Not all those who wander are lost. They might be Travelers!
Travel has always been a source of unique life experiences for people. Tourism has emerged as one of the key drivers of growth across global economies. But as the travel industry evolves, there arises a significant need for keeping in mind the aspect of ‘ethics’ in travel. It’s time we see traveling beyond the annual family trips, confined by travel agents and carefully indented itineraries.
OneShoe Travel Trust for Responsible and Mindful traveling was founded to work at the crossroads of environmental and social awareness on one hand and people’s love for traveling on the other. Everybody loves to travel but it’s also the travelers’ responsibility to protect our home, and our planet. Follow our conversation with Ansoo Gupta, to know how OneShoe Travels engages with travelers to introduce them to a world of more mindful travel experiences, teach and guide them how to travel differently and consciously.
We Are Not A Travel Company.
It all started with my passion for traveling. I have traveled to approximately 90 countries now and covered the length and breadth of India barring a few states. Every region has its own culture and unique aspects to it. Traveling even to the same places is a different experience for each one of us.
Right from the beginning, the goal of my traveling is to find the essence of the place. When I went to France for the first time around 20 years back, I knew it wasn’t just about Paris. My focus was to try and include small villages which are not even on the tourist map just to get close to nature and culture.
When you visit a village which is far away from the main city, not only do you get to see nature, but also get to witness the actual lifestyles, and culture of people. That has been my style of traveling, there was no label to it.
In India, the initial traveling scene majorly involved annual family trips as most people lived in joint families. Cultural elements were a part of our daily lives but as lives urbanized, everything became homogenized. We started losing touch with our culture and heritage.
Since we were not traveling so much, there was nothing called ‘unsustainable tourism’ but as the traveling scene evolved, the carbon footprint of travelers also increased. To bring about a change, would require going beyond people’s mindsets in place.
For me, culture and sustainability go hand in hand. The culture of a place is deeply influenced by its ecology of the place. What happens in the environment along with the people is what actually creates the culture
Somewhere between 2011 and 2012, the travel scene really started exploding around the world. This is when MakeMyTrip, Skyscanner, etc. started coming into the picture and travel became easier and cheaper. I could book my travel arrangements when I went from my home to the office. I used to travel a lot even with a regular office. This made people curious.
I started writing and talking about it. I started sharing my travel hacks, tips, and tricks with people as workshops. From 2012 to 2018, I conducted workshops all over the country – Delhi, Bombay, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Raipur, Indore, and Calcutta. You name it and the workshops were happening there. People attended in high numbers just to know how to integrate travel into their lifestyle, without waiting for one or two annual trips. How to maintain a healthy Work-Life-Travel Balance.
It’s all about OUR PLANET!
I noticed that after the travel scene exploded, some of the major tourist destinations were crumbling under tourism pressure. For ecologically fragile places like Goa and Leh, the pressure became immense. The same went for places like the Taj Mahal in Agra.
These places not only got affected ecologically which brings in the sustainability angle but the local culture was also getting impacted.
In Leh, they started serving aloo parathas because the travelers want to eat whatever they wish – Parathas, Dosas, Idlis and the list goes on. To cater to these tourists, Ladakhis whose original food habits are very simple because nothing really grows in the cold desert, face immense ecological and cultural pressure from the travelers. The local population had actually started protesting against tourists and over tourism in Shimla, Agra, Venice, Barcelona, Croatia, Hawaii and a lot of more such popular places.
Even in Shimla, during one of the summers, there was a drought. And the locals protested against tourists. The hotels have to provide water supply to the tourists round the clock. This is why the people of Shimla were trying to dissuade travelers from visiting.
It dawned on me that while we’re wanting to boost travel and the economy subsequently, there’s something fundamentally very wrong. We were killing the places we like by traveling.
I started pondering the thought of promoting sustainable tourism or rather a sustainable lifestyle. It required a mindset change. That is when I floated this company called the OneShoe Travel Trust to promote responsible tourism.
Taking the Road Less Traveled By
I always shared the authentic style of traveling which has been my personal style forever. Settling the big debate between who’s a tourist and a traveler. My idea is to call yourself whatever you want, but there’s always a better way of traveling which allows you to connect with the land and culture.
You can call it Backpacking, or Budget Travel, or you can do it in the form of luxury travel, that does not matter. The mindset is most important. So I talked about and promoted the real traveler’s mindset to educate travelers about traveling better and use it as a means to bring a positive change in the world.
OneShoe Travel Fair
Our signature event is the OneShoe Travel Fair which is a two-day showcase of the best and most ethical travel options available for travelers. This event is done in collaboration with the Indian government and large media houses and garners a huge footfall over the two days.
OneShoe Travel Fair is a platform where travelers will find a new way to travel – that helps our planet at large. We are not a travel company and offer no packages or deals. We want to protect the destinations we all love and ensure that they are happy and healthy for generations to come.
Packed with leading and independent travel solution providers who promote and practice responsible tourism, national and international tourism boards, cultural performances, and information about off-beat destinations. This fair promises to be the mecca for people who love to travel.
The fair was first held in 2018 before covid hit us. It was organized in April at Ambience Mall, Gurgaon. The footfall was over 60,000 people. It was India’s first travel fair with a conscience. We hope to bring it back soon.
Responsibility and Mindfulness
Responsibility and Mindfulness are two significant aspects of traveling. But if you’re visiting a place for 3-4 days, it is difficult to start feeling responsible for that place. Responsibility comes when you try to know a place and appreciate it for all it has to offer- its place in history and the role it plays in the lives of people. Once there’s a connection, one starts to care about the place automatically. It is coupled with mindfulness – when a traveler visits with an open mind and does not just stick to an itinerary. It is about a mindset to develop a deeper connection with the place through culture, food, and slow travel.
My communication was always B2C. There are a lot of agents involved in the tourism industry – online and offline. So most of the time big corporations end up speaking to these travel agents instead of the customer directly. Since a major chunk of business comes from these agents, most of the communication is B2B. Behind keeping my communication B2C was the goal of making every traveler in India a responsible one.
Today’s generation knows nothing about our villages. In 2019, OneShoe started a responsible rural tourism program ‘ Green Footprints’. The city folks who love to spend weekends in the pristine surroundings of villages near the city of Bombay, not only get a weekend getaway but also get to connect with local people, and local government, eat locally grown food and also contribute to local issues first hand such as cleanups, participating in local schools, etc. This way they are not merely tourists but active contributors as well. This travel experience is more fulfilling – both for the destination and for the traveler and is the true essence of OneShoe’s mission.
In Bombay, we started doing Bandra walks- where we took people to old villas and churches. Even people living in Bandra don’t know about its rich 400-year-old history. We wanted people to see and know Bandra beyond the Fort and Mount Mary Church. To see how Portuguese life amalgamated with the British ways to evolve into the way it is today. The plan was to start such walks in and around Delhi and Bangalore, which is when the Pandemic hit. And it all came to a grinding halt.
Battling the Pandemic – Keeping the Mission Alive
By the end of 2019, the travel scene stopped completely. For the first 6-8 months, we didn’t know what to do. But we were lucky enough to get selected by NSRCEL – IIM Bangalore for entrepreneurship incubation. It was easier for me to attend and participate since they were doing it online. As a result, we got a direction for our passion. It started taking the shape of a business.
One of the things that our mentors continued to push us on was the fact that you can’t sit quietly because it’s a pandemic. What is it that you’ll do to keep your mission alive? What innovation can you bring to the table?
The things that kept coming up were VR Travel and Armchair Travel but I was never inclined towards them. It did not sound real and there’s already enough content available on the internet. I had to work very hard with my team to think of something with which we are also happy and it solves our problem as well.
So the first thing we decided was to keep our focus on India. We knew that travel could open and shut anytime. People would be more comfortable traveling domestically than internationally. India is a hotspot of a million cultures waiting to be explored. People only know its diversity only superficially. We decided to highlight our ‘Know Before You Go’ mission.
If we take up the case of Hampi – People come to visit the heritage town from all around the world. Indians have started discovering the place recently. Our idea was how is it that you are already armed with knowledge and appreciation for the place. You’re not just going for a trip. When you possess such knowledge beforehand, your perspective changes. The connection to the place is different. The eyes with which you see things change drastically.
The Culture Box
We decided to do thorough research and then came up with the idea of creating a package on a state basis. For example, if it’s Karnataka, what are the things I could tell you about the place? The package contains a multi-sensory experience. It would connect you to the smell of Karnataka – using Sandalwood. We incorporated respective food elements, masalas, Amar Chitra Kathas, pieces of clothing, musical instruments, etc.
It was basically designed to contain anything and everything that would bring you closer to the place and develop a connection even before you visit it. We did it for the states of Maharashtra, Karnataka, Gujarat, etc. It was targeted towards children, to use as souvenirs and for business and personal gifting.
The purpose is still the same. To help you connect better.
We are getting back to workshops and events gradually as the travel scene reopens. We have also planned to introduce cultural exhibitions. At the crux of it is traveling better. The idea is behavioral change and not just business.
NICEorg wishes OneShoe Travels the best of luck in its journey ahead!