This entrepreneur is trying to uplift her hometown and put it on the tourism map

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There is no dearth of tourism options in India, a country that is geographically blessed. What it lacks, essentially, is the tool with which to promote certain lesser-known places that have potential.

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There have been reports in the recent past of tourists overcrowding some popular destinations, with local bodies trying to curb the influx. This imbalance does a great disservice to other haunts that are poised to become tourist-friendly places, but do not have the same exposure.

Devgad, a small town in Maharashtra, is one such place. Vaishnavi Joil, who is a native, realised that her quaint little beach town — along the picturesque Konkan coastline — is meant for bigger things; that it has the potential to appeal to tourists from other parts of India and abroad. And that is why she has been striving to put it on the tourism map — so that more people come and visit the place — by creating employment opportunities for locals.

In a recent interaction with indianexpress.com, Vaishnavi, who is an IT engineer and a robotics expert, talked about how and why she took a career detour to start an adventure tourism company in her hometown — called Flying Konkan Zipline Adventure Sports — the untapped opportunities in Devgad, the need to create more platforms for residents in order to boost tourism, and why the government should push for tourism in smaller Indian towns and cities, among others.

Excerpts:

Tell us about Devgad. What is the best way to reach it and the best time of the year to visit the place?

Devgad is a taluka in Sindhudurg district located in the coastal region of Konkan. It is known for its premium alphonso mangoes, but also has beautiful beaches and is about 100 km from Ratnagiri, towards Goa. The most convenient way to reach the place is by train, on the Mumbai to Goa line. Devgad is a 1.5 hour drive from the nearest railway station of Kankavli. The cheapest way to reach from Mumbai is a 16-hour bus ride and the fastest would be to take a flight to Goa, and then a cab to Devgad, which takes around 7 hours. The best time is from January until April, and July until December.

What are all the things that Devgad is famous for that a lot of people do not know?

The world-famous alphonso mangoes were first planted here by the Portuguese. Another identity of Devgad is its beaches, harbour, Devgad Fort and the iconic Vijaydurg Fort. In addition to these spots, Devgad is also known for its beautiful temples and the historic petrographs that have recently been discovered.

Why do you think Devgad is not as popular a tourist spot?

Devgad is not easily accessible from the Mumbai-Goa highway; it is very much secluded and has no direct connectivity by train or air. Apart from that, there has been little effort in developing tourism here. Flying Konkan, however, is trying to change that with the introduction of India’s first coastal zipline and a surfing school.

You have been an IT engineer and a robotics expert; what made you think of starting an adventure tourism company in your hometown?

As an IT engineer and a robotics expert, I was as far away from starting an adventure tourism company! Yet, the pandemic happened and the dream to form a tech start-up transformed into a deep desire to do something to uplift the people of my hometown, and put it on the tourist map and path to development, just like its neighbouring towns of Malvan and Ratnagiri.

You spent your childhood here; tell us about some fond memories.

Devgad has been our hometown, but we were raised, schooled and worked in Mumbai. So as children, when we visited Devgad during summer vacations, it would be the most carefree time of the year for us!

Some of my most fond memories have been of enjoying the mangoes, playing with my cousins and running around the beach, taking in the open sea and the vast expanse of the coast. Devgad also has a lot of hidden trekking routes, beautiful historic temples and lovely cuisine, including fresh seafood, jackfruit, and a lot of other local delicacies that we continue to savour till date.

What did you envision when you founded Flying Konkan, in terms of employment opportunities and boosting tourism?

I was saddened to see the lack of opportunities for the youth and the rate of unemployment. Although equally picturesque when compared to some of Konkan’s other popular tourist destinations, Devgad had not witnessed any tourist influx. That is when I teamed up with my brother and decided to do something to uplift my hometown. I have envisioned a lot of new offerings under Flying Konkan and the zipline is just the first of several such initiatives.

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What is so unique about the coastal zipline on the shores of Devgad?

A well-known adventure sport abroad, zip-lining is rare in India and whatever few options are available, they are generally restricted to the mountains and hill stations. Zipline along a beach was never heard of. But, I knew it was a possibility to not only introduce it to the Indian population, but also break away from the niche ‘water sports’ category that is actively promoted across coastal holiday destinations, especially in Konkan.

What started with a curiosity and an idea in 2016, finally materialised in January 2021, after years of meticulous research, planning, permissions, paperwork, and several trials. Zipline offers breathtaking views of the beach and the sea. Perched at a height of about 280 feet from the sea level and with a total length of 1885 feet, the landing point height is 40 feet from the ground and is accessed through a special steel ramp made for landing with a staircase installed on it.

You also have a surfing school in Devgad; when did you start it?

After the coastal zipline, we launched a board surfing school at the pristine Taramburi and Devgad beaches in April 2022 with an internationally-trained and certified panel of instructors. We aim to attract tourists and surfers to enjoy the beaches that offer the perfect wave quality and height to enjoy safe and enjoyable board surfing off the Konkan coast. One of the other objectives behind starting the surfing school was to employ and train local youth and provide them vocational skill development opportunities, so they can explore a career as professional surfing instructors, both in India and abroad. We also aim to sponsor our best employees to compete on national and international platforms.

What can you tell us about the local delicacies in your hometown, given that you are planning to start a kitchen, too?

As a woman entrepreneur myself, I am invested in empowering the local women folk and plan to start a restaurant/eatery that employs women, who cook the best of local cuisines, to allow travellers the most authentic taste of the region while also helping women to become independent. Right now, we already have a tea shop and soon we will start the kitchen.

What message would you give to the local authorities and the government about the push for tourism in smaller Indian towns and cities?

Local authorities have been supportive, but more initiative from the government to support entrepreneurs in this field of developing tourism and bringing the economy to this town can help accelerate our efforts.

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