Village Ways

Village Ways shows how sustainable tourism can bring new life and optimism to remote communities threatened by a lack of economic opportunity and the migration of young villagers. It all came about through the conversations of hotelier Himanshu Pande with rural development friends about concerns for the future of the local Himalayan communities. An India-based enterprise was set up around a team formed of development and rural tourism specialists including Richard Hearn, the founder of Inntravel, with whom we are delighted to be working.
The first areas to benefit from Village Ways’ help were the Binsar Wildlife Sanctuary and Saryu Valley in 2007. The financial support and tourism expertise they received enabled villagers to build and manage authentic guesthouses in the heart of their communities. Some were trained in the skills of housekeeping and hospitality, and as English-speaking guides who share their knowledge and passion for their community and introduce visitors to the people they meet during their stay.
Village Ways then went on to help communities in other parts of India, namely the deserts of Rajasthan, the spice hills of Hulgol in Karnataka and the backwaters of Kerala. Again, they are working with remote villages and using local knowledge and skills to create sustainable enterprises which provide social, economic and environmental benefits where they are needed most, and which promote cultural understanding by encouraging guests to participate in daily village life.
Most recently, in 2013, Village Ways teamed up with the Sailung region of Nepal, in the hope of halting the flow of local people heading abroad in search of work.
PUTTING THE VILLAGERS IN CONTROL
All the accommodation, whether a guesthouse, a village roundhouse, a tented camp or a kettuvallam (boat), is owned by the communities (in India, these were funded through a 40% grant and 60% loan provided by Village Ways; in Nepal, where Village Ways has set up an NGO to work with the communities on its behalf, a 100% grant was provided). Each is managed by a locally elected Village Tourism Committee, which is responsible for cleaning and maintenance, catering for guests using ingredients sourced from nearby villages, as well as training and providing staff.
The Committees distribute the funds earned from guest income; this is used to pay wages and rent for the site, as well as repayment of the building loan (in India) or building maintenance contributions (in Nepal). By enjoying your holiday in these beguiling regions, you are helping to create employment opportunities that simply did not exist beforehand, in communities whose young population can be sustained, rather than dwindling away, as over previous years.
HOW THE CONCEPT WORKS
Cooks, porters and housekeepers – and boat crew in Kerala – have all been drawn from within the communities and training undertaken with great purpose. Their tasks are carried out with great pride and shared in rotation. In India, a wider Village Ways Trust has been set up to help fund development ideas and income streams for outlying villages, to ensure that they are not excluded from the positive impact their neighbours are enjoying. Such initiatives have included the purchase of sewing machines for the manufacture and export of locally produced bags and other crafts. In Nepal, the NGO will similarly promote local enterprises, as well as developing educational opportunities.
Local people regard it as a great privilege to be selected as guides, as they receive training from Village Ways in skills such as hospitality and conversational English. Santosh Joshi, a guide from Dalar in the Binsar Sanctuary, explains: “In 2007, I joined Village Ways because it is a sustainable tourism project that involves everyone from the villages with equally shared benefits, and I am now able to live in the family home.”
AN AWARD-WINNING SCHEME
Village Ways has won international acclaim and several high-profile awards since its inception. In 2013 it was judged ‘Best for the Local Economy’ at the World Responsible Tourism Awards, as well as being shortlisted for the Observer Ethical Awards.