For a long time when experiential was still not such a widely (mis) used term, destinations were defined by what was popular and promoted extensively. So tourism curation was largely like ‘match the following’ (if you remember this from school); that meant Agra – Taj Mahal, Jaipur – Amber Fort, New Delhi – Red Fort, South – Brihadeeshwara Temple and so on. No, I am not missing the city of Thanjavur (or Tanjore) for the State – it is how tourism played out beyond the golden triangle.
Then experiential hit the itineraries and how! Way before several young, tech savvy, new and articulate individuals came around we promoted a company called Tallis (Circa 2006), a bouquet of curations based on what a visitor to India might want to experience. They began with a list of experts and then together with RARE visited agency offices to help curate their experiences. I think this was well before their time, Tallis decoded Benares for you or curated a Tantric Art Immersion, or meeting of minds for high profile visitors, small curated walks into old Delhi, a private meal within its curious lanes, home cooking and conversations. This was mostly centred around destinations where the tourist had already firmly footprinted themselves. What Tallis did was not only unleash a potential business idea to benefit the industry, they gave R&D a position in organisations, something now essential for innovation. This brain child of a brilliant colleague from the industry also put responsibility and detail onto the agencies who wanted these curations. Curtailing numbers and briefing client behaviour was also a part of the what Tallis brought to the industry, and this is where the Sensitive part comes into the programs.
Now, move this immersion bit away from the cities into remote locations that RARE usually promotes, we are looking at smaller number of experiences but experiences that are natural and not really showcased for the traveller. You saw an artist or craft person at work, a potter going about his day, men and women in the fields, communities celebrating, schools in session, nature walks, home cooking in what would be their natural living. What sensitive destination discovery would look like in these cases would be a certain humility when peeking into the lives of communities. It is their space, seeking permission before take a portrait shot of people, being modestly clothed when walking through villages, understanding their lives and traditions without judgement. Much of the subcontinent’s real life is lived in the rural areas, what constant exposure on social media can do to this idyll would be something to think about. Textiles, performing arts, farming, crafts and local traditions curated through story tellers, visiting markets are great insights for practitioners of mindful and transformational travel – it is both humbling and enabling, hence creating value all around.
Another issue constantly being brought to light as more and more people curate mindfully is the ubiquitous ‘school visit’ – what value does it provide children besides a disrupted class. Also what are the experiences you would include in your program during your stay in an off-beat location – the hotel usually curates short walks and rides to understand the destination better. Again on wildlife programs, how you treat the jungle safari is an indication of the kind of tourism you would like to partake in. Walks and excursions to understand forests and the challenges of the communities living in the villages around are great ways to engage and understand the ecology of the region and the challenges faced by conservationists.
Paying attention to crafts of the region and initiatives to engage with the community and organisations working for their benefit give travellers a deeper understanding of their chosen destination. Sensitive destination discovery nudges your curiosity, builds trust, creates lasting memories while ensuring travellers participate in creating value for the community as well as the destination. The reason why tourism should be propagated in the first place, despite it’s obvious carbon footprint.