Taking the road less traveled

A passionate travel entrepreneur has turned a small temple town in Karnataka into a social impact tourism hub.  

 Outdoor World Sustainable Tourism may have been in the travel business for over eight years, but it still remains a lean start-up. That’s partly because BC Kiran, the company’s founder, chose to keep it that way.

Driven by the adage, ‘One life, serve more,’ the charismatic entrepreneur wants his business model measured more by social impact than by revenue. Today, Outdoor World Sustainable Tourism is one of the few travel companies in India that focuses on ‘Voluntourism,’ a niche tourism concept.

Though set up in 2010, the conceptualization of Outdoor World Sustainable Tourism began way back during Kiran’s childhood. “I have always been interested in traveling, and some of the best times I remember are from my boyhood days are traveling from Bangalore to a small town in the Western Ghats where my grandmother lived. From very early days, I knew I would want to ‘travel and live.’ That’s exactly what I am doing,” says Kiran, now 42.

Kiran did his MBA from the University Of Western Sydney, Australia, and later joined ITC Welcomgroup, where he was a part of the sales team. He later joined tech conglomerate, Intel, where he was introduced to the concept of  Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). “It was a great experience. It was here I learned the power of volunteering and how CSR funds can change the community for the good,” reminisces Kiran.

After a nine-year-long stint in the corporate world, Kiran decided it was time to implement the acquired knowledge in a more meaningful venture. Thus began the journey into sustainable tourism. “My career in the corporate world spanning 9 years made me realize that though tourism has flourished, the community around it has not. Also, I felt there aren’t any models of sustainable tourism in the Western Ghats.”

It was an intensely risky undertaking when Kiran started his business. There were very few takers for voluntourism. Nevertheless, the troubling realities did not stymie Kiran from moving forward.

Banavasi, a temple town in Uttara  Kannada, Karnataka, was the company’s first venture. The travel firm has now tied up with a few schools and NGOs in the region and is attempting to bring about community development through tourism.

The heart of the business model is meaningful tourism. Thanks to the efforts of Outbound Travel World, companies like Intel visited Banavasi and conducted a career guidance workshop for government school students. The tech giant also shed light on the importance of computer education. This project encompassed 1,000 students from government schools. Rotary Club, on the other hand, helped one government school by bringing in digital education. The club also donated projectors and books on digital to the school.

Every year, through the joint efforts of Outbound Travel World and its partners, the underprivileged children of Banavasi are offered free books, bags, and uniform. The company has also attracted overseas volunteers, who visit the temple town and help poor children. “An entrepreneur from the U.S visited Banavasi and conducted a workshop on the entrepreneurship opportunities in the solar field. Many such programs are in the pipeline as well,” says Kiran, adding that the company is working hard to get corporates interested in adopt-a-village projects.

Need of the hour

Challenges are aplenty for niche tourism business, and Outbound Travel World is no stranger to struggles. Although Banavasi is a spectacular destination, not many people are aware of its landscape that’s punctuated by river, lakes, waterfalls, bird sanctuary, and of course, temples. “Many corporates are not aware of this place and are reluctant to explore. Another challenge that still exists is that corporates do not want to venture beyond Bangalore for their CSR and volunteering. This has hampered our efforts in making a big and positive change in the community,” says Kiran, who is also keen on destination marketing to promote places like Banavasi.

Outbound Travel World has been working with corporates like Intel, McAfee, and CADD Centre. The company is planning similar tie-ups with other corporates as well.

Hope prevails

Kiran is optimistic that voluntourism will soon catch up in Banavasi. “Over the past five years, I have noticed that people have become responsible travelers. They care for the planet more. They look for meaningful experiences that go beyond sightseeing. They want to experience authenticity in their interactions,” he says.

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