‘Bottom-up’ approach must to mainstream new destinations: NatGeo achiever

As NatGeo brought together achievers, as a part of the Mission Explorer, to celebrate their success stories – which included India’s first female surfer and a musician among others – we caught up with Arjun Venkatraman. A tech buff, who is tirelessly linking communities in the hinterland through a home-grown network called the community owned MESH (Cow-Mesh). He believes that technologies like these hold the key to promoting thousands of unheard destinations scattered across the nation, bringing them into the mainstream by actively engaging the local population.

Need a 'bottom-up' approach to mainstream new destinations; involving local communities a must, says Arjun Venkatraman2“Communities and panchayats can set up localized towers and boost local connectivity. It’s a cheap technology and extremely feasible,” explains Arjun – who has been instrumental in setting up a local network of information sharing called the Cow MESH.  He shares that he had started working on it in 2013 and deployed his first working network in the beginning of this year only. “We were living in a remote village, in a forest sanctuary, in there is tourist spot right behind the hill – which is known as Devarayanadurga; it is a temple town in Tumkur district. It gets almost 10,000 tourists every weekend – and the group we were working with was keen that we use these footfalls to get more data about the place, about its offerings, essentially about its varied flora and fauna,” details Arjun.

Sharing that the place had little infrastructure and not much awareness about it, he contends that, “one way to publicize it is to involve people in the process. So, if people come there, they already have a vibrant network that helps them understand its unique offering; and instead of being just using the information, they can be an active participant in making it a vibrant network of knowledge of the local ecosystem – which will further its outreach to a wider audience,” he puts forth a logical argument.

Explaining that the feasibility of ‘home-grown’ network lied in the fact that its incremental cost was extremely low, he says that “MESH will run well when people begin to realize that it will connect them to a bigger marketplace. For instance, when a taxi driver realizes that by the virtue of being on this network, he can connect with tourists planning to go back to Bengaluru before anyone else,” he substantiates. “So it is a viable business case. Then people will start putting in the effort to maintain these networks. And the cost is less than what you pay for maintaining your router at home,” he adds.

Sounding a word of caution on the modus operandi of how we choose to develop a destination and its consequential outreach to a wider audience, he points out that, “We are focusing on customers and not on service providers. Our knowledge of a destination is limited because the content is coming from people who cover them. The place and local communities nearby do not have much say in it.”  “The content is coming from ‘top-down’ and not ‘bottom-up’,” adds the techie.

Noting that there were thousands of places in the country –which may become new destinations, but unavailability of network and connectivity have kept them in oblivion, he moots that, “Those are the places where you would want the future of tourism to grow. The future of travel and tourism is going to be escape from city life and into wilderness.” He concludes by batting for technology and connectivity to address these lacunae. “Infusion of technology can help provide luxurious living without messing up the environment,” he adds.

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