Homestays of India: Vinod Verma
Connecting with rural lifestyle is not an easy task for someone who just landed in an unknown rural village. The villagers themselves don’t know how to respond to this unknown entity and rising demand. The man who realized this issue and then actually came forward to build a bridge between this demand and supply was – Vinod Verma.
Tourism Impacts Economy
Tourism is an economic activity which has gained immense global importance especially in terms of generating employment and revenue and thus facilitating overall development.
The travel and tourism in India contributes 11% to the total world GDP, and has grown to be a largest source of income to the individuals and government.
Many new tourism concepts have developed like rural tourism, medical tourism, heritage tourism, wildlife tourism, adventure tourism, Religious tourism, sports tourism, slum tourism, monsoon tourism(Kerala), fort tourism, architecture tourism, and so on, which have evolved either out of choice or out of curiosity.
One which is gaining popularity is “Rural Tourism”. “India lives in villages”. Reality is that India’s greatest potential lies in its villages, comprising 70% of total population living in rural areas.
Growth Of Rural Tourism
The main reason for this shift towards Rural Tourism, is the hectic life of the city dwellers, the pressures, the commercial lifestyles, concrete jungles, disconnect from nature etc which has forced them to find places to detox. A place where they can reconnect, rejuvenate, recharge. The hunt for this contentment has landed them in the lap of rural atmosphere in the midst of nature’s beauty, hospitality and simple life style.
What does a tourist need the most when he finally reaches a beautiful village located in the midst of the Himalayas or by the side of the Ganges…a warm bed, clean washroom and soul food!!!
Majority villages in India don’t have decent accommodation or hotels…Getting a room in some local villager’s home is the only option.
And thus, developed the concept of a Homestay.
Simple explanation – a Homestay is a place where you get a room in someone’s own home. You live with them like a family guest, have your meals with them, help them in their chores and understand their culture, heritage, local language and cuisine and get closely connected to mother Earth and your roots.
“In a world full of game players, the only way to set yourself apart is to be a game changer.” And Vinod was a true game changer and a visionary.
A visionary is someone who can see the future. That doesn’t come from daydreams, but it comes from knowing the market, knowing your country and the people really well and knowing where they’re going to be tomorrow.
Vinod knew that developing Homestays was the best way to connect the urban with the rural and encourage responsible tourism.
How The Journey Began
Vinod was born in a small village of Haryana. He was always different from the rest of his family. His father never understood why he wanted to learn Russian language, horse riding or become a travel photographer.
As a child, his first dream was to join the Indian Army but wasn’t allowed. He then got admission in the Russian Culture Center in the Advance Diploma Course and secured a great future. But the Soviet Union collapsed. So, getting a job at the Travel Desk of Hotel Hyatt Regency became the best option and he enjoyed a life full of excitement and glamor. Though it was a hectic job, whenever he was free, he read travel books and magazines. He used to collect postcards, coins and stamps from across the world. Eventually travel became his lifeline.
The Turning Point
Vinod says- “It was 2003. Mr Mahendra Goyal from the Indian Parliament invited me on probably the first organized two-wheeler ride to Ladakh. By then Ladakh did not exist on Indian tourist maps. I gave my consent without a second thought and applied for 15 days leave which was rejected in the first place. I thought the management would respect my 7year’s hard work but they did not. I simply packed my bags and kicked off to Ladakh. That ride was a drastic turning point of my life. Standing on a snow-covered land of the Khardungla Pass, I swore, I am not going back to my hotel job. I looked around the mighty mountains and decided, this is my new workplace.”
Passion for Photography Opened More Doors
That was the beginning of his passion for photography. Now he is working with the most reputed travel magazines and travel guide publishers. Some of his most popular travel guides, published by Eicher GoodEarth are, “Buddhist Trail in Ladakh”, “Brajbhoomi: Krishna’s Playground”, and “Shimla and its Heritage”.
During a self-project, a coffee table book on Pushkar, he met Shailza Sood Dasgupta. She was a very enthusiastic travel blogger with a poetic mind-set. Having common interest in travel business they formed ‘Indian Terrains’, a road trip company in 2010.
Now another turning point of his life was around the corner.
Vinod enthusiastically narrates,” We were on a road trip to Spiti and staying at the only homestay at Mud, where the road ends. 7.30 pm, it was already dark, and three Canadian tourists came begging for a place to sleep. It was freezing cold and they had nowhere they could go for shelter.”
Vinod himself had experienced such situations during his photography shoots in remote places and his heart melted. He requested the Homestay owner to let them sleep in his room. On inquiring why, they did not make stay arrangements in advance, they explained that there was no way to book any homestay in these remote places. Further, the owner shared his problems of not getting customers on a regular basis. Because there was no way tourists could contact them to book. He innocently replied, “jaise aap har saal aa jatey hain, aise he sab log aate hain”. He said, “Sir, yahan to aise he chalta hai”. His last sentence stuck in Vinod’s mind. The entire tourism in Spiti aise hi chal raha hai?
The seed of an idea was laid, to help these homestay owners and the tourist. Vision is the art of seeing what is invisible to others. And Vinod could see the ray of light in this forbidden land. Having strong leadership skills, he had the capacity to translate vision into reality. Vision without action is merely a dream. And Vinod got into action mode.
Homestays of India- HOI
They came back to Delhi with a new mission; “to organize this unorganized sector of homestay”.
Living in Urban city, they did not have enough data about how the Homestays were actually operating In India. They had to innovate and find solutions. Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower. They traveled across the country to understand the concept, collecting data and photos for 3 years. They created a FaceBook group which was highly appreciated. They knew by then they were on the right track which pushed them to form ‘Homestays of India’- HOI and launched their website in 2017 with just 5 homestays in Spiti.
No new venture is easy to start. Struggles are a part and parcel of the package, but the ones who don’t give up, ultimately succeed.
”1. When we started, homestays were not as popular as today. It was always the last, cheap option to stay, mainly used by backpackers. So, there was limited target clientele.
2. Running a homestay was only a part time job for the owners. They never tried to run it professionally. We had to educate them to keep their place cleaner n tidy, how to set the daily food menu, share their knowledge about the place and culture with their guests and guide them to roam around.
3. Since homestay was a new idea, it was very crucial to find a like minded and skilled team. We had to train them from the scratch.
4. Many times we had to invest to improve the basic infrastructure of homestays from our limited funds. We already had huge expenses to meet like traveling, training and marketing.”
Things work out best for those who make the best of how things work out.
However difficult life may have seemed to Vinod, there was always something he found which he could do and succeed at. Their positive action combined with positive thinking resulted in success.
In just 3 years of inception, ‘Homestays of India’ has become the pioneer of the homestay industry. Today they are present in 24 states of India with above 300 authentic family run homestays. They have created the biggest network of homestays in the remotest part of Ladakh & Lahaul-Spiti and made them available online. After all this was their prime goal.
Their condition for registration of the Homestay was that it must be run by the owner himself and his family. They rejected all those which are commercially run by representatives or managers while owners live in cities or have multiple properties. They sacrificed a lot of revenue following their ethics.
They exist now in most states of India and have helped in providing employment to hundreds and made financially stable. Along with homestays, the neighbouring area also develops and tourist start visiting more often. The local markets flourish as tourist shop often. The local dhabas also grow to provide local meals. Transport facilities improve and more employment options emerge. When the standard of living improves, levels of education and awareness also improve. Tourist belonging to cities often help to guide the local villagers in solving environmental issues. All this indirectly helps development and growth. Thanks to HOI, tourism has made a huge shift towards a better India. Many Tourism boards and government bodies approach them for advice and guidance regarding rural development and hopefully more would join them.
Vinod does not want to stop here. He would like HOI to become the largest Indian platform to provide authentic homestay experience, support local livelihood and sustainable tourism.
HOI On Responsible Tourism
HOI focuses on promoting responsible tourism. “If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.”
Responsible Tourism requires that operators, hoteliers, governments, local people and tourists take responsibility, take action to make tourism more sustainable and HOI endorses that.
Sustainable tourism should minimize negative social, economic and environmental impacts. It should generate greater economic benefits for local people and enhances the well-being of host communities. It should involve local people in decisions that affect their lives and life chances.
Apart from getting the Homestays on an online platform, Vinod and Shailza also got into many social initiatives to help uplift the local communities.
Sehat ki Shala – collaboration with Humjoli Foundation, through which they spread awareness about menstrual health among adolescent girls.
Stop Migration – Due to lack of roads, education and medical facilities, migration has become one of the biggest issues in the Hill States. They are helping young entrepreneurs in developing homestays. All of them are doing very well and don’t intend to work in cities anymore. Mirai Village Homestay is one good example.
Women Empowerment – 65% of their homestays are run by women. It gives them an immense feeling of self-respect. Beena Dangwal the owner of Sunkiya Homestay became Sarpanch of her village after 2 years of exposure.
Skill Development – Since locals know their region best, they train small groups of youngsters in guiding the customers for local sightseeing, trails and birding. They also do photography workshops from time to time.
They have adopted the village Sunkiya near Mukteshwar and aim to convert it into an Art Village. It will be a model village and others can learn and do the same.
The best way to not feel hopeless is to get up and do something. Don’t wait for good things to happen to you. If you go out and make some good things happen, you will fill the world with hope, you will fill yourself with hope.
— Barack Obama, 44th president of the United States
This is exactly what Vinod Verma did- and today, he has provided hope to hundreds of families to live a better life and given an opportunity to genuine tourist to travel responsibly. – A true son of India.
Team NomadLawyer salutes Homestays of India and Vinod Verma for taking the effort in connecting India through Homestays.
CEO & Co-founder
Shailza Sood Dasgupta
Director & Co-founder
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