This Sustainability Leaders interview with Gopinath (Gopi) Parayil of India is part of a special series featuring board members of the recently founded Asian Ecotourism Network. A social entrepreneur and expert in sustainable tourism for more than a decade, Gopi introduces us to his projects and research in India, how tourism impacts the community and makes a positive difference to local people, environment, and the destination itself.
- When Gopi first came across the sustainable tourism topic, and what made him co-found The Blue Yonder;
- Why reducing dependency on ‘aid’ is a must for long-term sustainability;
- How locally driven wealth generation led to the growth of The Blue Yonder as a leading Responsible Tourism business in India;
- Why The Blue Yonder deliberately wasn’t set up as an NGO, and what he’d do different if he could start over again;
- The role of travel and tourism industry in disaster management relief and for the long term sustainability of destinations;
- His view on voluntourism;
- The purpose of the A to Z of Responsible Tourism campaign.
Gopi, what was your view of sustainability and tourism when you started your professional career?
I had nothing to do with tourism business other than being an avid traveller myself when I started The Blue Yonder. However, even as a teenager I was already involved in development issues because of the left-leaning politics of my home state of Kerala. I also had volunteering experience in community-based palliative care from ’93 onwards, which exposed me to another world and possibilities of how issues can be handled through innovative, crowd-sourced, and collaborative ways.
I later began working with UNDP [United Nations Development Programme] funded projects on environment sustainability in New Delhi as well as being part of Charities Aid Foundation – India in New Delhi and Bangalore, working on ICTs [Information and Communications Technology] for Development had helped me formulate my own thoughts and insights on how ‘development’ should be approached.
In my opinion, reducing dependency on ‘aid’ whether international or local was a key driver in these thoughts.
I was clear that the values of dignity, sense of belonging and ownership had to drive the journey towards sustainability. Locally driven wealth generation was the key. These thoughts laid the foundation for the growth of The Blue Yonder as a pioneering Responsible Tourism business in India.