Updated: Jan 27
The World Tourism organisation notes that within the next 5 to 10 years, tourists are expected to seek more and more products to experience rural India. So, it will not be surprising to see rural tourism stumping up a huge chunk to the country’s earnings.
Most of the people residing in metropolitan and urban spaces tend to lead very fast-paced lives. From attempting to avoid traffic snarls, rushing to work everyday, meandering through crowded junctions to puffing amidst all the pollution, they are generally more susceptible to stress. Hence, many feel the need to escape the hustle and bustle of city life at least once in a while.
Well, one of the best ways to go off the grid is to take a vacation. While going to a hill station or seaside locality or staying at a luxury boutique hotel is a customary trend, a lot of individuals are choosing to explore rural India.
Considered the heartland of the country, villages bring people closer to nature. Where else is it easy to spot chirping birds, open spaces and beautiful views? That’s not all. Since rural India is the hub of craft, culture and cuisine, the experience of travelling in and around is in itself enriching. Rural tourism includes, but is not limited to eco-tourism, tribal tourism, cultural tourism, adventure tourism and wildlife tourism.
In 2020, the travel and tourism industry's contribution to the GDP of India was US$ 121.9 billion and this is expected to reach US$ 512 billion by 2028. The World Tourism organisation further notes that within the next 5 to 10 years, tourists are expected to seek more and more products to experience rural India. So, it will not be surprising to see rural tourism stumping up a huge chunk to the country’s earnings.
The case of Rajasthan
Rajasthan is a state which is known for its ancient forts, heritage hotels, extravagant colours and eccentric art forms. In the year 2019, approximately 52 million domestic tourists and 1.6 million foreign tourists arrived in the state. But, the ethos of the state can be best understood in its villages. From spotting animals at Bishnoi, riding through the sand dunes at Khimsar to visiting the local markets at Chandelao, there is a lot to catch sight of in rural Rajasthan.
With a view to promote rural tourism, the state tourism department is working on a new policy. The draft of the Rajasthan Tourism Promotion Scheme consists of a slew of proposals to set up parks, guest houses, agro-tourism sites, camping sites and places of stay. The guest houses are intended to provide accommodation and food for tourists. The agro-tourism units and camping sites are mainly for them to witness and experience farmland activities like animal husbandry, cultivation, livestock and gardens. The caravan parks are meant to serve as parking spaces and also double up as eateries.
Well, there is a small catch to this. All these infrastructural facilities will be allowed only on a road of at least 10 feet wide.
In an interview with Outlook Traveller, Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot said that the main objective of the policy is to promote Rajasthan as a leading tourism destination in national and international markets. “We seek to strengthen and diversify existing tourism products and offer innovative tourism products and services with a focus on experiential tourism. We want to promote lesser-known destinations, especially in rural areas. For that, we plan to improve the road, rail and air connectivity of tourist destinations and expand infrastructure,” he said.
The tourism sector was one of the worst affected due to the COVID-19 pandemic across India, including the state of Rajasthan. So, the Rajasthan Tourism Promotion Scheme is seen as an attempt to not only enrich the experiences of tourists, but also enhance the livelihoods of the residents located in villages.
“We have observed that tourists visiting Rajasthan are preferring to stay at places which are a bit far from the city. They tend to feel safer in secluded places. The heritage as well as art and craft in villages are distinctive in itself. The state tourism department is already working with UNESCO to integrate many villages with rich cultural traditions with the travel trade,” the CM added.
Initiatives by the Tourism Ministry
Several states and regions in the country have been putting in an effort to highlight the culture, tradition, artisanship and resources in villages. Whether it is sleeping under the stars on charpoys at Hodka in Kutch, going on tractor rides in Punjab or staying in cottages in Uttarakhand’s Nag Tibba, there are many places that reverberate the rustic spirit.
The Ministry of Tourism recently launched the Swadesh Darshan Scheme for Integrated Development which focuses on 15 Tourist Circuits which also includes a Rural Circuit. As a whole, the scheme covers the development of tourism infrastructure including last mile connectivity across rural areas in India.
The ministry has also sanctioned two projects amounting to Rs 125.02 crores for the development of rural circuits at the Bhitiharwa - Chandrahia - Turkaulia stretch in Bihar and the Malanad Malabar Cruise in Kerala. In addition to this, it introduced a National Tourism Award in the category of ‘Best Rural/Agri/Plantation Tourism Projects’ to encourage stakeholders in the rural tourism space.
The ministry has identified six pillars as part of its Draft Strategy for Rural Tourism (June 2021) which includes - (i) the benchmarking of state policies and best practices (ii) digital technologies and platforms for rural tourism (iii) developing clusters for rural tourism (iv) marketing support for rural tourism (v) capacity building of stakeholders (vi) governance and institutional framework.
A representative from the Ministry of Tourism told Cityscope, "We will work towards implementing the draft strategy for rural tourism as soon as possible. The ministry is also planning to launch a centrally sponsored rural tourism scheme in the near future."
The Ministry of Rural Development has informed that under the Shyama Prasad Mukherji Rurban Mission (SPMRM) 300 rurban village clusters are being developed across the 28 States and 8 Union Territories. Out of these, 67 of them are meant for tourism related activities.
Exploring the potential
Realising the popularity of rural tourism, a number of travel companies are offering curated tour packages for people to sink into rustic surroundings. Some of the most prominent ones include Cityscope, Village Ways, Tons Trails, Holidays in Rural India and Himalayan Ark. In Decemeber 2021, even the hospitality unicorn OYO's founder Ritesh Agarwal said that creating more agri-stays in rural areas will be a key opportunity to be unlocked.
Oyo has now piloted agri-farm stays in Kevadia and Gujarat and garnered positive feedback from both guests and farmers.
Chhotaram Prajapat is an artist located in a small village called Salawas, about 22 kilometres from Jodhpur. His main sources of income not only emanate from carpet making and interlock weaving, but also from running a small homestay in his backyard.
“It all started when a British couple who wanted to buy some carpets visited us. After the purchase, they requested us to let them stay over at our place. And, we did. They loved the experience of residing in rustic surroundings and hence began recommending it to others,” recalls Prajapat.
Subsequently, Prajapat built a few eco-friendly mud cottages in his backyard and began to charge guests for the stay as well as for the pure vegetarian wood-fire cooked meals.
The homestay offered by Prajapat
“There is a lot of demand for rural experiences. It helps people break away from the daily humdrum of life and connect withe nature. Individuals, especially from other countries, are keen to learn about the culture and tradition of people in villages. This gives them an opportunity to do that,” he adds.
Well, besides all this rural tourism has immense potential to generate employment for the villagers and ensure they earn a sustainable income. The avenues are plenty here - travel guidance, food and beverage service, housekeeping, hospitality and bakery and patisserie.
Restaurants and eateries, self help groups, resorts and hotels, non-governmental organisations and tourism authorities are a few of the most common entities through which rural folk get gainfully employed.
The India Brand Equity Foundation report states, ‘Rural tourism can benefit the local communities economically and socially and facilitate interaction between tourists and locals for a mutually enriching experience.’
Most importantly, developing and promoting local products through tourism can empower local communities and take the country closer to fulfilling the vision of Aatmanirbhar Bharat.
Challenges along the way
Some individuals residing in rural areas are known to be less involved in showcasing their culture and heritage in front of tourists. They are not fully aware of the potential rural tourism holds.
Another major challenge is to do with the facilities. The absence of proper modes of transportation, lack of infrastructure and lodging, inconsistent electricity, and telecommunication issues tend to hinder people from visiting villages. Inadequacy of trained personnel to deliver quality services is also a matter of concern in many cases.
More often than not, tourism tends to put pressure on natural resources. A few common issues are misuse of land, increased pollution, loss of natural habitat, and pressure on animal life, especially the endangered species. Hence, ensuring that tourism products are environmentally sustainable and properly planned so that resources are utilised in a balanced way is imperative.
Some resources to help you understand the potential of rural tourism in India: