Ecotourism: Scrambling for paradise

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Seeking nirvana
Rich, restless and willing to pay

Babu Vargese was thrown out of college because he insisted on wearing his hair long. Vargese likes to do things differently. Like running TourIndia, a Kerala based travel agency he founded 20 years ago. His keen interest in nature and people, coupled with a nose for business opportunities led him to innovate with the traditional kettuvallom boats plying in the backwaters of Kerala, converting them into houseboats made from local materials and skill. The idea was to offer tourists a non invasive and unique experience in a natural surrounding, while benefiting the local economy and reviving the age-old craft of boat building.

This was six years ago. Today, the stretch of backwaters from Quilon to Allepey is teeming with houseboats. With no proper regulations and lack of any policy vision, the houseboats are getting out of hand. The idea, with all the trappings of an ecotourism venture, threatens to destroy the very environment it survives on.

Vargese has realised the potential of ecotourism. After his houseboat success, the entrepreneur in him has gone on to team up with the Kerala forest department to create a unique tourism scheme where former animal poachers have turned into tourist guides. His latest ecotourism