Kochi, Sep 23: Poor women, who never stepped out of their homes before, are now negotiating deals with top-notch resorts to supply fruits, vegetables and other essentials, thanks to a pioneering project on 'Responsible Tourism' initiated by the Kerala Government.
Showcasing the 'Responsible Tourism Initiative' at the 5th Kerala Travel Mart, officials of the tourism department and the 'Kudumbasree' Poverty Eradication Mission say that the project is slowly transforming the lives of hundreds of poor rural women, giving them not only income but also a sense of empowerment.
''Women, who were earlier plagued by poverty and inertia, are now seeing a drastic change in their lives, thanks to this project,'' 'Kudumbasree' officer R Parvathi Devi told sources.
She said the project was launched on a pilot basis last year with the four popular tourist destinations of Kumarakom, Kovalam, Thekkady and Wayanad selected to test the waters.
In Kumarakom, it has already gathered speed with nearly 1,240 women mobilised under self-help groups to take up paddy, vegetable and animal husbandry enterprises.
They have signed agreements with 15 local hotels and resorts to supply fruits, vegetables, meat, fish, chicken and other items on a daily basis.
In Kovalam, agreements have been inked with 22 hotels to supply 17 items including baskets and paper bags.
The initiative is to be soon launched in Thekkady and Wayanad also, she added.
As of now, the 'Kudumbasree' self-help groups are supplying a total of 35 products to the hotels.
At the Kerala Travel Mart, the 12 stalls of the 'Kudumbasree', showcasing exquisite handicrafts and herbal products, have become a big draw with the foreign and domestic visitors.
''In fact, so taken up was a tour operator with our work that he suggested that the Kudumabasree project itself could be the theme of a tour,'' Ms Parvathi said.
Stating that there was immense potential to involve rural women in tourism projects, Ms Parvathi said nearly 3.6 million poor women, grouped in 200,000 neighbourhood groups, were part of the 'Kudumbasree' mission.
Some of these grpups made beautiful handicrafts which could be sourced as souveniers by the tourist industry, she said.
Admitting that there was some resistance initially by the hotels and the local suppliers when the 'Responsible Tourism Initiative' was launched in Kumarakom, Ms Parvathi said the women had now been able to generate confidence that they could be trusted to keep the supply-end going.
Also, they had been able to standardise the price and quality, which was now being appreciated by the resorts.
''We have just started. The potential is tremendous. Rural women could be great partners of the state's tourism industry, especially as responsible tourism and partnership with local communities is being stressed by the government,'' she added.