It was six years ago when Vinod came to our small regional office in Wayanad, Kerala, and announced, “What you guys are doing is something that I always wanted to.” Vinod was then, running a small ailing travel company and instantly jumped at our invitation to join us.Vinod brought with him his brand of experience. He began by guiding tourists in Wayanad, his home destination and with time, moved to Bangalore to take care of the financial aspects of the company. While Vinod seems the most unassuming with his silent ways, one can never guess how rapidly his head is processing new information and learning new things. This very quality has brought tremendous value to our organization.Except for a brief six months that Vinod took off to work elsewhere, he is one of our ‘oldest’ colleagues. He looks after most of our South India operations ensuring that guest arrivals are smooth and that the entire supply chain is run like well-oiled machinery. He is the person who interacts with the guests during the journey over phone and ‘the’ person who interacts with properties and our other ‘suppliers’.With decreasing dependence on physical infrastructure in Bangalore, Vinod chose to move back to his village in Wayanad and now works from there. He is also currently involved in developing some unique travel itineraries in his home district
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Anoop with trekkers (first from right)
Always calm and composed, Anoop can show you around every nook and corner of the beautiful mountain region of Wayanad in North Kerala. Any traveller would love to be accompanied by a trusted and knowledgeable tracker and guide: from rainforest trekking to water fall trails to bamboo rafting. “Being able to show my world to people from different cultures and nationalities is an experience in itself.”Bharath Shetty brings in financial expertise and strategic thinking to The Blue Yonder. After his stint at Infosys Technologies and an MBA from Rotman School of Management, Toronto, he joined Intellecap where we was involved in development of business planning, valuation, strategy and research on financial aspects of businesses. Bharath joined TBY to pursue the organisations goal to be the change maker and wealth generator in rural economies of the developing world. He currently runs a sheep and goat farm in the outskirts of Bangalore, while consulting at niiti.
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Zainab at the tropic of cancer in Gujarat with Gopi and team during a scouting trip in Gujarat (Second from left)
Zainab accidentally entered the world of responsible tourism when she acted in response to a Facebook post we posted on Cyclone Aila hitting Eastern parts of India and mainly Sunderbans. She volunteered to document the disaster management and relief work for the Responsible Tourism Network and brought back compelling accounts from the region.An academic aficionado, Zainab studied journalism, completed a Masters in social entrepreneurship from Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai, and then trained in Italy on globalization and sustainable development. Her work with the tribal communities of Gujarat and Rajasthan as an iVolunteer India Fellow brings a range of experiences into The Blue Yonder. Popularly known as the Chief Enthusiasm Officer at The Blue Yonder, she is a promoter and Chief Executive at our consulting division of The Blue Yonder Associates.Recently declared a Global Shaper by the World Economic Forum, she has an interest in the creative arts especially theatre and poetry. An avid traveler, writer and yoga enthusiast, Zainab is passionate about development, loves to dance and loves being in Colombia and Italy! She speaks Italian and is learning Spanish so that she can go and work in Latin America ☺
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Prakash with Zainab & Bharath in Trivandrum
A TBY team member is a lifelong resident of Tirur, a town near Nila. No one can parallel Prakash’s knowledge of the Nila region. His incisive journalistic curiosity and his skill of extracting a story from just about any bystander are legendary. He has traveled to almost every nook and corner of Central and Northern Kerala and there must hardly be a village he doesn’t know.Prakash is usually quiet but occasionally when he does talk, he always leaves us captivated. Anyone who has travelled with him knows that Prakash has the rare but innate ability to tell a story in such a way that he completely transports you and makes you a part of the story.Like many of us, he plays lead role in The Blue Yonder as well as in our consulting division of The Blue Yonder Associates. He is the crucial team leader involved in our prestigious River Nila mapping project where we are crowd-sourcing local knowledge about the Nila civilization covering a massive 12,000 sq2 space covering three north- central Kerala districts.He also is editor of a tourism information magazine called Welcome Kerala that provides snippets about what makes Kerala click! An ardent fan of folk culture, Prakash can give insights into the enigmatic human-Gods of Northern Kerala – The Theyyams!
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Gopi with Fiona Jeffery – Chairman of World Travel Market and The Green Circuit team members (third from right)
It was in 2004, when Gopi was performing the last rites of his father on the banks of River Nila when the seed for setting up The Blue Yonder was sown. Bharathapuzha (River Nila), one of the many sacred rivers in India was almost dry and Gopi was struggling to perform the rituals properly. Having always been connected to the river in different levels, this new reality lead Gopi to form the Nila Foundation, an organization aiming to preserve local natural heritage.Gopi, an advocator of sustainability quickly knew that an organization like the Nila Foundation would require funding to survive. Gopi set up The Blue Yonder to help make Nila Foundation a sustainable entity. Gopi’s sense of empathy and forward looking vision have helped The Blue Yonder became an exemplar for the tourism industry.Rated amongst 50 social entrepreneurs that make a difference to the country by Outlook Business magazine, Gopi is an active volunteer in the palliative care movement in Kerala. He is currently leading an initiative to link meaningful travel through locally owned and managed voluntourism initiatives. He founded niiti consulting and is currently setting up the world’s first 24X7 satellite TV channel focusing on sustainable lifestyle. He is also Chief Advisor at The Blue Yonder Associates.
Dayal Ram Nat
A chance meeting with Dayal Ram Nat at a Folk Festival in Bangalore took us all the way to Rajasthan. Just witnessing the passion and vigour in Dayal’s eyes, we knew we had to work with him.Dayal is now our principal coordinator for community based tourism in Rajasthan. A resident of the marble town of Makrana, Dayal dedicated his life to revival of traditional art forms of Rajasthan. Dayal has the unusual talent of creatively using traditional art forms for promoting social causes. His puppeteering skills and social activism are much lauded at Tilonia, the model village set up by social activist Bunker Roy and team
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Chris with our folk team members in a musica festival in ooty
Christopher Reade Lomholt
Chris joined us as an intern from NHTV, Netherlands. Passionate, enthusiastic and spirited, Chris has a dream of setting up The Blue Yonder in Scandinavian countries. A native of Denmark, Chris has been assisting us in one of the most prestigious participatory mapping project we are engaged in right now, as well as documenting the story of our travel company as a social enterprise.A genuine foodie, Chris is fascinated about Italy more than anything and is gearing up to work in a vineyard of a common friends of ours and explore the possibilities of agritourism in the region.
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Sandeep with Zainab
Sandeep met The Blue Yonder team at the World Travel Market in London in 2005, while he was heading the Incoming Sales division for a big international tour operator. Having been part of the conventional mass tourism for more than 14 years, he was surprised to find us, a responsible tourism company based in India.Next year, Sandeep saw us picking the First Choice Responsible Tourism award at the same venue. We struck a conversation and learnt that Sandeep was seeking newer challenges and we knew of some exactly up his alley. Few months later, Sandeep joined us as and now is the COO for The Blue Yonder.His keen understanding of the larger tourism industry and enthusiasm to learn more about responsible tourism helped us achieve an enviable balance between social thinking and business. Sandeep brought in systems thinking, financial discipline and helped us become operationally profitable in the first two years.Sandeep not only provides the much necessary leadership to our growing organization but also ensures that our travelers truly experience incredible holidays that make a difference to the destination.
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Mariska at ITB with friends & colleagues (second from left)
Linda was introduced to us through the International Centre for Responsible Tourism Centre network. Prof. Harold Goodwin had said of her, “She is one of our brilliant students, look after her well”. Linda Veråsdal joined us in 2007 as an intern to study travelers’ spending habits in the beach destination of Gokarna, India. The study commissioned by ICRT India (which we ran for two years), formed the core part of her thesis, which she defended for a Masters in Responsible Tourism (Greenwich University, UK).Based in Norway, and travelling regularly to countries like Gambia, Romania, Cambodia and the like, Linda has put together brilliant itineraries in partnership with local tour operators and NGOs through which travelers are provided an immersive experience of responsible tourism.Before taking a leadership role at the Ethical Travel Portal and Ansvarlig Turisme, Linda used to represent The Blue Yonder in the Scandinavian market for two years.
Mariska Van Gaalen
Mariska was a skeptical back-bencher at the University of Eberswalde where Gopi was lecturing about responsibility in tourism. Mariska had heard enough of green washing that takes place in tourism in the name of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and she really wasn’t looking forward to another spiel on the same topic.Ironically, that very year, Mariska joined The Blue Yonder as an intern in Bangalore, visited some of our initiatives, interacted with our partners and helped atmosfair, a leading carbon offset not-for-profit based in Berlin to scout for renewable energy projects in India.She designed the first set of ‘Slow Travel’ itineraries for The Blue Yonder. Her contribution to our first voluntourism initiative in partnership with the Institute of Palliative Medicine, a World Health Organization’s Collaborating Centre in Kerala is not only commendable but also pertinent.Trained in Sustainable Tourism Management at the University of Applied Science in Eberswalde, Germany, she is currently a strategic consultant to The Blue Yonder. She maintains her base between Berlin and Bangalore. Her study on ‘traveler’s perspective’ was recently presented at the ESTC conference in Monterey in September 2012 in the USA.
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Ekta during a scouting tour of North Karnataka
Ekta and Gopi used to share an office in Bangalore while she was working for a communication NGO called Voices for all. Taking a break from work and one year before setting up her own organisation ‘Maraa’, she joined our team to help us put together itineraries in Karnataka and identify potential project partners. We travelled length and breadth of Karnataka, sang together, shared ideas and dreamt together. After meeting several artisans and hearing about what was happening in our projects in Kerala, she suggested that we build our own store to promote handicrafts under the brand of The Blue Yonder.She has been running several campaigns under Maraa and been travelling through Europe to promote her film named, ‘Behind the tin sheets’, about the lives of migrant labourers working in the mega city of Bangalore. We miss her in our office, though we know that the best ambassador for us is round the corner.
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Sandra with James and Gopi during documentation work in Nila
Sandra was one of the brightest interns we have ever had. Studying at the NHTV, Netherlands, Sandra demonstrated diligence and commitment that set a benchmark for every intern who succeeded her. Her knack for research and building efficient systems without much assistance was applauded by our marketing team. Her ability to speak French, German, Dutch, English and Spanish, willingness to learn and a natural flair for marketing opened many doors of opportunity for her.After completing her internship and graduation, we were ecstatic when she joined us as our European Representative. Unfortunately, due to visa restrictions in India, we had to discontinue the employment contract. Currently, studying in Vienna and living rest of her time in Hungary, Sandra remains an integral part of The Blue Yonder family. We meet whenever possible during our travel through Europe.
joined Gopi in the initial stages and worked with us for three years before leaving to pursue his passion in spirituality and vedic teachings. He was key in building the networks in our initial project area of River Nila in Kerala. His unfathomable knowledge of the region and interest in the legends and history of the region was something every single traveller who interacted with him would never forget.
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Bharath in Kerala with a Halwa for our colleague Sandra
Bharath Shetty brings in financial expertise and strategic thinking to The Blue Yonder. After his stint at Infosys Technologies and an MBA from Rotman School of Management, Toronto, he joined Intellecap where we was involved in development of business planning, valuation, strategy and research on financial aspects of businesses. Bharath joined TBY to pursue the organisations goal to be the change maker and wealth generator in rural economies of the developing world. He currently runs a sheep and goat farm in the outskirts of Bangalore, while consulting at niiti.
We fondly remember our team mates who worked with us briefly as interns and short term project managers. We thank our earlier colleagues Venky, Bejoy, Lukose, Libby, Pauline, Lotte, Laura and Catarina for adding values to the organisation in different level.