— Jasmeen Dugal (click here to know more about this blogger)
Himmat Anand, Founder, Tree of Life Resorts And Hotels has rich experience in travel, tourism and hospitality with Taj Mansingh New Delhi and Sita Travels.In 2000, Kuoni bought Sita Travels and Himmat became Head of Kuoni India Trails and subsequently COO of Kuoni's inbound business in India and South Asia. However, developing his own resort was always a dream… and that is how the Tree Of Life took birth with the flagship on the outskirts of Jaipur. Seven acres land with thirteen 900 sq ft luxury villas. That is where I got acquainted with the hotelier. Over time, I have observed him as someone who is straightforward, passionate, true to his vision and thoroughly enjoys what he does. In conversation with him.
As a seasoned hotelier, what are the crucial issues you see cropping up in hospitality, post- pandemic?
Most unfortunately, the hospitality industry has gone into an overdrive on safety measures being taken at hotels and the 'feel good' factor for which a guest comes to us seems to have been temporarily forgotten. We need to differentiate between 'hospital' and 'hospitality' — the guest comes to us for the latter. So while I do not discount the importance of guests' safety, I think we are scaring away potential guests with constant over-focus on this. I also see a constant change of rules and regulations by State Governments towards sudden lockdowns as a dampener in restarting travel. There certainly must be more clarity and consistency in what is being done!!
In your opinion- what kind of government support does the hospitality industry need?
I believe it is no longer what the industry needs — it is more about if the Government is willing to give any support other than lip service! All Governments have consistently highlighted the huge contribution of tourism to the country's economy. We used to, pre- Corona, contribute approximately ten per cent each towards the country's GDP and overall employment. The Government did nothing for us then. Post pandemic, I guess our contribution will come down to half for a while — why should they give us any importance now? If there was just one thing they would do for us — give us Industry status — it would solve a major part of our issues. This request has been pending with the Government for over a decade!
The devastating effects of the ongoing pandemic is like watching the domino effect. Industries ground to a halt, including Hospitality. What are you going through right now since Tree Of Life is in expansion mode and A Dog's Story is on the verge of being launched?
In my professional career of close to three decades, I have seen various 'devastations', this one being the most lethal! Today, as someone who became an entrepreneur a decade ago, I have a simple philosophy. I believe that I have lost all, am at zero and need to start working back upwards from here. And this thought process comes from a position of strength, not of weakness. I believe my team and I have the strength to restart all over again and get back to where we were, say, in eighteen months. We continue to be conscious of new opportunities and are adding properties to our existing portfolio of eight resorts. We should, in the next six months, be at twelve resorts, if not more. The same goes for A Dog's Story. We started with one in Jaipur towards the end of last year, which has just re-opened. And we are now adding two more in the Mussoorie foothills and Corbett Country — scheduled to open by September. So, yes, keep your spirits high and do not lose sight of your end goal.
What's certain is that the new normal in hospitality will be marked by structural shifts, particularly in customer expectations. I have personally witnessed how your properties have followed most stringent levels of hygiene and cleanliness. How are you demonstrating that to reluctant travellers?
What is the 'new normal'? I believe that the situation you are in, which is the present, automatically is the 'normal'. So, in the normal which we now have around us, I believe that demonstrating what you do for your customer is far more important than all the mailers, sign boards etc. So while we are doing all of the regular, we are also being more demonstrative. For example, when a guest checks in, he is accompanied by a staff to the pre-sealed room, which is opened in front of him or her. The guest is then asked if he or she would like us to do another round of quick sanitisation in front of them. We are also being very flexible with bookings. Guests who have confirmed a stay with us, can change it multiple times, without charge or cancellation fee. These are difficult times; we must be more accommodating than we usually are.
Himmat, with International travel restrictions and grim economy, who is your target guest at Tree Of Life and A Dog's Story?
Quite obviously, it will be the domestic market for now, and within that, the driving segment which is moving first. We are also getting queries for small weddings. Holiday travel by flight and train will take a while; I think till end October. The inbound business has been worst hit and I see that coming back very slowly towards the year end and more traction by winter 2021.
Speaking of A Dog's Story, your inspiration is your love for Jugnu. How has the idea taken off among travellers? What was the initial response and is it popular for extended family weekends and long- stay?
Yes, as you say, A Dog's Story came to me as an inspiration from Jugnu, my nine- years- old Labrador. Whenever we wanted to go on a break together, most hotels we would have liked to stay in said 'Pets Not Allowed'. That led me to start A Dog's Story where the pet is the main guest and the human is accompanying! We started in Jaipur last October and had to shut down for the last three months. We have now re-opened and are also adding properties in Mussoorie FootHills and Corbett Country. These are basically two- three room retreats, with open space for pets — an ideal getaway with your pet. Those who are fond of pets, but cannot keep one at home, should also come and stay here to interact with these loving beings. A certain percentage of what we earn goes towards dog shelters. I am happy with my small initiative.
Himmat, do you feel hoteliers should include QR codes, sanitisation stops, disposable menus and masks and no- touch payment? Would it propel Indian hospitality into a more sustainable and technologically innovative space? Would it work here at all?
Like I said earlier, we in hospitality are going into an overdrive on various issues, without realising that peace will have to be made with Corona, a vaccine will be found and we will be finally left with just two or three new deliverables in hospitality. Also, our industry is about contact; at least, the leisure segment is. So while what you say may be true for large hotels in the corporate space, leisure brands like ours should not go that route; at least we are not going that route.
Lastly, have you revised your commercial strategy for the restart… with an eye toward the new normal?
No, there is no 'strategy' because one does not really know the future. There is for now, a gut- feel plan, based on keeping expenses to the minimum, getting work force slowly back into the system, being aware that we will presently do only around forty per cent of the turnover as compared to what we did last year and that we have to somehow survive till October 2020. I see things picking up after that.
5 January 2021 10:38 pm IN CONVERSATION WITH RESTAURATEUR YUVRAJ KOHLI
18 July 2020 9:19 pm IN CONVERSATION WITH CHEF BAKSHISH DEAN
13 June 2020 11:25 pm IN CONVERSATION WITH CHEF VAIBHAV BHARGAVA
27 May 2020 12:42 pm LEGENDARY RESTAURATEUR AD SINGH
15 June 2019 8:45 pm CHEF AKANKSHA DEAN
4 April 2019 3:41 pm CHEF MASSIMILIANO SPERLI
15 February 2019 8:56 pm Aradhana Lal- VP Sustainability Initiatives- Lemon Tree
6 February 2019 7:16 pm PRIDE PLAZA HOTEL VICE PRESIDENT PANKAJ MATHUR
21 August 2018 1:26 pm IN CONVERSATION WITH CHEF ALEX MOSER
12 July 2018 1:57 pm RADISSON BLU PLAZA DELHI GENERAL MANAGER ASHWANI GOELA
27 May 2018 11:49 am FROM CORPORATE ICON SANGEETA KURIAKOS TO CHEF SANGY
25 May 2018 2:16 pm KAVITA BAGGA, KARA ORGANICS ON THE ORGANIC LIFE
25 May 2018 8:06 am MEET RESTAURATEUR AND CHEF RITU DALMIA
2 May 2018 12:06 pm GAURAV DEB, GM, THE LALIT GRAND PALACE
28 April 2018 7:38 am MEET ITC RAJPUTANA GENERAL MANAGER RISHIRAJ SINGH
27 March 2016 7:41 am MICHELIN STAR CHEF SEBASTIAN SANJOU
20 January 2015 3:35 am IN CONVERSATION WITH RESTAURATEUR RAJIV ANEJA