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Want To Volunteer At Tourist Spots? Startup Connects Homestay Owners With Skilled Travellers

Delhi-based Aakash Maan co-founded ‘Volunteer Yatra’ to establish volunteer tourism and help small businesses flourish, preventing rural migration. Currently, he has an army of around 2,000 active volunteers helping put rural homestays on the tourism map.

Want To Volunteer At Tourist Spots? Startup Connects Homestay Owners With Skilled Travellers

As the tallest statue in the world, the Statue of Unity has welcomed lakhs of visitors since its inauguration. Roughly 25 km away from this towering presence is the quaint town of Rajpipla. Located near the Narmada River, this once-princely state was the capital of the former Kingdom of Rajpipla.

“Home to several royal palaces, waterfalls, and rich cultural heritage, it is one of the hidden gems of Gujarat,” resident Ghanshyam Barot tells The Better India.

To tap into the rising tourism opportunities in the region, Ghanshyam opened ‘Rover Stay’ — a budget-friendly hostel with a rooftop kitchen in the royal town. “But unfortunately, most of the tourists would only visit the Statue of Unity and not come to Rajpipla, even though the town is roughly 20 minutes drive from the place,” adds the 38-year-old.

Ghanshyam tried different methods to increase the number of guests visiting his hostel — from creating an Instagram page to regularly posting content to draw attention. “But nothing worked,” he says.

In 2021, Ghanshyam opened ‘Rover Stay’ — a budget-friendly hostel with a rooftop kitchen in the royal town.
In 2021, Ghanshyam opened ‘Rover Stay’ — a budget-friendly hostel with a rooftop kitchen in Rajpipla, Gujarat.

Nearly eight months back, he came in contact with Delhi-based startup ‘Volunteer Yatra’, which helped him expand his business.

“Their team helped us record good quality content using drones and captivating videos highlighting local culture and food. In addition, they decorated the property using murals on walls and creative maps,” says Ghanshyam.

This boosted his followers from 400 to over 1,000, which in turn increased the number of visitors visiting his hostel; thereby increasing his income by 20 percent. “People have started finding us on social media. Now, we welcome 60 to 70 guests in a month, which was earlier 20 to 30,” he says.

Like other rural residents, Ghanshyam could have moved to the city for better job opportunities, but he wanted to stay in the village. And thanks to Volunteer Yatra, he was able to run a thriving business while being rooted in his village.

The Better India got in touch with Aakash Maan, the co-founder of Volunteer Yatra, to know how he is tapping into volunteer tourism to help small businesses flourish and prevent rural migration.

Using travel as a tool

Aakash, based in Delhi, possesses expertise in marketing, filmmaking, and photography. His passion for entrepreneurship ignited during his college years, leading him to venture into business. In 2018, he made the bold decision to drop out of engineering college and establish his own production company.

Volunteer Yatra taps into volunteer tourism to help small businesses flourish and prevent rural migration.
Volunteer Yatra taps into volunteer tourism to help small businesses flourish and prevent rural migration.

“Once, while working on a film on climate change, I realised the potential harm that forces rural communities to migrate to cities for work leaving their homes behind. After the film was released, I decided to focus on action-oriented work,” he tells The Better India.

Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, Aakash received a call from a friend in Himachal that helped him realise his true calling.

“My friend used to run a homestay but this business was adversely affected amid the lockdown. He was in extreme losses and didn’t even have money to arrange two square meals for his family. He asked for my help in marketing solutions,” recalls Aakash.

“It took us two months to draw tourists to his homestay. In three months, he started earning up to Rs 50,000 a month. He was so happy that he offered me to visit him anytime and stay as long as I wanted,” he adds.

“This gave me the idea to collaborate with similar small businesses and provide them with the support of skilled volunteers, who in turn will get opportunities to explore offbeat places for free,” says Aakash.

After nearly six months of research, Aakash along with his brother Karunesh Maan and Rakshit Kumar launched Volunteer Yatra in 2021.

A win-win for volunteers and communities

Volunteers help hosts record good quality content, optimise social media, decorate property using murals on walls, and much more.
Volunteers help hosts record good quality content, optimise social media, decorate property using murals on walls, and much more.

Explaining how the platform works, Aakash says, “These small businesses are dependent on travel agents to attract tourists. As they cannot afford skilled marketing experts and content creators to promote their works, we shortlisted volunteers to address this gap.”

After developing the right marketing strategies, Aakash assigns volunteers from diverse backgrounds to visit small business owners. “During their brief on-site travel, they assist them in promoting their work through content creation, graphic designing, optimising social media, creating murals on walls, connecting with right partners, and much more,” he adds.

“Most of these volunteers are freelancers, on sabbatical, or those working from home. This also enables them to embark on meaningful journeys while they save on accommodation and food expenses and contribute to community development,” says Aakash.

So far, Aakash and his team have established an army of 2,000 active volunteers who collaborate with hosts for a period of six months to one year. So far, these volunteers have assisted 170 hosts — mostly hostels, homestays, and self-help groups — across the country in states like Himachal Pradesh, Kerala, Jammu and Kashmir, Goa, and Sikkim.

One of their volunteers, Prem Suraj Tenkar moved to Rajpipla to assist Ghanshyam in content creation and optimise social media. It has been more than 40 days since he arrived in the town.

Aakash and his team have established an army of 2,000 active volunteers who have assisted 170 hosts so far.
Aakash and his team have established an army of 2,000 active volunteers who have assisted 170 hosts so far.

Sharing his experience, he tells The Better India, “When I came to Rover Stay hostel, I was their only guest for the next 15 days. Using my cinematic and storytelling skills, I recorded unique content about the region to attract tourists to Ghanshyam’s hostel. We also decorated domes using wall murals. All of my reels have crossed more than 40,000 views on Instagram. We are now working on a YouTube series to further attract tourists.”

While the business observed growth after 25 days, for Prem, this experience has been extremely enriching personally. “After working in the corporate sector for seven years in Bengaluru, I quit my job to travel. As a solo traveller, budget is always a constraint. But volunteering not only helped me use my skills for community development but also to pursue my passion. It was extremely rewarding to explore Rajpipla on my bike and record its scenic beauty on my GoPro and drone. I have explored the place more than I was expecting,” he adds.

To sustain the for-profit business, Aakash charges an annual fee of Rs 2,000 from volunteers. While he charges Rs 5,000 per month from revenue-generating businesses, he claims to take no fee from non-profits and low-income businesses such as Ghanshyam’s.

“As an entrepreneur, often I am the last person to draw a salary or sometimes I don’t get paid for months. It is tough. But our goal is to grow stronger and keep going with every impactful project that we do,” he shares.

Talking about making a positive difference through volunteer tourism, Aakash says, “Volunteer Yatra is much more than a volunteering platform. We, as a team, have solved the organisational problems of our hosts in the most affordable way. One of our hosts could pay for his son’s tuition fee as his business took off after connecting with us,”

“We have experienced so many stories already, with many more to come,” remarks Aakash.

(Edited by Pranita Bhat; All photos: Volunteer Yatra)


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