Raashi Anand, Founder of the NGO, Lakshyam, had launched a volunteer tourism company, Travel4Change, to support her NGO activities. Travel4Change promotes a combination of volunteer programs and immersive travel packages with a social cause to deliver benefits of tourism to the needy communities in five Indian states. ETTravelWorld spoke to her to understand the concept of volunteer tourism and its involvement in Indian tourism.
ETTravelWorld (ETTW): When did Travel4Change start and how has the journey been so far?
Raashi Anand (RA): Travel4 Change was formed as a separate entity in 2019 , prior to that it was under Lakshyam NGO as a program. As volunteer tourism is still not very structured in India, the USP we have is there is no middle agency which is connecting the NGO partners with travellers so that fees part is skipped and we are more budgeted. To add on the onground tie ups with NGOs the actual onground experience is something that travellers are very satisfied with as they see the impact of their skills and time being channelised properly.
ETTW: How volunteer tourism as a concept is gaining ground in India as it is largely a Western concept?
RA:Volunteer Tourism concept is still a very new concept in India. But our youth have become more conscious now than ever about Volunteer tourism. Most of our travellers were from different countries earlier. But post pandemic, looking at the travel trend, we feel that it will be more of domestic travelling. We are expecting more Indians to travel exploring options of travelling with a difference.
ETTW: How do you link your activities with the mainstream tourism industry so that volunteering is incorporated into the packages of mainstream travel companies?
RA: We have multiple options to choose for the volunteer programs with minimum commitment of 4 days to maximum 4 months. To integrate with mainstream travel industry trends, we have also launched social experiences workshops which are for 3 hours. Lot of time we see travellers who want to experience and bring a change, but time becomes a constraint. So they can choose one of the social experiences and be part of the change. We can customise our programmes based on the time available in such cases.
For example, we have an experience of ‘Cooking a meal in mitti ka chulha’ wherein a traveller first goes to woods to find wood sticks, then with our Didi cooks on a mud burner traditional style thick roti & spicy chutney. Along with locals they sit & enjoy the meal with drums played by the community people. The cost of experience is Rs 5000 wherein through this they are providing food to one family for 15 days. Similar integrations have been designed to make it part of the mainstream tourism industry.
ETTW: How are mainstream travel companies responding to the concept?
RA: We have tied up with a few partners like Poshtel in Hauz khas Village , AirBnb properties hosted by Nalin Jha, etc. They understood our concept and were aligned with us , as it’s a win-win for both the main travel companies and the NGOs. We get travellers from varied backgrounds, and we have to give them options from Budget to luxury so that they can choose from the platter. Similarly, we have tied up with caravan & bikers groups so that can include such initiatives to their programmes.
ETTW: What is your volunteer base in India? What are the different activities that your volunteers like to associate with?
RA: In India it’s majorly students and young professionals who take up volunteer programs in different areas. In Delhi, the volunteer base starts from students of age 15 years to professionals up to 60 years. Volunteers from abroad include student groups, people belonging to different organisations to individuals who travel to explore India and volunteer at different parts. The activities they choose are teaching, workshops around health and hygiene, sustainable living, such as cooking a meal in a mud burner; converting waste materials into souvenirs, spending a day in an animal farm.
ETTW: How do you make sure the benefits of tourism reach the needy communities and work as a driver of the rural economy? How do you quantify the benefits?
RA: We ensure that the benefits of volunteer tourism are directly provided to the people and the community. Also, 40% of direct profit goes to Lakshyam NGO to sustain its programmes of Child welfare & development. The whole model was developed as a social venture for Lakshyam NGO to make the NGO self sustainable , so that the good work can be carried out regardless of whether we have donors or not. For instance, during this pandemic our support base was reduced by 80% and it was very difficult to run the programmes.
ETTW: What are your expansion plans in terms of your activities and partnership with NGOs ?
RA: As of now, we are offering the volunteer tourism options in 6 states with our partner NGOs. Once these programmes become fully operational, we explore opportunities in other states. Our target is to focus at least 5 new states every year and work with select NGOs there.