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ECOCLUB, Issue 94
            
5
THE ECOCLUB INTERVIEW
GOPINATH PARAYIL
"Small-scale tourism projects in consultation with local communities should be the
mainstay in development"
Gopinath Parayil is the founder of award-winning The Blue Yonder, a 'responsible
travel' company based in Bangalore, India. Before setting up The Blue Yonder,
Gopinath worked with software companies, NGOs and consulted in Disaster
Management. After leaving his job as a professional fundraiser for a Children's NGO
in the UK, he pursued his passion for a dying river in Kerala leading to the formation
of Nila Foundation. Seeing the potential of positive changes that Tourism can bring
in the lives of people along the banks of River Nila, Gopinath kick-started the
movement of Responsible Tourism in India.
The recipient of First Choice Responsible Tourism Award for Poverty reduction at
the World Travel Market 2006 in London, The Blue Yonder (Web:
www.theblueyonder.com) was set up in 2003 to support the work of Nila
Foundation. The Nila Foundation had been set up to revive and regenerate a dying
river, Bharatapuzha (River Nila) in Kerala. Initially started as a project in North
Kerala, surrounding River Nila, The Blue Yonder (TBY) organises tours that give in-
depth understanding of the river culture and which provide alternative and
supplementary sources of income for various communities. The TBY model is now
being implemented in six other Indian states: Rajasthan, Karnataka, Sikkim, Orissa,
Himachal Pradesh and Uttaranchal.
The Interview follows:
ECOCLUB.com: What was it that first attracted you to Ecotourism and Responsible Tourism? 
Gopinath Parayil: When we set up Nila Foundation to do research on river conservation, we were definite that we would not
depend on funding agencies to sustain the functions of the organisation. We didn't want our dreams to be dictated by some
insensitive funding agency. So it was while looking for a sustainable funding support for the Nila Foundation activities, that we
started exploring the options of using tourism as a tool for generating income for the foundation. This was also an opportunity
for us to tell the world about a dying river that was once the life line of Kerala with its contribution to a unique river valley
civilization. Since the central theme of our holidays were initially surrounding the sadly depleted river, it only made sense for us
to introduce a travel culture that was sensitive to the local surroundings; including our people and the environment in which they
lived. 
ECOCLUB.com: Your company was set up with the concept of Corporate Social Responsibility from scratch. How
would you define CSR in theory, and what does it mean for your company in practice?
Gopinath Parayil: CSR is one of the many abused terms similar to the green washing that has happened in the travel industry
in the name of eco tourism. For us, CSR is not about PR exercise. Nor is it about just sharing a bit of profit that you make out of
your business to make one look 'balanced' or 'just'. 
As I mentioned earlier, the work we are doing came out of our
'responsibility' to our surroundings. Tourism was only one of the several elements that came into the broader frame work of our
CSR. It was out of our 'responsibility' that we decided to set up Nila Foundation to do our bit to preserve and revive a dying
river and its cultural ethos.  While the initial objective of The Blue Yonder was to be of a financial engine to support activities
of Nila Foundation, later it evolved into an organisation that created alternative and supplementary jobs in villages that were
never part of conventional tourism circuits in Kerala. 
Since accommodation providers and property owners were an integral part of our programs, we set up an associate network
called ‘The Blue Yonder Associates’ which is a platform for property owners who run their business responsibly.
Seeing the
scope and potential of being able to influence and engage the industry and the Governments, we went ahead with the plans for
setting up the International Centre for Responsible Tourism in India. (ICRT India). The centre has organised National and state
level symposiums in Bangalore and Kerala respectively. We are also organizing the 2nd International conference on RT in
March 2008 along with the Kerala Tourism department and ICRT UK. 
ECOCLUB.com: What share of tourists actually choose your tours because of your socially responsible record, and
which countries do they mostly come from?
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