during the lockdown. “We have employed change makers from the local communities as our property aims to celebrate everything local. We are all together in this situation and by adapting social discipline, we are finding ways to overcome it. Unfortunately, our staff had to be quarantined in the ships as our guests were foreigners. They have been away from their family and we are doing our best to help them. In these times, mutual cooperation is important".

Taking into consideration the well-being of the local community was also reflected in the Instagram live session by Marcus Cotton, the Managing Director of the Tiger Mountain Pokhara Lodge in Nepal. He explained how the burden of the pandemic is borne the most by the local community, the craftsmen who depend on tourism for their livelihood. “I think the businesses are going to be severely impacted but the people I worry about are not the well-established businesses. If you have been going around for 20 years and your capacity to sustain is only 3 months, then that is not very sustainable. Adversities can strike in any form and they arise pretty regularly whether it is the Corona Virus pandemic, SARS, MERS, an earthquake or your business burning down, etc. We have all heard about ‘People-Planet-Profit, Commerce-Culture-Community’ and in all of those statements we have the word around profit so we should all have those reserves. So, I am not entirely sympathetic towards the business owners but the people who suffer are those on daily wages, living from hand-to-mouth. Those are the people who need real support during this time.” he said.

Marcus also stressed on the need for responsible tourism that considers the needs of all the stakeholders, which will become the key to restoring trust into tourism and dealing with the anxiety around it. He explained, “There is no point in announcing the reopening of the property without the consent and the support from the local community. As for the guests, being able to show the hygiene practices incorporated without paranoia will help excessively. It’s something called the ‘Theatre of Hygiene’ where instead of cleaning up at 6 in the morning, we could clean the rooms at 10 am so the guests can see for themselves and this builds their confidence.”

Ashutosh Garg’s session on building a personal brand story and Minakshi Pandey’s tips on each one of us working on being light footed on mother earth and taking responsibility for the planet were sessions to help people gear up for what will be the new vision for work and travel post COVID-19.

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