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Heritage Series: ‘The terms and conditions of PPP projects cannot be one-sided’

Aman Nath Aman Nath

Aman Nath, Founder & Chairman, Neemrana Hotels, speaks about how heritage tourism can be developed throughout the nation

Heritage hotels have been the mainstay for India’s heritage tourism. How would you explain its contribution to tourism growth?

In the past people did not always stay in heritage hotels when they were visiting India for the first time. In Agra, for example, there is no heritage hotel of note whereas all the big brands are present. However, in the last few years, Indians and international travellers have become more aware of the rare heritage experiences that India offers. They wrap the travellers and tourists closer to the great continuum of our traditions and their diversity. Thus this sector needs to be encouraged so that the benefits of tourism are spread across our sub-continent.

One of the main positives of Heritage hotels are the conservation of heritage properties: forts, palaces and havelis. However, it remained limited to certain states and pockets. How can we make it pan India phenomena?

The most important aspect that requires attention is to first make all such places accessible. If heritage is to become mainstream, then accessibility is the first step. If it takes two days to get somewhere – it has to be worth it and the memory of the trip can’t just be an exasperating journey. I think that if each district is encouraged and aided by the State and the Centre to put up one showcase of the region’s heritage – which includes architecture, lifestyle, cuisine ... then it can have a demonstrative effect for the other players. As a country we should flaunt our core strengths and identity – in terms of the services, the facilities, the attire of the team, the local cuisine on offer. Authentic and meaningful experiences are what we should seek and chase. Neemrana Hotels is committed to the same.

What challenges are hindering the growth of heritage hotels expansion on pan India level?

All the files and dossiers of findings from several meetings we have all attended over the years, when we were just about to become tourism friendly – still gather dust. Tourism doesn’t need any rocket science or seventh sense to be woken up and showcased. But the Government should ask those who have played the game successfully, through all its potholes and pitfalls, rather than trying to re-invent the wheel. The terms and conditions of PPP projects cannot be one-sided. They have to be practical and realistic, keeping in mind all the relevant factors.

What is the main USPs of your properties? How do you maintain the originality and authenticity?

Neemrana Hotels took some of the oldest, most abandoned and ruined properties and put life into them in many ways. Original and authentic are very subjective words which are interpreted by each person according to their knowledge and pocket. What lifestyle would you expect in a 14th century Hill Fort of Kesroli restored by Neemrana Hotels? There were holes in the turrets which served as the loos. Today this property offers intimate and authentic experiences for travellers and rejuvenating experiences by the swimming pool.

Even at the 15th Neemrana Fort-Palace there were circular holes in the ramparts. An authentic and original experience would mean that guests still use these and feel how the soldiers felt? I think that we are talking of adapting and redefining heritage to a closer version in the 19th-20th centuries when attached bathrooms in palaces brought them into the royal experience. Nearly three decades of passionate revitalisation have now created a historical and vibrant site for feasts, celebrations and conferences. We recently hosted the Miss India Finalists from across the country at Neemrana Fort-Palace who shall participate in the upcoming finale in June 2019. Who would have thought that a crumbled ruin would one day be the venue for such an event?

The Neemrana Hotels continue to be pioneers in creating memorable and unique experiences for our guests. For instance at Neemrana Fort-Palace we have some of the most talented classical dancers from across the country who perform for our resident guests on weekends. The 19th century Tijara Fort-Palace on the other hand showcases folk dance, folk music, and regional arts from Rajasthan. Each Neemrana property is a marvel in itself and each nook and corner within the properties has something to offer guests from across the world.

The Neemrana non-hotel hotels bring each guest closer to themselves and nature. The 19th century Ramgarh Bungalows offer breathtaking views of the Kumaon valley and guests can literally pluck apricots, plums, peaches, pears and apples and enjoy homemade Neemrana jams. The 21st century Glasshouse on the Ganges enjoys a tranquil location on the banks of the holy Ganges and has evolved into a favourite for yoga retreats in addition to weekend getaways.

The 17th century Deo Bagh in Gwalior houses exquisitely carved family temples, cenotaphs, a hathi (elephant) khana and horse stables. The property is renowned for offering the simplistic and personal Neemrana style of hospital and delectable local cuisine. This non-hotel hotel is ideal for travellers that are looking to explore the Agra-Gwalior-Orchha historical belt.

The 17th century Tower House which is situated opposite the unique Chinese fishing nets in the heart of Fort Kochi offers guests the ideal location to unwind and discover the history of the small town using the property as a base.

The 19th century Wallwood Garden emulates a stately home in Scotland. It charming gardens still win many a prize in the Nilgiris and the atmosphere and lifestyle of the past still remains. Guests have the unique opportunity to walk out to the Botancial Gardens to admire many old rare trees like the Rudraksh, Paperwood, Elephant Leg, and Strawberry Tree.

 At The 17th century Bungalow on the Beach in Tranquebar guests have the unique experience of deep breathing India’s thickest ozone layer to prolong their life. Guests can eat the fresh pick of the sea and discover the Dansborg Fort which is in close proximity.

The 19th century Baradari Palace in Punjab is a sprawling garden-palace in the heart of culturally-rich Patiala. It offers guests the opportunity to enjoy a Patiala Peg in style and has also become a favourite Bollywood shoot destination. Yamla Pagla Deewana, Bodyguard, Mausam, Philauri, Gold, and Raazi were filmed here.

The 19th century Arco Iris Neemrana Noble Home located in Curtorim, Goa sprawls across 1.5 acres terraced near a seasonal lake ensuring a green Goan setting through the year. Its colonial Portuguese styling on a high plinth, imposing columns, and high ceilings offers excellent natural ventilation. 

The 20th century Piramal Haveli in Shekhavati Rajasthan offers guests the opportunity to discover a hidden lifestyle in a Rajasthani-Italianate villa on the edge of the desert! At The Piramal Haveli, pillared corridors lead you into the past as the floors tell their own chequered history.One can literally have tea with the peacocks and relish fine thali eating at dinner time.

The 21st century Ishavilas Neemrana Noble Home is nestled amongst tropical trees and a garden of fruits and flowers, and is a perfect choice for those that are looking at rejuvenation as it has its own Time Reversal Rejuvenation Center in-house which integrates various forms of treatments to enhance cellular regeneration and well-being. The tailor made experiences include daily meditation, yoga, and have a specially designed diet plan. 

Traditionally, inbound tourists were driving the businesses of heritage hotels. Now, domestic market is coming stronger. What is your take on this? What is the percentage of foreign V/s domestic guests at your property?

Neemrana has always catered to the requirements of Indian and International travelers both. When the Neemrananification movement gathered momentum in India, there were Indians and the French that dominated the guest profile at our properties. At present we have a healthy mix of domestic guests, followed by guests from USA, France, UK, Ireland, Australia, Canada, Germany, Denmark, Italy. In addition to these there are guests from 43 more countries that visit our properties.

Indians have remained our forte and foreigners who want to discover and enjoy the spectacular venues and experiences that Neemrana offers will continue to remain our focus. Those who travel to see the difference from their own world, must also meet Indians in India. We give them that historical environment where this interaction is made pleasurable.

How has the occupancy and ARRs been for your hotels?

There has been a steady increase in the ARR and the occupancy year-on-year for all our hotels across the country. This has been made possible because of the steady efforts of our Sales and Marketing team that think out-of-the-box and make heritage tourism in India a viable and exclusive concept. In addition, we have continued to innovate and enhance the facilities and services for our guests to ensure a fine blend of history and modern day comforts.

Of late, heritage hotels are also getting MICE and wedding business. What is the contribution of MICE and weddings at your properties?

Neemrana Fort-Palace and Tijara Fort-Palace are fantastic examples of how old ruins can be transformed into unique venues for MICE events and destination weddings. The wedding segment has grown manifold for us and Tijara Fort-Palace has already become a renowned venue for wedding celebrations. Similarly, Neemrana Fort-Palace continues to be a preferred destination for offsites and MICE events through the year.

A lot of new hotels also claim to be a heritage hotel. Isn’t it diluting the brand? How can we maintain heritage in true sense?

Yes, this needs some control. All those misusing words which may not be representative of the product that they represent should certainly change the nomenclature. The Ministry of Tourism could take steps to monitor this as they have norms for heritage hotels.

What is the impact of your property on the local economy and community?

Immense ! Come and visit the homes and families of our team members.

We have continuously focused on restoring our past historical wonders into modern day heritage hotels, which can give a true picture about our culture, heritage and values to the discerning traveler.

We specialize in picking wasted heritage buildings from the National dustbin and making them into mainstream revenue earners.

Neemrana not only strives to revive and restore heritage structures but also generates jobs and bring economic prosperity to the region where they are located; in-situ employment creators for rural communities thereby avoid rural migration to city slums. The word ‘Neemranification’ has now come to symbolize a viable and sustainable heritage tourism involving the local communities. This involves generating local employment, promoting fair pay and empowerment so that their rural pride resurges to win the battle to counter the obligatory migration to urban slums. The traditional Indian household term “Atithi Devo Bhava” which is imbibed in every Indian newborn is practiced at Neemrana when local youth is trained and introduced to the hospitality industry. Empowering the local lads of the village provides a unique blend of courtesy and pride as they serve and interact with guests as they would in their own home. Untouched by the city, they offer simple yet exemplary hospitality that touches the heart and are the carriers of true, warm hospitality.

In addition to the above, in a unique initiative to support early child development and reproductive health, Neemrana Hotels in partnership with the district administration has adopted, renovated and upgraded an Anganwadi center in Sarhetta village, Rajasthan and has taken up the mission to adopt villages in its foot print and transform them into “Inspiring Villages.”

Neemrana Fort-Palace is also actively involved in promoting the art and culture of India across various tourist places in India. There are weekly performances showcasing Indian classical dance and music as well as and Western music performances, workshops, and theatre by renowned artists. Guests get the opportunity to learn about Indian heritage and the opportunity to interact with maestros in the arts while visiting diverse tourist places in India.

Do you have a strong focus on environmental sustainability? What measures do you take towards this?

At Neemrana Fort-Palace, environment-friendly practices like rainwater harvesting, greening of the hills, plantation of saplings and thousands of trees in the desert as well as waste-water recycling reduce water wastage. Guests are also entreated to use water wisely and to save electricity. 

Neemrana Hotels always believe in avoiding the depletion of natural resources in order to maintain an ecological balance. Our 'non-Hotel’ Hotels is a brand that does not construct buildings but works towards the restoration of old structures, forts and palaces. While undertaking restoration work, the workmen at Neemrana, always use local material like stones (available on site) and local wood and eco-friendly lime whitewash is used in place of synthetic wall finishes.

At Neemrana, we don't believe in generating green garbage and don't promote the use of cut flowers. Instead, wildflowers and even leaves from our garden are used as per requirements. We use local material like dry raw crop, flowers and leaves which double up as decorations and last for a long time.

During pleasant weather, instead of seating guests in an AC hall for tea or dinner, we serve food in open spaces which offer a fresh and natural environment to diners. Saving power by minimizing the use of AC's means a reduction in the emissions of carbon dioxide, which help in curbing the effects of global warming.

Water is as precious as life now. For water saving and reducing wastage, we treat water so it can be recycled and reused. In order to reduce water used for irrigation, we have also undertaken the initiative of growing our own vegetables and this aids us in serving our guest's with fresh salads and tasty vegetables. These are all organic and do not use chemical fertilizers. Bigger gardens also mean a huge supply of dry leaves which can be used as organic leaf manure. In addition to this we use sewage treatments plants.

We extend the idea of using environmentally friendly products to our guests and we use hand wash and laundry soaps which generate less foam which is directly responsible for water saving, as less water is required for washing purposes.

Few of our hotels also harness solar energy and our properties use LED bulbs instead of regular bulbs that save energy and provide an economical option.

How important is travel trade for heritage hotels?

The travel trade will continue to be the backbone of heritage hotels! It is our oxygen, but clients discover the magnificent Neemrana Hotels directly because of the magnetism of the product.

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