A new initiative has been launched in the city of Kozhikode in Kerala, which aims to ensure the city lives by the mantra of how responsible tourism should work in destinations: Better places to live, Better places to visit. Called Compassionate Kozhikode, developed by the District Administration, in partnership with award-winning Indian responsible tourism pioneers The Blue Yonder, local organisations like Indian Institute of Management, Kozhikode, and many hundreds of local volunteers. And it is very different to most of what has gone before.
First off, take a look at its website, launched last week. It’s not like your typical Destination marketing website. It’s described on its About page as “a platform to celebrate the lives of such people and to bring together like minded people who can create a holistic destination out of Kozhikode”. But you won’t find any accommodation listings or recommended tours.
Founder of The Blue Yonder Gopinath Parayil explains that the idea is not to see tourism as a product or a project launched to create a better place. “Instead we are building the destination as a good base to live,” he explains, “which then becomes a possible tourism product or destination.”
So the many initiatives on the website have all been designed primarily because they make Kozhikode a better place for its inhabitants. There’s the Freedom Cafe – where you don’t pay for your own meal but rather ‘Pay it Forward’ by buying someone else’s. A Legends of Kozhikode project that is documenting and sharing the many hidden stories and characters of the area. And the Kozhipedia, an Open Streetmap based project where volunteers collect and record information about everything from roads, streets, pathways, stories, legends, folklore, cultural and natural heritage.
And there are many other initiatives that have little obvious appeal for tourists, although they clearly make Kozhikode a better place to live. Many of them have started in the last six months, ever since N Prasanth took over as head of the Kozhikode district administration. Since then he has made a name for himself across the whole of India for rolling out a series of progressive initiatives in partnership with civil society, Government agencies and local citizens. His Facebook page has over 100,000 likes. His involvement and passion meant the Times of India covered Compassionate Kozhikode’s launch.
And while such establishment backing undoubtedly increases the project’s chance of success, this is as far from your traditional ‘establishment’ scheme as you could imagine. The website is built on a Creative Commons licence to encourage the sharing of its content and ideas. All of the projects are crowdfunded so that the money goes directly from donor to project, avoiding risks of corruption. And all the work is done by unpaid volunteers. (It should also be noted that a few years ago Kozhikode became the incubator for the world’s first community-based Palliative Care programme, where more than 50,000 local volunteers care for over 100,000 terminally ill and incurably ill patients.)
As final evidence of how different Kozhikode’s approach is, I ask Prasanth what success would look like. “Number of contributors, number of beneficiaries, testimonies from stakeholders, qualitative studies on impact in individual life, attitude changes in people involved in creating a sustainable destination,” he answers. “And replicating this model of destination development elsewhere.”