Camping Cooperatives: An Eco-Friendly, Economy-Friendly Idea for Mass Adventure Tourism in Himalayas

Adventure Travel Blog Magazine

Sep-Oct 2016

Contents

I really wonder that no one wants to study in a government school but everyone wants a government job.

A few facts fired my imagination many times and an idea of camping cooperatives germinated. The cooperatives are worth trying at pilot level for the community, environment, and pocket friendliness. But first let’s take a look at the facts and then I will discuss the benefits and other related aspects of the cooperatives.

Fact No. 1: Joblessness

Conversations with villagers living along the trekking routes and in the remote areas recurrently highlight the issue of joblessness. And a desire for a permanent source of earning tops every wish list. A belief in urban lifestyle is also strong and praise for the lifestyle is common.

On many occasions, villagers ask me to arrange government jobs for them. But I tell them that I am not a recruitment agent. I really wonder that no one wants to study in a government school but everyone wants a government job. Especially people who can afford, they never send their kids to government schools.

Fact No. 2: Mojo of IT

Spell of IT inspired low cost (so called easy) business opportunities is gripping. Many young people have learnt just about rosy side of the IT inspired businesses, for example, writing, photographing, and building websites. Unfortunately, they do not know the bitter truth about these information websites.

The success rate of these websites is abominably low.

  1. Because only unique ideas and persistently done consistent work can make the websites profitable after a long gestation period.
  2. Because building a reliable, timeless, and unique website also requires money, time, and patience.
  3. Because the competition is extremely high.

You can judge the level of competition yourself from the following data. According to Webby Awards, number of websites reached 1,029,615,402 (more than one trillion) in 2016. The world population was 7,306,860,555 (more than 7 trillion) in 2016.

I think along these lines for wool and adventure in the Himalayas.

Fact No. 3: Share of Accommodation in Total Holiday Expenses

The research concludes that accommodation accounts for the largest share of the total tourism trip expenditure. The transport expenses follow.

Fact No. 4: Success of Amul Business Model

I always enjoyed Amul products, including chocolates, ice creams, and milk. As I grew, I learnt about the business model (secret) of Amul, cooperative. The model is successful. Amul carved a niche for itself in domestic as well as international dairy markets.

I think along these lines for wool and adventure in the Himalayas. All Himalayan folk have a flock of sheep and they use its wool for self and sale. But the amount of wool production is not enough to set up individual businesses. Neighboring villages can form a wool cooperative and run it professionally like a business to earn livelihood in their hometowns.

It will create at least a few hundred jobs with relatively low capital investment.

Everyone dreams of earning livelihood in the hometown. Is it not?

Thrill seekers holiday in a place (s) other than their hometowns for a change because they are bored with the same landscape that does not offer adventure opportunities. Like wool cooperatives, locals can create camping cooperatives, to begin with, along the popular trek routes and some less popular treks.

Why am I advocating camping cooperatives?

These will encourage local community participation. So locals may not have to migrate in search of livelihood. It will provide livelihood in or around the hometown. That is what all of us want, especially masses. It will create at least a few hundred jobs with relatively low capital investment.  Shortage of capital is always the first hurdle in setting up a business. Is it not? The cooperatives can help you in negotiating the first hurdle.

Fact No. 5: Localism / Emphasis on Local Community Participation in Tourism

The tourism developers have been emphasizing on local community based tourism and equitable distribution of the revenue, so that migration for livelihood could be stopped.

However, for instance, the Uttarakhand Tourism Policy 2016, highlights that unequitable distribution of tourism revenues among local communities is a big problem.

Fact No. 6: Need for Topography-Friendly Accommodations

The fragile Himalayan environment cannot support traditional urban hotels requiring large scale forest clearing and large amount of water, and generating huge heap of garbage. Moreover, large flat suitable pieces of land for hotel building are difficult to find in the range. Hotel construction is a capital intensive business. Large scale unmindful construction has serious long and short term ramifications.

The camping cooperatives, if operated sensibly, can minimize fund requirements for adventure tourism infrastructure and superstructure development, reducing dependence on FDIs, government funds, and private parties.

Fact No. 7. Inadequate Quality Stay Options

For example, the Uttarakhand Tourism Policy 2016 mentions that quality sleep options are not adequate within the State and solid waste management is a big issue.

 

Now is the time to talk about the idea of camping cooperatives that can solve some of these issues and help in achieving the tourism segment goals.

Camping Cooperatives: An Idea

A camping cooperative is a cooperative / a collective effort of locals for earning reasonable profits by offering basic travel services to the adventure tourists visiting remote areas and un- and / or under-developed areas.

For example, a group of villages along a trekking trail or located nearby the trail may pool their small resources to form a camping cooperative. This cooperative shall perform the following tasks:

  • Offer tent accommodation at the dedicated camping sites, make-shift kitchens, make-shift washrooms, equipment rent shops, and ration shops that should sell nutritious food.
  • Or provide complete camping gear on rent at the well-maintained camping site.
  • Maintain the camping site.
  • Maintain the trail.

The Himalayas have myriads of unfrequented trekking trails for thrill seekers. And new mass adventure tourists anticipate readymade travel facilities. To cash in on these resources and new tourism trends, locals can “build a temporary camp/budget hotel (s)” to get a share of tourism revenue.

This approach to promote adventure tourism will minimize need for infrastructure development by the government and private parties.

In camping cooperative, locals cooperate with each other to run a business and eke livelihood collectively. Locals will experience the social, cultural, and physical transition themselves and understand importance of local assets. They may become more vigilant.

Benefits of Camping Cooperatives 

A Step towards Equal Distribution of Adventure Tourism Revenue

The idea, for example, provides a medium to achieve the Goal 4 of the Sikkim Tourism Policy 2016. The Goal 4 is to facilitate relatively equal distribution of economic benefits of tourism among all sections of local society without compromising on the tourist experience. The tourism business opportunities and benefits shall reach even the sections that are at disadvantage due to poverty, remoteness, and / or gender.

Extensive Involvement of Local Community

Uttarakhand is facing problem of migration and empty villages due to lack of local employment opportunities. These cooperatives can create employment opportunities for the locals.

Difficult living conditions and exceptional serenity are interdependent. Our big and small cities are testimonies to this relationship.

Trails do not receive same number of trekkers in all seasons, bringing down occupancy rate of a traditional hotel to almost zero during off-season. Maintaining a hotel during the off-season is therefore a waste of resources. Since the cost and rent of the tents are relatively low, the off-season loss would be less. Moreover, the same tents can be used along the other “active” trails.

Systematically Consume, Destroy, and Recreate

These cooperative accommodations can be moved easily from one place to another. But hotels cannot be moved as they are permanent structures.

Reduction in Solid Waste

Since camping cooperatives shall provide all the required basic facilities, the adventure tourists will bring less items and packaging material, including plastic bags. The amount of solid waste may thus fall substantially.

Carry Less. Consume Less. Generate Less Waste.

Camping is an accomplishment. Glamping is not an accomplishment. Adventure is an accomplishment.

A “temporary hotel,” the camp, retains spirit of adventure that is a cocktail of risk-taking and minimalism that reflects in alpine-style and travel light philosophies. However, alpine-style adventures require special skills that are not common.

True to the spirit of adventure, camping is an integral part of mountain adventure activities like trekking. It is like you cannot cook a rice dish without rice. Do you agree? You cannot disagree. Camping is in fact, synonymous to minimalism.

The most interesting quality of minimalism is less amount of solid waste. Only minimalism can ensure sustainable benefits of large-scale adventure tourism. Adventure is not about luxury. It was never about luxury. Glamping therefore shall not replace camping.

Camps vs Glamps

Camps are like budget hotels. Glamps are like luxury hotels. Both are temporary structures that resemble homes of nomads. But glamps do not follow minimalism.

Camping is an accomplishment. Glamping is not an accomplishment. Adventure is an accomplishment.

The camping cooperatives can facilitate the accomplishment for masses.

Why is minimalism a main ingredient of the Himalayan adventures?

Because natural recycling, biodegradation takes longer due to cold weather, especially beyond tree line.

Because man made features alter character of wilderness that is the staple of adventure tourism, especially in mountains.

Because man made features interfere with homes of wild animals.

Because difficult living conditions and exceptional serenity comprising wilderness are interdependent.

We have become fearless or we have acquired knowledge. The knowledge says that the snowcapped peaks and uninhabited areas of the Himalayas are not or were never homes to devils, ghosts, and spirits. But we still believe, they are homes to divine for difficult living conditions and exceptional serenity.

Difficult living conditions and exceptional serenity are interdependent. Our big and small cities are testimonies to this relationship. Easy living conditions and overly accessible / well connected areas are over developed ignoring the availability of resources and resource capacities. We love vertical spaces but resources do not grow vertically. Resources grow linearly (horizontal in nature / limited).

Most of the time we do not invent. We discover and apply what nature does to our dreams, or ideas for a better life. For example, birds gave us idea of aircrafts, helicopters, rockets, and drones. We learnt diving from fish and other aquatic animals.

High-rise buildings, for example, are inspired by mountains-the vertical landforms. But we have ignored important observations: with increase in height, the ability to support life diminishes. Cost of living increases. With increase in height, special survival skills are required and different lifestyles are required. Because cold does not support much. Cold environments are clumsy for good reasons. This clumsiness creates beauty that all of us want to enjoy at the cost of beneficial clumsiness.

Why create camping cooperatives instead of hotels? Why not depend on home stays?

The principal purpose of camping cooperatives is to find a complete accommodation alternative to cater to adventure tourists visiting the Himalayas.

What is a complete accommodation alternative?

A complete accommodation alternative means a board and lodging option that meets goals of all stakeholders involved in the adventure tourism and the society as a whole. Have a look at the goals of all stakeholders:

S. No.
Stakeholders in Adventure Tourism
Goals
Does complete alternative meet the goal? Yes or No.
1
Local Community
Regular local employment opportunities without huge capital investments
Yes

2
Local Government
Alleviate poverty

Job creation

Equal distribution of tourism revenue

Yes

Yes

Yes

3
Adventure Tourists
A rich safe adventurous experience on budget
Yes

4
Everyone / Society as a whole
Protecting, conserving the physical and cultural environment
Yes

5
Future Generations
Experiencing pristine land of the Himalayas
Feasible

 

Before finding a complete accommodation alternative for the Himalayan adventures, I evaluate and compare three available and proposed accommodation options: Camping, Home Stay, and Traditional Hotels.

 

Feature
Camping Cooperatives
Hotels

NatureAbility to handle impact of off-season
Portable

Yes

Non-portable

No

Non-portable

No

Capacity(Subject to carrying capacity of the destination)
Can be adjusted
Cannot be adjusted.
Cannot be adjusted.

Demonstration Effect
LessBecause family members have less interaction with the tourists.
High

Because all family members have direct and frequent interaction with the tourists.

Medium / Less

Because family members have no direct interaction with the tourists.

Privacy for both host and guest
Maximum
No or minimum
Maximum

Advance booking / reservation option
Create option for advance booking
No (Generally)Walk-in (Preferred)
Yes (Generally)

No (Some)

Employment opportunities
Yes.

For everyone from the local community provided the person has skills or is ready to learn.

For a family i.e. host
Yes

Availability
Certainty
UncertaintyOn many occasions, home stay owners prefers relatives to visitors.
Certainty

Participation of Locals
100%
<100%

  1. Everyone in village may not have a room to spare. These people can contribute to camping cooperatives to earn livelihood. The have-nots may harbor feeling of being left out.
  2. Everyone may not have business skills to run a mini guesthouse profitably.

<100%

Appeal
Traditional camping ambience with some commercial touch
Homely ambience with some commercial touch
Commercial urban ambience
Capital Intensive
Medium
Low
High
Porter Problems / Alpine style
Well-appointed camping sites reduce dependence on porters. This may reduce cost of the adventure.
Home stay is not possible beyond tree line. Because there are hardly any settlements beyond the tree line.
Beyond tree line construction is not advisable for environmental reasons and profitability.
Porters
Porters are required to move the campsites once in a few years
           
                   
Travel light
Possible
No
Possible (if it runs camping gear rental shop)
Highly educated staff
Unemployed locals with degrees can lead and train the staff for camping cooperatives.
                
                    

 

So I think, camping cooperatives fit better in the scope of the definition of a complete accommodation alternative.

 

Anatomy of an Ideal Campsite Managed by Camping Cooperative

When most of the activities are seasonal or performed on 50-75% of days in a year, seasonality should not be an issue. Seasonality is good. It is the time for recycling.

Like big and small traditional hotels, each campsite is a self-contained accommodation. Each campsite thus features all the following facilities:

  • Tents (Rooms): 1-person, 2-person, 3-person, dormitory
  • Makeshift kitchen
  • Makeshift washroom with topography-specific waste recycling and disposal system, including traditional dry toilets
  • Compost Shredder for bio-degradable waste
  • Ration shop that should sell nutritious food
  • Permit cum info office
  • Search and rescue and security control room
  • Kitchen garden
  • A mini clinic managed by qualified doctor
  • Solar charging points
  • Solar water heating plant
  • Garbage collection and recycling system

Is notion of seasonal nature of tourism, especially adventure tourism, true?

I do not think that it is absolutely true. Why? Here are three examples to illustrate my point.

Example 1

Many government offices irrespective of their location (rural/urban) open for five days a week. Employees of these offices therefore work for about six months every year. Here is the calculation:

Days in a year = 365

Weeks in a year = 52

Weekend Holidays = 52*2 = 104 days

Balance working days = 365-104 = 261 days

National Holidays = 3

Holidays for festivals = 12-17 every year (Actual number varies from place to place.)

Casual leave = 15 days

Sick leave = 10 days

Ordinary leave = 30 days

Total paid holiday and leave = 70-75 days

Balance working days = 261-70 = 191 days

Balance working months = 191 days / 30 days = 6.4 months

Example 2

In remote areas of the Himalayas, including Ladakh, Kinnaur, and Spiti, the natives work just for six-seven months. They too have dedicated long festival seasons. During the remaining four-five months of harsh winter, they enjoy leisure.

Example 3

Migrant labors work daily without any breaks for 6-8 months. Then they go back to their families.

When most of the activities are seasonal or performed on 50-75% of days in a year, seasonality should not be an issue. Seasonality is good. It is the time for recycling.

Adventure is in fact not a parasite of season. Season spices up adventure.  Well managed camping cooperatives may provide an opportunity to lengthen the earning season for locals.

A complete accommodation alternative means a board and lodging option that meets goals of all stakeholders involved in the adventure tourism and the society as a whole.

Management of Camping Cooperatives: An Outline

Depending on population of the villages along the trail and carrying capacity of the campsite and trail, make groups of villages. These groups can contribute small monthly / fortnightly / weekly amounts to a recurring bank account for say a 1 – 2 years. The maturity value would provide initial capital for setting up camping cooperative. Villagers can also contribute in kind initially. A definite part of profits earned can be reinvested for expansion of the cooperatives.

Allocate campsites to the group, may be on lease basis or rental basis for nominal fee that can be paid after the first few sales.

Let different group(s) manage campsites along the allocated nearby trail for healthy competition and preventing monopoly. Tourists will also benefit from competitive rates.

Train them to operate the cooperatives efficiently (if required). Many of these villagers already run their small businesses. Everyone therefore may not need training.

Award the groups for the best managed trails.

Likely Problems in Setting up Camping Cooperatives

Convincing locals to set up camping cooperatives.

Training them to impart skills to set up and run the cooperatives successfully.

Creating awareness about the idea among the locals.

Shopping the most appropriate camping gear within minimum budget.

Finding right kind of leadership in initial stage.

 

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