FEATURE ARTICLE 1
VolunTourism: From Whence They May Come - Part V
In this issue we take a closer look at the nation that by many estimates will have the largest population by 2050 - India. What factors will enhance its potential to be an incubator of VolunTourists over the next decade and beyond? Economic growth is certainly one contributor.
India, considered one of the oldest civilizations in the world, has established benchmarks along the way that have influenced the rest of the globe in unique, yet subtle ways. Wisdom has come to the West via her two Sanskrit epics, the Mahabharata and the Ramayana, and through the Vedas and Vedanta. Ayurvedic medicine, hatha & kundalini yoga practice, and numerous other disciplines have flowed, like the Ganges of old, to a thirsty world of spiritual seekers.
What purpose will this wisdom serve in the growth of a hearty population of VolunTourists from India?
First, wisdom is practical. It takes into account the underlying principles as well as the clearly-forming patterns of a society in its present condition. India is booming economically, second only to China. It also has a history of figures that have proven to be exemplars of service - individuals that have assisted in the transference of wisdom-wealth beyond the Country's borders.
Wisdom would also point out that India has innumerable opportunities for rendering domestic service throughout the Country. The recent augmentation of travel infrastructure and access makes this a functional prospect - - more so than it once was. And, of course, the Hindu, Muslim, and Sikh philosophies of India are rooted in service. Thus, we have a solid foundational base upon which we can begin to review why this Country will be a leader, if not the "world" leader, in the incubation of VolunTourists over the next two decades.
The Economic Case
The Four Factors
India has four factors that contribute to her potential for producing VolunTourists:
- Strong Economic Growth
- Exemplars of Service
- Domestic Capacity & Service Potential
- The Influence of Religion & Philosophy
What is the status of the Indian economy? How is this having an impact on domestic and outbound travel? In June 2007, the European Travel Commission (ETC), through its Market Intelligence Group (MIG), released its Market Insights on India. The following data is presented in the “Overview” of the study:
- India is climbing rapidly up the world rankings for outbound tourism. UNWTO figures for 2005 suggest that India ranked 24th that year, in terms of international travel expenditure, with a total spend, excluding transport of US$5.9bn. Preliminary results for 2006, based on trends for the first nine months, point to a growth of 28% - higher than for any other market in the world except Poland.
- Outbound trip volume in 2006 is estimated at 8.3mn, up 16% over 2005. 2006 was the third consecutive year of double-digit growth. The average annual growth was 11% in 2000-2006 and 9.5% in 1995-2006 – needless to say well above the world, or even regional, average.
- There are many positive factors influencing Indian demand for outbound travel. The national economy is strong, with GDP growing by around 8.5% per annum. Middle-class disposable incomes are rising extremely fast. Airline capacity has risen sharply. And, thanks to the liberalisation of exchange controls, Indians are now allowed to take up to US$10,000 per annum abroad for leisure trips.
- India ’s growing openness to the outside world has also stimulated foreign travel, especially among the younger generations. More Indian students are studying in other countries than those of any other nationality, except perhaps China. And the number of US Visas issued in India reportedly doubled in 2006, to over 800,000 – more than in any other country, barring Mexico.
- Most importantly perhaps, the size of the Indian middle class socio-economic group, dubbed by McKinsey as ‘aspiring India,’ is currently somewhere over 350 million – the size of the entire US population! and is growing at an estimated 40 – 50 million a year.
- 180 mn Indians are English-speaking (three times the population of the UK). 43 mn have credit cards and 60 mn have cellphones (and the number of cell phone subscribers is growing by more than 5 mn a month).
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This study is comprehensive. It includes information on such topics as: 1) Population, 2) The Opening of the Aviation Market, and 3) Travel Booking as well as “Key Trends and Forecasts.” To read more, click here.
The points that are most relevant, as it pertains to the incubation of VolunTourists, are the increase of Indian students traveling abroad, the increase in the Indian middle class, and the number of Indians that speak English. The potential to engage Indians as VolunTourists within the framework of currently held marketing capacities, at least for most organizations, is far greater than I anticipated based on some of the numbers presented in this study. Translating marketing materials and web sites into Hindi, for example, will not be necessary, at least initially, to reach a portion of this audience. This is very good news for those on a tight budget.
Exemplars Of Service
In 1945, Paramahansa Yogananda released his Autobiography of a Yogi. Throughout its more than 400 pages, the author shares the lives of exemplary women and men from India. Scientists, spiritual ascetics, masters and saints, poets, political figures, and even an accountant are presented in the garb of servants to fellow Indians and the world at large. Whether they were outwardly decorated as a Nobel Laureate or as a “Great Soul,” whether they passed into memory unrecognized for their incredible achievements in self-mastery or for their beneficence to a global family, these exalted beings exemplified what it means to be of service.
As demonstration of the noble spirit of these individuals, here is a quote from Jagadis Chandra Bose, inventor of the crescograph, during his speech for the opening of the Bose Institute:
Later in the book, Yogananda also describes his 1935 visit to Maganvadi to see Mahatma Gandhi. He recounts Gandhi’s extraordinary efforts to establish class-reform within India, religious tolerance between Muslims and Hindus, and to acquire independence from British rule through the Satyagrahi movement. He was joined by his partner and wife, Kasturbai for all of these “battles” that he embraced with a spirit of humility and ahimsa. And he was not alone in his effort to eradicate class sectarianism. Ananda Moyi Ma’s name is also known amongst those who have enjoined in painstaking efforts to eliminate “untouchability.”
Being born in a land that has produced such wealth of character cannot but be a strong omen for the potential that lies within each Indian to render similar service. If there is such a thing as “Nation-based Service DNA,” then count on the fact that there is some percentage of a nearly 1.2 billion member population that has the seed of service lying within - ready to sprout with even a little encouragement.
Opportunities For Domestic Service
Anita Aikara wrote an article in September 2007 for the Daily News & Analysis in Mumbai. "Voluntourism: New Way of Holidaying" shares the story of Runah Nag and her voluntourism journey to Kerala. Anita also describes the experience of the Khanna family. Mother Khanna had this to say:
In some later research, I came across Anuradha Bakshi, Founder of Project Why, via her blog. She has written about voluntourism and I sent her an email letting her know about this article and what I was doing. Here is her response:
I do not think that there is much more that can be added. Anuradha delivers a message of frustration, yet the fact that she has returned to India to be of service provides hope that others could do the same. Even if they begin as an international voluntourist, they could ultimately find Domestic VolunTourism equally compelling, if not more so.
The Influence of Religion & Philosophy
For Orthodox Hindus, there are three daily rituals, or yajnas, that are performed. One is Pitri Yajna; one is Bhuta Yajna; and one is Nri Yajna. Pitri Yajna represents gratitude to ancestors. Bhuta Yajna is an extension of food and gratitude to the creatures of the earth. And Nri Yajna is an extension of food and service to those in need.
It is estimated that eighty-plus percent of the Indian population follow the Hindu Philosophy and approach to life. Looking at Bhuta and Nri Yajna, it is not difficult to see how these could easily tie into VolunTourism - service to animals & nature and/or service to mankind. This is not to suggest that you will see a new companies emerge called "Bhuta Voluntourism Journeys" or "Nri Voluntourist Expeditions." But, because these tenets are implanted in the very roots of the Indian culture, at least for roughly 1 billion of them, the potential for VolunTourism to take root and blossom in the hearts and minds of at least some of India's populace is certainly a reasonable conclusion to draw.
The Muslim tradition is also rooted in service. The following excerpt is taken from The Voluntary Sector In Southeast Asia, by Mohamed Ariff (1991, Institute of Southeast Asian Studies):
These words speak to, at the very least, a Muslim population that could reach out to other Muslims in serving and assisting them in locations throughout India.
And Sikhism is another philosophy to review in determining the potential for VolunTourists to come from India. The Sikh tradition is deeply committed to service to others in the form of Seva. With an estimated 20 million Sikhs residing in the Punjab, there is an opportunity to explore two options: 1) voluntourists traveling to this region from other parts of India and joining Sikhs in their Seva practice, or 2) Sikhs traveling as voluntourists from the Punjab to other parts of India.
It does not require a great deal of extrapolation to suggest that India will most likely be the world leader in generating voluntourists for the decades to come. The sheer numbers, in terms of population, are simply staggering. If even a half of one percent of Indians become voluntourists, roughly six million people at present, this number excedes all other nations combined. And once a few million begin to travel this way, you can count on the fact that the word-of-mouth-marketing will have an unprecedented effect.
David Clemmons, Publisher/Editor
I have enjoyed putting together this series of articles. Beginning with the Netherlands, moving to Canada, Australia, the UK, and finally to India has provided a wealth of information and a deeper sense of the future of VolunTourism and what may be expected.
There are other countries that I would like to review in the future: France, Germany, New Zealand, Italy, Brazil, and the list goes on. Now, however, the need to explore other parts of the VolunTourism Universe is calling.
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