Case Description and Methods of Study
Gopinath Parayil (Gopi) is the founder of The Blue Yonder (hereafter referred to as TBY), a social enterprise which operates primarily in India, but which recently expanded its operations to include tours in South Africa, Nepal, Bangladesh, Bhutan, and Sri Lanka. Consistent with the 2002 Cape Town Declaration on Responsible Tourism, the company aims to “create better places for people to live in and for people to visit” (The Blue Yonder Associates, n.d.). The second social enterprise, Grassroutes, was founded by Inir Pinheiro. Grassroutes is an organization “committed to helping the urban world meet and discover rural India” (Grassroutes, n.d.). It is much narrower in its geographical scope than TBY, with operations currently spanning primarily weekend trips to three villages in the Ahmednagar district of the state of Maharashtra in India: Purushwadi, Valvanda and Dehna.
Both Gopi and Inir identify themselves as social entrepreneurs in responsible tourism, which in the context of this research, is identified as the practice of tourism based on the underlying principles of the 2002 Cape Town Declaration on Responsible Tourism. While they work in the same domain, the business models established by these entrepreneurs are different. TBY functions as a more conventional tour operator, whereby it does not get actively involved in the operation of the services it provides. Its mandate is to provide a platform for the various services to be combined into package tour products. It does so by working with existing suppliers of accommodation, transportation, activity partners, distributors, etc. in its various locations. For example, in the state of Kerala, TBY’s homeland, one of the tours is called Malabar Holidays: a 14 day trip through the region of Malabar, which includes spice tours, tea and coffee plantation visits, rainforest trek, camping, country boat cruise, and folk art forms, among other activities. Relatedly, its trips are typically much longer in duration than those offered by Grassroutes. TBY also functions as a ground handling agent for various outbound operators in its source markets: The Netherlands, Germany, France, Austria, and Norway, among others. In such a partnership, tourists perceive that they are traveling with the source outbound operator, but TBY actually handles the on-ground arrangements for the operator and charges it a commission.
An example of a Grassroutes tour is The Story of Rice, which allows adventure- oriented tourists to partake in the ancient art of growing rice at Dehna and Purushwadi villages. The trip is offered over 2 days, and includes accommodation, authentic village cooked meals, rural activities and a Grassroutes tour guide. The localized nature of the Grassroutes experience has resulted from the company getting involved in much of the hands-on development and operation of its products. The villagers at the three locations were provided extensive training by Grassroutes prior to their inclusion into tourism. Also, much of the initial financial investment in developing the required infrastructure at the villages (accommodation, restrooms, activities, etc.) was provided by Grassroutes. The two companies also differ in the profiles of the incoming travelers; between 90 and 95% of TBY’s tourists to India are international, while the same percentage of Grassroutes travelers is domestic. One would expect, as a corollary, and given the number of products it offers and its geographical scope, that TBY’s annual revenues are higher than those of Grassroutes.
To understand Gopi and Inir’s personal motivations for establishing their businesses, a narrative inquiry approach was adopted. As Mckenzie (2007) notes, narrative enquiry is an appropriate method of collecting data as “entrepreneurs are generally keen to share their experiences and love to tell stories about themselves” (p. 310) The narratives were collected using a modified three interview process (Seidman, 2006) and analyzed using a hybrid thematic coding process (Boyatzis, 1998; Muir-Cochrane & Fereday, 2006). Such an approach combines both theory-driven a priori coding with data-driven inductive coding. Thus, while the literature on social entrepreneurial motivations, identity creation, and the narratives of social entrepreneurship provided the theoretical coding framework, the various sub-themes within these areas were induced directly from the data. Given the constructionist approach of narrative inquiry whereby meaning is co-created by the participant and the researcher (Guba & Lincoln, 1994), the authors utilized member checking to ensure interpretation validity. The result is a deep insight into the social entrepreneur’s mindset.