Need a Holiday? Meet Slumdog Travels – bringing literacy to children in India.

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Grey skies and short days leave many of us craving winter sun; getting away from it all can renew our zest for life and replenish our energy stocks. The problem arises however when trying to rectify our desire to explore the world around us with the knowledge that air travel has a massive carbon footprint; the industry does not have the greatest track record when it comes to polished ethical credentials either.

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Luckily Salt has you covered as we caught up with Mr Pranav Chopra, founder & CEO of Slumdog Travels – a tour provider with a social mission of eradicating illiteracy in India.

Mr Chopra believes in providing clients with an experience of a lifetime that showcases the real India while having a positive impact on the Indian society. With every tour sold, 10 kids get educated for an entire year.

“Access to education seemed to be a logical solution.”

The inspiration behind Slumdog came in 2007, after Mr Chopra travelled across Europe and immediately felt that he needed to find a way to showcase the sights and culture across the different parts of his birth country, India. Meanwhile, he also felt he had the opportunity to have a real positive social impact.

“I backpacked across India and came across many young children working in shops and as domestic helpers – I strongly felt this cycle of child labour needed to stop and improving access to education seemed to be a logical solution.

“The more I looked into how education can be a factor in solving this issue, other issues such as poverty, child abuse, child marriage and gendercide emerged which could also clearly be impacted by improving the education system in India.”

The Challenge 

Tackling illiteracy in India is no mean feat. There are over a 100 million illiterate children in India – including children who either cannot read, write or who cannot read or write to the appropriate age level.

“We identified the major role tourism plays in India’s economic development with the sector translating to 6.8 per cent of the nation’s GDP, and decided to leverage off the direct impact tourism has on local communities as an instigator to eradicate illiteracy.

“We decided to sell personalised tours to India and re-invest the money earned through the tour sales in education projects that are run by our global NGO partners, Pratham UK and CRY UK. We currently support three school projects based in the Indian states of Gujarat and Jharkand.”

Illiteracy isn’t an isolated problem, unfortunately it breeds further social issues that can have lasting affects in Indian society and will follow a generation throughout their lives including social exclusion, violence and crime.

“If these issues are not tackled today, tomorrow’s generation will continue to face the same problems, and then the next generation to the next. So, the issue of illiteracy needs eradicating today, to save those future generations!”

The Business Model

Mr Chopra explains that Slumdog works on a multi-beneficiary model as it impacts not only the children having better access to education but is also beneficial for the tourists, partner NGOs and the Indian economy.

The literacy fund works through selling tours. Slumdog travels invest funds from tour sales into the particular school selected by the tourist. The tourists are asked to select one from the three schools that are supported. ‘Slumdog travellers’ are also given an opportunity to visit one of the school sites to witness the programme they are funding – They can witness the impact that they are having on the ground.

Transparency is a key element within Slumdog’s business model with tourists being offered the chance to track the social impact of the business through an online portal.

“The measurement of impact is key as it gives our clients a sense of achievement with the impact they help create at the grass-root level. This also ensures there is total transparency in the impact we are creating with the funds raised through tour sales to our corporate partners, Flight Centre and Intrepid.”

The company has also developed specific impact metrics that measures the success of its investment in the education projects which is a leading practice now being followed by other socially-responsible tour providers.

The need for Industry change

One of the leading problems with conventional tourism is the social and environmental impact that it has on the host community. Human rights sometimes take a vacation as locals are displaced to make way for new hotels. Tourism can turn local culture into commodities with religious traditions, local customs and festivals being reduced to conform to tourist expectations and resulting in what has been called “reconstructed ethnicity”.

There is increasing recognition of the significant shift away from the predominance of the traditional sun, sand and sea holiday towards more experiential vacations: holidaymakers are seeking holidays which provide them with more than two weeks on the beach and a tan

Socially responsible tourism is a growing trend. As trends in lifestyle marketing and ethical consumption spread to the world of tourism, from a business perspective Mr Chopra believes that this growing trend is something to be embraced:

“Socially responsible tourism makes business sense. It facilitates the development of better experiences which encourage repeat bookings, extending length of stay and referrals. It is also enables companies to engage in non-price competition which enables them to maintain margins and avoid squeezing their suppliers; to provide a better experience, a higher value experience increasing the spend in the local economy.

“The tourism sector is embracing socially responsible tourism not as an option, but as a condition for its continuous growth.”

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Photo credit: Chris JL from Flickr

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