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Published on Monday, January 14, 2008

Kerala"s Dying River - Responsible Tourism Averts Threat

Sustainable Destination Showcase

The Blue Yonder was set up as a travel company based out of Bangalore (Karnataka), at the end of 2003 to bring the attention of the world to the status of sadly depleted and neglected Bharatapuzha River (the River Nila) in the North of Kerala in India and to help raise funds for Nila Foundation that works to revive and regenerate the dying river. "A river is often the thread that weaves lives and traditions in an ageless manner. A river sustains a civilisation."

The river had inspired many major poets and writers. Writers, singers and Kathakali artistes grew up in the villages close to the river from Kalpathy to Ponani. So the river was often described as the cultural stream of Malabar.

Responsible Tourism was used as a tool to spread awareness of many folk art forms, culture and lifestyle that are going into oblivion. Interaction with the travelling community and the knowledge that they are visiting local villages for the richness in the culture brings in a sense of pride amongst the villagers. Since these bring in alternative and supplementary sources of income to stake holders, it makes economic sense to local people as well.

By creating a meaningful connection between visitors and the river through interpretations, local people feel more connected with the river as they are the ones giving the interpretation. Retelling stories, legends and songs about the area and by explaining their significance, local people are themselves made aware of their culture and the need to conserve it. The promoters of The Blue Yonder are from this region.

Cultural and heritage tours organised along the River Nila are now directly benefiting 61 individuals ranging from folk musicians, ritualistic healers, classic percussionists, artisans, ex-sand smugglers to interpreters. The indirect benefits of holidays are reaching 63 individuals ranging from toddy tappers (coconut juice), oarsmen, drivers and vendors. Out of the 61 direct beneficiaries, 18 of them are women.

Since it"s difficult to sustain a travel industry business based out of three districts in Kerala, it was decided to offer holidays to other destinations in India which is available from this season onwards. The destinations include Sikkim, Spiti Valley, Karnataka, Sunderbans and Rajasthan. Based on the experiences from Kerala and especially River Nila about product research, implementation and destination management new destination holidays benefit local people socially and economically, and create less environmental impacts.

The above working model assures maximum out reach in short time, and the benefits of holidays to local individuals move from 180 in Kerala to more than 500 individuals in six destinations!

The Blue Yonder has received two highly honourable mentions at the 2007 Cond-© Nast Traveler World Savers Awards and 2006 Responsible Tourism Awards at the World Travel Market in London as a tour operator for using tourism as a tool for poverty reduction and preserving and conserving local culture and tradition.

Blue Yonder Aims are as follows:

* To let the world know about a dying river through travelling community by focusing on its rich cultural richness.

* Document the cultural heritage and richness of the river. Create ownership and pride amongst the local people about the river and its traditions.

* To involve travelers and host in the process documentation of culture and heritage of the river civilization.

* Provide alternative & supplementary sources of income for those people that will help them sustain the rich river valley civilization. This include those people who have limited financial resources and whose knowledge about their traditional way of living (Art forms, rituals, etc) can"t provide any more stable income.

* Use the theme of Responsible tourism to create wealth in those areas we operate and make the travel industry take ownership and responsibility in those areas where they can.

Valere Tjolle
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  • Inspiration for the industry

    I would suggest that any travel organisation seeking to be more responsible and respectful of communities and environments around the world (which should be all of us) take example from and work with The Blue Yonder team. What Gopi, Sandeep and their team have achieved through belief and committment to such strong values is enough to inspire anyone. They are also proof that the concept of positive and responsible tourism is not just possible but also very exciting. Keep up your wonderful work Sally Your Safe Planet

    By Sally Broom, Thursday, January 17, 2008

  • Great to see positive benifits

    It is great to see what can be achieved through thoughtful planning and involving local people, you will find often this help also filters even further out into the local communities than you first see - just think of the locals families, there increased spending power etc: On our local level we are trying to help our endangered native wildlife but predator proof fencing the entire 100acs all self-funded via our tourism accommodation here at Yelverton Brook Eco Spa Retreat & Conservation Sanctuary near Margaret River in Western Australia. We support our local Fauna carers, sponsor a carers award annually at the local agricultural show etc: So as a very small family run business if we can make a difference breeding endangered native wildlife imagine what you can do! Regards Joy p.s. website is

    By retreat, Wednesday, January 16, 2008

  • The benefits of RT

    This is a classic example of how tourism done well can direct affect lives and at the same time promoting tourism and helping economies, both local and national. Kudos, Gopi...

    By Raj Gyawali, Tuesday, January 15, 2008

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