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The Rise of Rural Tourism with COVID-19

I hail from a small village in the Northern region of India. I have spent a lot of time in my village during my childhood days, and hence I have a special bonding and penchant for the village life. I have never needed an excuse to visit my village, and it’s one of my favorite places to unwind and relax. In spite of my hectic urban life, I am in regular touch with the people back in my village, and I cherish my involvement in many areas influencing their life.

India is such a diverse country. Each village has stories hidden at its heart and is unique in some way or other. It is fantastic to see how language, food, behavior, lifestyle, culture, customs, natural resources, demographic subtleness etc. change when you travel across rural India.  There is an abundance of facets for one to explore. There is immense potential to develop ‘Rural Tourism’ in India – It can offer unique experiences and opportunities to understand local life, and to immerse in India’s rich traditional and cultural heritage. 

Tourists almost never get to see the real side of India – rarely do they get to experience India in its raw form. Promoting rural tourism has dual benefits – it will give tourists an opportunity to experience and explore the rich heritage of India, and on the other hand it’ll allow people living in rural India to make a living through tourism.

Anyway, this is not a new concept at all. Rural tourism, even if on a small-scale, has been tried and tested in India for decades. So, why are we talking about this again now? Because, there is a new dimension that has been introduced recently– yes, you guessed it right, it’s ’COVID’. Rural tourism can get a big boost in this situation if we can grab the opportunity. As Albert Einstein said, “In the middle of difficulty, lies opportunity.”

COVID-19 may facilitate the emergence of new destinations that are lesser known and visited

The pandemic has forced most of us to stay indoors over these past few months, and that has kindled a desire to travel in all of us. We just want to head out of the house and go somewhere. Our heart says,” Go anywhere”, while our mind says, ”Be careful, we are still in the midst of a pandemic”. While we are embroiled in this dilemma, one thing is for sure, our mindset is changing. Our mind is looking for a middle ground probably, where it says, “Yes, I want to go somewhere, but with no risk, or with limited risk.” With this, a new set of destinations may emerge which are less-known and less-visited. If this trend continues, sooner than later we will step into a world where Travel will be democratized and reach the remotest of areas.

Photo Credits: Sanjeeb Patel

People travel for various reasons – some travel to break the monotony and take a break, some travel for adventure, where as some travel to explore new places and cultures, etc. Many want comfort and convenience during their travels. But when the urge to travel overpowers the need for comfort, that’s when new travel locations are going to emerge. With COVID-19, people’s mindset is changing. People are preferring to go to less congested places, and they are willing to take road trips than get on crowded flights. So, I assume, by the time the pandemic is behind us, we may have cultivated a mindset that’s ready to explore remote and unique places and not just the stereotypical tourist destinations that most of us were used to. This in turn is going to provide a big boost to the rural economy.

Think about taking a vacation where you can milk the cows, pound the grains to remove the husks and winnow the rice, chop wood, light the chulha (earthen stove), make cow dung cake, cut the grass, cook authentic Indian food, travel in bullock carts, engage in traditional fishing & farming activities, enjoy seasonal fruits and local beverages. Sounds exciting, doesn’t it? How about spending some time with the local farmers, artisans, housewives and other members of the village communities, to see the centuries-old skills and traditions?  If this sounds interesting, I am sure rural India has the potential to be a tourist destination, with proper planning and implementation.

But the Indian village experience is not really that easily accessible. There are many things to be improved like the roads, sanitation, drinking water, food, electricity, and healthcare, etc.

With COVID-19 and the push towards exploring unvisited territory, we might not need top-class infrastructure to woo travelers to go to the villages as their new destination. If there are decent roadways to reach the location and ample accommodation in the villages, tourists may not care about other facilities.

But having said that, below are the basic things that are required to make the rural travel destinations hospitable

  1. Decent Roads to reach the destination. There are many villages in India that are very isolated and not easily accessible. And under difficult weather conditions, it becomes worse. To promote tourism, the first thing that we need is for the roads to reach even the remotest parts of India.

  2. Each of the villages may need to have a guest house (with very basic facilities), tented camps, or a homestay to host the guests.  Tourists can even stay with the indigenous families from the village and experience firsthand how the villagers go about their daily lives.

  3. Basic needs like drinking water, hospitals/clinics, transportation, etc. must be taken care of.

The villagers also need to be trained on how to welcome guests and first aid. And if ‘Rural Tourism’ becomes an affordable and convenient reality in the Post-COVID era, there are a bunch of benefits that will follow suit.

  • From the villagers’ perspective: Tourism can generate employment opportunities for the villagers, who can then earn a decent livelihood without having to migrate elsewhere. With an additional revenue stream like this, the villagers can improve their standard of living and take care of their families.
  • From the Tourists’ perspective: They will be able to see the real India, which is otherwise rare. There’s also a feel-good factor; tourists would feel better spending their money in supporting the less privileged. It’s a win-win situation which will help in growing the country’s economy and at the same time, it will bring a change in the lives of the rural population.

In order to ensure that this transformation happens quickly, the public and private sectors need to join forces. The results may not be immediate, but it will create an impact over a period of time.. If we are able to pull this off, it would come as a ray of light in the midst of this pandemic. I hope rural tourism will help our rural economy thrive and flourish.

* Sanjeeb Patel is the Director – Software Engineering, Sabre Travel Solutions Product Development, Sabre Corporation, Bengaluru GCC.

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