TravelBiz Monitor

In Conversation

Tuesday, 18 January, 2011, 12 : 00 PM [IST]
‘Tourism is the best tool for conservation of wildlife’ - Shyamendra Singh, Founder, Pugdundee Safaris


TBM: How did the idea of Pugdundee Safaris come into being?
The idea of Pugdundee came way back in 1991-92 when I along with KK Singh, one of the pioneers in Wildlife Tourism in India, launched moving camps. It was that time when there were no guest houses, rest houses or resorts around. We used to travel with all the equipments, kitchen staff, etc. and set up camps as per our design to service guests at remote places. Unfortunately, after few seasons, the venture and concept died down due to poor marketing of the product.

In 1986 I set up Ken River Lodge in Panna, which during the 2005 floods was destroyed and also saw the death of many tigers, resulting in a fall in tourism drastically. There was lot of adverse publicity as well. Kings Lodge in Bandhavgarh was the second property, which we opened and after that we opened an exclusive Tree House Hideaway, again in Bandhavgarh. The fourth lodge was opened in Kanha last year, which is known as Kanha Earth Lodge.

After I ventured out of Panna to set up jungle lodges at Bandhavgarh and Kanha, I wanted to put all these individual lodges under one brand and that is how Pugdundee brand was born for the second time. The word ‘pug’ means footprint and ‘pugdundee’ in local jargon means ‘forest trail’. The name fits in perfectly with what we are doing.

TBM:  How matured is Wildlife Tourism in India?
Wildlife Tourism in India still revolves around tiger and bird watching. Wherever there is good opportunity to see tigers, people tend to go there. Accessibility is a major issue with wilderness destinations in India. National parks with easy accessibility become more popular. For instance, Ranthambore, Corbett, etc. are not that great compared to parks in Madhya Pradesh, but they are popular because of the accessibility and closeness to Delhi. In case of Madhya Pradesh, local tourists visit these parks, because of the affordability factor. Though domestic and foreign tourists have the money, time prohibits them to visit these destinations. A lot of time is lost in travelling to reach these places.

For Wildlife Tourism to flourish, it is important that people visiting these places should understand the value of natural habitats. The local community in all these places have an important role to play. The awareness programmes and benefits of tourism and value of conservation need to reach the local community.

TBM: Could you explain the challenges of working in wilderness areas and how does the rift between various government agencies make your job difficult?
Doing business in a wilderness location which doesn’t have its support system and government policies is difficult. The major issue is lack of clarity on the part of the government, both at state and central level, with regards to whether they want Wildlife Tourism or not. At one stage, they encouraged Wildlife Tourism, they publicised the tiger abroad and two out of the three tourism brochures carried a tiger’s picture. Suddenly, the Ministry of Environment & Forests, Government of India said that there will not be any tourism activities in core wildlife areas. Actually, it is tourism that is supporting conservation at all these places. There may be some nuisance elements here and there, but that can be nipped quite easily. Today, people coming to these places and stakeholders themselves are aware of the sentiments and sensitivities of the place and they themselves will check these elements. There is an automatic check and balance happening in all these places.

What is needed is real understanding on the carrying capacity of each park. Similarly, considering the popularity of Tiger Tourism in the country, the government should take the initiative to translocate tigers to other areas and also protect the tiger population. The biotic pressure is so much on the existing parks that we cannot leave everything to nature now but have to manage it.

TBM: How activities of agencies like TOFT are helping in conservation?
Travel Operators for Tigers (TOFT) has put lodge owners and travel agents/operators under one umbrella. A lot of ideas are being exchanged among the members. A lot of people come into the business, and they do things in their own way thinking that they are doing it in the right way. But they may be wrong and against the spirit of conservation. So, organisations like TOFT help in keeping a check and setting certain standards.

TBM: Jungle lodges are mushrooming in all national parks and wilderness destinations these days. How Pugdundee Safaris is different and what is your USP?
We are actually imparting an experience. Our lodges are close to the natural habitat, so we try to imbibe the right practices and also help the local community in different ways. We are not here only for money, but also for our passion for wildlife. Of course, money is a factor to the point that the business is sustainable. I personally feel that conservation is also a good business.

Our staff and naturalists are well trained, disciplined and knowledgeable. They are an integral part in making the stay and wilderness safari experience of guests memorable.

TBM: Do you have any plans to expand your footprint to other national parks inside Madhya Pradesh, as well as in other Indian states?
Yes, we are coming up with two more properties soon, one in Pench and the other at Madai in Satpura National Park. Both these properties are expected to be ready by end of 2011 and will have a small inventory of 12 cottages each. We believe in small inventories wherever we set up resorts.

As far as other places are concerned, we definitely have plans to explore opportunities in areas frequented by snow leopards in the Himalayas. We have identified a few places in Himachal Pradesh and Ladakh for the same. As far as Ladakh is concerned, we will be working with a partner as the law does not permit us to operate alone. We can definitely impart our expertise and marketing tools for the local partner there. We also have plans to foray into Nepal. The political situation is improving there and we are hopeful of establishing our footprint in at least two to three places in Nepal as well.