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Virtual Tour of magdas HOTEL

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Take a virtual tour of magdas HOTEL, a social enterprise hotel in Vienna, Austria that empowers migrants, refugees, and newcomers to the country through their training and employment program. At one time, this eclectic hotel was an elderly residence, but with crowdfunding and a grant from a local non-profit, Caritas, the building has been transformed into an accommodation well worth visiting.

magdas is the first social business hotel in Austria, and employs 10 professionals in tourism, who work alongside 10 refugees. This job-shadowing and mentorship between refugees and professionals in the industry an important part of the program, alongside initiatives like language lessons and other services. The idea here is that refugees will later be hired by other hotels in tourist-heavy Vienna, allowing a steady stream of refugees to learn hospitality skills at magdas.

Along with an internationally-themed breakfast buffet (serving things like baba ganoush and other dishes from the refugees’ home countries), magdas has been entirely decorated with up-cycled, donated, or recycled materials. Old doors have become mirrors, repurposed lockers have become serving bays for the buffet breakfast. Rooms were decorated thanks to the Academy of Arts, which resides next-door, and other sustainable initiatives such as a honey-making business that keeps beehives on the rooftop are displayed in the hotel’s lobby.

Click the video below to enjoy the full virtual tour, and see for yourself!

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Two Projects Launched in Sri Lanka

This July was an exciting month for Planeterra in Sri Lanka, as not one but TWO of our new partnerships started to receive travellers from G Adventures. Each is a unique guesthouse with community empowerment at the heart of their business plans.

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Tamarind Gardens Farm, Digana

This quaint dairy farm is situated in a dolomite mining community. Owners Ayesha and Nalin aim to bring tourism to the community as an alternative means of income, and use the space to provide meaningful opportunities and training to anyone interested. Planeterra supported their work by funding a community garden to act as a seed bank for community members to begin their own home gardens. This program allows more community members to be involved in Tamarind Gardens, and works to improve access to healthy food. G Adventures’ travellers will also be receiving a handmade bag from the women’s cooperative on site, which was a program initiated by Tamarind Gardens to support young mothers and provide them with an accessible income generating opportunity.

Read more about this partnership here.

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Amba Chutney Cooperative, Bandarawela

This organic tea plantation is nestled in the hills of Ella. The estate provides fair employment opportunities, training and profit sharing for those working on the tea farm. With tourism growing in the valley, there is now the opportunity to support micro-enterprises that can benefit from the tourist volume coming to stay at Amba’s guest house and visit the farm. Planeterra has supported the first micro-enterprise in Bandarawela, a cooperative of six women that will be trained in chutney production. The chutney will be sold back to Amba, giving a built in market to the cooperative.

Read more about this partnership here.

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The impact of tourism in Panauti, Nepal

Although it’s hard not to enjoy staying in a beautiful, luxurious hotel while travelling, the reality is that most budget hotels—and some mid-range ones, too—simply end up being a place to rest your head. For travellers who want much more from their accommodation, the Community Homestay project in Nepal offers just that. As well as providing guests an opportunity to experience authentic Nepali life, get to know small-town locals and participate in non-touristy activities, there is a serious social benefit to the host communities.

The Community Homestay project, run by Kathmandu-based Royal Mountain Travel, has been operating their flagship collection of homestays in Panauti since 2013. The Panauti Community Homestay project has recently partnered with Planeterra as one of the new projects for the 50 in 5 Campaign. Initially, 13 homes were involved. Now, 26 beds in 17 homes are open to visitors in Panauti.

The aim of the homestays from the beginning was to help empower the women of the community, in the understanding that by strengthening women, whole communities are strengthened. In traditional Nepali society—which still dominates everywhere but the most privileged enclaves of the major cities—women are typically dependent on men, first their fathers and then their husbands. They are usually under- or uneducated, too, so don’t get many opportunities to earn their own money or contribute to the household in any way other than with their household chores. The Community Homestays aimed to change all that in their communities.

The good news is, they’ve been really successful, especially in Panauti, where they began. Panauti is not completely rural but not urban, either. It’s a small town about forty kilometres from Kathmandu, traditionally inhabited by Newari people, an ethnic group largely found in and around the Kathmandu Valley. The town is surrounded by rice fields and hills, which are bright green just after the monsoon, and the architecture in the centre of the town is typically Newari, with ornately carved wooden doorways and windows. The main historical attraction of the town is the Indreshwar Temple, a tall pagoda structure beside the river that is the oldest temple in Nepal, dating from 1294. A sightseeing tour around Panauti with the host family is sure to interest travellers with various tastes.

The women of Panauti have been able to generate extra income for their households through hosting guests, and have some control over their own money. They have joined English classes so they can communicate better with their guests, which have given them greater confidence and social skills. They have worked together and made new friends and colleagues, and are no longer as house-bound as they once were. As one homestay host, Sabita KC, commented: “As I am, now, able to help with the household expenses, we can save money for the future of our children. I am glad that I am part of the homestay project.”

Operating the homestays has also had community-wide effects, beyond just the households directly involved. In order to be able to host guests, homes must meet a good standard of hygiene in all respects, including food preparation and waste disposal. As the hosting women became better educated about safe practices, the whole town caught on. As tourists to Nepal tend to enjoy clean, green natural environments free of garbage, the hosts became better aware of keeping their town in good shape. While Nepal isn’t short of stunning natural landscapes, unfortunately many settlements tend to be litter-strewn, with poor water quality in the rivers and ponds. But, as Panauti host Parvati Sainju commented: “We are more aware of sanitation and hygiene now. The entire community is more concerned about moving away from plastics and non-decaying products.”

The community has benefited in monetary ways, too. The thirty-four homestay women contribute 20% of their total income towards the development of community. So far, these funds have been put towards scholarships for underprivileged students. This sharing of some of the profits is a requirement of inclusion in the programme, and ensures that the ‘community’ aspect of Community Homestay stays strong.

These days, around 1800 guests stay at the Panauti Community Homestay annually. With such tangible achievements evident from just its first four years of operation, there are high hopes for what the project could continue to do for Panauti, as well as for other communities around Nepal.

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Author: Elen Turner is a freelance travel writer and editor based in Kathmandu, Nepal. Find her at www.elenturner.com

Royal Mountain Travel is connecting a network of homestays in Nepal through CommunityHomestay.com. Be sure to check out some of the other amazing homestays they have supported, including Planeterra’s partners at Barauli Community Homestay.  G Adventures’ Local Living Nepal tour brings you to Panauti village to spend four nights with your community hosts!

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Bolivia Community Project Leaders Visit Cusco, Perú

In April 2017 five community members from Jukil Community Lodge in Bolivia travelled to Cusco, Perú as part of a week-long internship program supported by Planeterra. The trip’s purpose was to contribute to the strengthening of their knowledge about social enterprise management in the tourism industry, to exchange good practices between the communities, and also to provide the necessary tools to improve their tourism program. This experience allowed unique indigenous groups from different countries to interact and learn more about one another’s culture. With many of the community tourism leaders in Bolivia never travelling before, it was an experience of a lifetime to see a new culture from a traveller’s perspective.

The intern group included one community leader, the lodge manager, two women, and a youth leader. Before travelling, the interns took part in workshops to imagine the communities that they would visit, as well as how they envisioned their own own community enterprise growing in the coming years.

The interns lived as travellers for two days to understand how tourists feel in other countries and to experience the local services. Another day was spent learning about community tourism operations, and one day spent having meetings with other community leaders to better understand how they are managing their tourism business through training modules provided by the Planeterra field team. The interns also visited the G Adventures local office in Cusco – giving them a better overview of the logistics that go behind an effective tourism program.

It was an amazing trip because some community members had never travelled before, and they were feeling nervous, shy, and excited to see and talk with their peers for first time. After the internship experience, they were able to communicate their experiences to the rest of their community: Interns presented what they learned with the help of facilitators showing photographs and videos to convey what they learned.

They worked all together on a plan to improve their community business; including a list of possible actions and needs for the community. These plans are being used to create a robust improvement plan to better the services provided at Jukil Community Lodge in the future.

The internship program provided community leaders with a space for sharing experiences and lessons learned for their community enterprises, and to reflect on challenges and opportunities. It also provided an opportunity to analyze and understand tourism dynamics and the potential impact on the social, cultural, economic and environmental dimension of community life.

As manager for the region, Joel Callanaupa stated that “Seeing their smiles and excited conversations with other communities Planeterra works with, as well as the interaction between distinct indigenous communities, was incredibly meaningful, and unforgettable.”



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A sweet welcome to Barauli

It was a sweet welcome when I entered Barauli village, located on the west side of Chitwan National Park in Nepal. Not just because of the smiling faces and the delicious welcome drink, but because you could tell that this was a group of people that are sincerely so happy for you to be there.

After you go through a traditional Tharu welcome ceremony you are greeted by Jeevan Kumari with your (I cannot emphasize this enough) delicious welcome drink. Jeevan is a quiet yet confident woman with a graceful air about her. She mans the bar in the community restaurant and does so with pride.

The Barauli community has been running the homestay program for the last three years. With the support of Royal Mountain Travel, the community was able to construct individual room guest houses – much like a typical home – for travellers to stay. Jeevan had been completing her studies and was married just one year ago. After marriage she knew she needed to find something to do beyond her household chores. Encouraged by the tourists that visited her village almost every day, Jeevan decided to apply for a job in the restaurant. Now she works every day that there are guests and goes to spend time with her family on her days off.

Jeevan has noticed a lot of changes in her village since the homestay project began. “The tourists are helping us to keep our village clean”, she said. “When the tourists came, people noticed that they weren’t throwing plastic on the ground. Now everyone encourages each other to keep the community clean.” She goes on, “before we didn’t use soap – now we use it for our clothes and our dishes.” These small yet meaningful changes have led to an overall reduction in sickness in the village she reported, and now if someone does get sick, they know to call the doctor. Even child birth has improved since the community’s exposure into the tourism industry, with women choosing to call the doctor instead of the witch doctor when a woman goes into labour. The women also noted that before the homestay program was developed, they would have to bring all their vegetables to the market for sale, which was an extremely time consuming and difficult process. Today the homestay program purchases all their vegetables, meaning travellers get to enjoy local produce and women no longer have to make that difficult journey.

There’s been a lot of progress, but Jeevan is keen to keep moving forward. “Most people here are uneducated so I want to give them knowledge” she said. She hopes that someday she can be a teacher. Right now she is saving her money from her job to pay for her future plans, and to set more education programs in action for the youth of the village.

Changes in the community don’t stop there. With the assistance of Planeterra following the 2015 earthquake in Nepal, the community was able to install a solar energy grid, solar lights, western toilets, water tanks, and air conditioners to better improve the experience of their travellers. The street lights have improved the overall safety of students who leave Barauli early in the morning to travel to the college in the next village. Jeevan noted that other communities were noticing these improvements and starting to make plans of their own to introduce street lights.

Jeevan reflects that before the homestay program, girls often only went to school up until class 10. Today girls go on to further education and even take jobs in the city. Everyone is happy with these changes — including the men. Jeevan glowed as she stated how proud her husband was to share with other men that his wife was working at the homestay program. I would be proud too – the Barauli community has put together an amazing experience for travellers that come visit.

When you visit the Barauli Community Homestay in Nepal you are not only getting an authentic Tharu village experience, you are creating a better future for the children of the village. While Jeevan is not quite ready to have children of her own (she says she has far too much to accomplish before she can think about this) she is so proud to see that the children are now learning things she was never taught in college. Things are changing rapidly for Barauli, and it won’t be slowing down any time soon if Jeevan has anything to do with it.

After going on a jungle safari (sighting 8 rhinos!), seeing a traditional Tharu cultural dance and enjoying a delicious meal of Nepali curries, I retreated to my quaint room — basking in the peace and quiet that can only be found in such a remote setting.

The Barauli Community Homestay is proudly supported by Royal Mountain Travel and G Adventures. Rhea is the Asia Coordinator for Planeterra and was able to visit Baruali for the first time in April, 2017.

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