Innovator Spotlight: exploring India’s wilderness with Wild Navigator

Innovator Spotlight: exploring India’s wilderness with Wild Navigator

Wild Navigator is a new company set up to connect responsible travellers to authentic wilderness experiences across the Indian Subcontinent. Jeremy Smith spoke to its founder, Abishek Behl about the challenges of building a responsible business in such a competitive market.

What inspired you to create your business?

In the Annapurna areaMy inspiration was partly was to do with me being in the travel industry for over 16 years and out of these years, have been very lucky to be traveling / researching to the best parts of the Indian subcontinent. I wanted to showcase that world to the world and inspire many people to finally travel with me. That is why the motto of Wild Navigator is “Inspiring Journeys in Responsible Tourism”.

Does being responsible help your business attract potential customers?

Traditional Archery 2I am not sure if being responsible helps me in attracting potential business – my ethos always has been to be responsible and give something back to my suppliers that I work with and make the destinations that I use for my work sustainable for me for the future. This I guess gives a good base for promotion and hopefully works for everyone in the tourism supply chain.

How do you engage guests in your responsible tourism activities?

Ladakh 2My work focuses on wilderness areas and especially looking at the A to Z (which is the Anthropology to Zoology) of wildlife tourism. I encourage my guests to participate locally with people who have direct impacts with human-animal conflicts, support local charities that we work with and where my clients are traveling too, and lastly learn as much local knowledge about wildlife conservation and education as possible and take them as inspiration back to their own homes.

What is the responsible tourism initiative of which you are most proud?

CRW_1716_JFRIt’s still early days of my business but yes, one initiative that I am very proud of is experiencing the “India Magnificent Seven” – Like Africa’s Big 5 – India has all of Africa’s equivalent Big 5 species – from Asiatic Rhino, Asiatic Elephant, Asiatic Water Buffalo (the Indian Bison or Gaur down south), The Asiatic Lion and Asiatic Leopard (along with the snow leopard, clouded leopard and the leopard cat) – to add two to this list will be the Sloth Bear and finally the seventh species being the Royal Bengal Tiger. Why 7 is because they are widely spread all over India and incorporates anthropological and conservation pressures with their distribution etc. India is the 7th largest country in the world and if my guests see one of these species in the wild – they have seen a guardian to India’s wilderness.

What positive impacts does your tourism business have on the community / environment where you are based?

CRW_0875_JFRAgain it is too early to say but as we are currently in our first year of operations – we are monitoring our footprints and trying to mitigate impacts in places where we operate. With this way – we finally would like to achieve positive impacts and finally having a sustainable product for my tourism business that we can use again and again, year after year.

 What has been the biggest challenge you have faced?

ele corbettEstablished behaviour I guess to me is the biggest challenge. Suppliers are used to providing regular products to each operator which is the same – when we try to tweak that product so that can be sustainable – it takes time for the supplier to understand and change that behaviour. It’s a work in progress but so far it’s working really well.

What advice would you give to any entrepreneur starting a responsible tourism business?

Bhutanese TextileI would certainly say – Go for it. It maybe a slow start with hurdles in place such as finance, having no guests for months – but don’t give up. To be a responsible tourism operator, you need to lead with examples – you need to know your area of expertise and inspire the ones that work with you and the ones that use your product. It takes time but being responsible is always good for business.

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Jeremy Smith is a writer, speaker and sustainable tourism consultant. He is co-founder of Tourism Declares a Climate Emergency, an initiative that supports tourism organisations in declaring a climate emergency and working together to reduce their carbon emissions in line with the Science Based Targets. He is the author of Transforming Travel - realising the potential of sustainable tourism (2018), and co-founder of, the travel industry sustainable tourism website news site. He consults widely on sustainable tourism strategy and communication, with recent clients including Bruges Ommeland, GSTC, English National Parks, Tripadvisor, the Travel Foundation, and the European Travel Commission. He is a member of Travalyst’s Independent Advisory Board and was a member of Rotterdam’s International Advisory Board in 2019, helping develop a new vision for the city’s tourism.

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