Ecotourism like never before
Entrepreneur Aditi Balbir, aged 42, is nurturing ecotourism through her new age travel solutions company, V Resorts, founded in 2011.
A hospitality management startup, V Resorts, is taking eco-tourism to pristine and offbeat parts of India. A 'V' can stand for many things. For V Resorts, it could mean vacation, valley, village, vintage, vertigo, variety, voyage and most importantly, view. V Resorts is the story of a successful pivot, from a budget accommodation play to a more premium one where experiences hold the key, from an asset-heavy model to a light one.
Ideology behind Ecotourism
The increasing sea levels, melting polar caps, variations in climate patterns, unseasonal rains, cyclones, and other uncommon weather phenomena are indicators that climate change is real and rigorous actions are indispensable. Regular natural disasters call for sustainability to be at the core of human practices.
Since the travel and tourism industry is a significant contributor to global emissions, a sustainable solution for the tourism industry is the adoption of eco-tourism. It basically means responsible travel to natural areas that conserve the environment.
The initial stage of V Resorts
Aditi’s love for travel grew with age and she would often explore unconventional places and connect with locals. She has travelled to more than 50 countries and 200 destinations across the globe. In 2014, she saw that travel solutions companies like AirBnB were doing well, so she decided to invest in a travel company. However, the promoters of the company withdrew and by fortune, Aditi turned from being an investor to spearheading V Resorts.
The primary idea was to imitate AirBnB and create a marketplace for people who had vacation homes in India. However, she quickly realised that the homestays and small boutique places lacked professional management and hence were not very popular. Therefore, it pivoted to becoming a management company that ran and managed experiences for travellers.
At this point, the idea of ecotourism or sustainability was not on her mind.
The present phase of V Resorts
Aditi explains, “Our model of ecotourism took root from our business needs. For example, to ensure permanence, we had to recruit and train locals. We could not have centralised procurement for remote locations and therefore had to procure locally. We had to develop activities and things to do and so we tied up with local entrepreneurs for this. To ensure low costs, we had to revert to ecologically friendly methods for cleaning, waste management, and energy use. This is ecotourism in its purest form because it stems from a business need and is hence sustainable in the long run.”
V Resorts has over 170 properties spread across 20 Indian states and offers experiences in some of the most original and untouched corners of India like Orchha, Ghanerao, Sattal, Kumbhalgarh, Narkanda, Kalagarh, and Kotabagh. Keeping with the values of ecotourism, it employs 90 percent, local staff, ensures 100 percent local procurement, integrates local culture, and brings empowerment to local communities without causing harm to the natural environment.
The effect of COVID-19
Aditi says, “The tourism industry felt the effect of COVID-19 first because suddenly people were growing afraid to travel. The travel industry came to a grinding halt. We have come to a realisation - that we have to live in this new normal and adapt as best as we can.”
Aditi believes that the new normal will bring with it, intensified hygiene practices. Hotel chains have already responded by introducing new hygiene standards. Some have replaced cleaning agents with hospital-grade disinfectants. Thermal checks are likely to be obligatory with sanitisers everywhere. While the focus will be on the needs of customers, hoteliers will also need to protect their staff and the people who come in contact with many guests each day. Personal protective equipment (PPE) might become a necessity too.
V Resorts ensures that at least five percent of their resort staff are women. It expects to increase this number to 10 percent over the next five years. It has also undertaken several initiatives to expand its association with local women communities. For instance, in Sattal, Uttarakhand, it has partnered with a group of village women who make 100 percent natural fruit squash, pickles, spices, and essential oils. These products are sold at Pitara, V Resorts’ souvenir shop. The proceeds go directly to the group of women making the products.
Aditi is a part of The Cherie Blair Foundation, which aims to help women entrepreneurs in developing countries by matching them with mentors who have mounted in similar areas. She has mentored several women in Brazil and Vietnam in the travel and healthcare space.
Having experienced such an inspirational journey, Aditi gives one piece of advice- “Making the shift from being a professional to an entrepreneur, I have learnt that every woman has the potential to make the best of her abilities. So, my only advice to women starting their career is that they must never refrain from taking risks to chase their dreams.”