Hotels: complementing or overtaking destinations?
(eTN) - Current trends of travel indicate tourists and travelers are willing to pay the extra dollar if they are able to source a hotel which offers a better experience. Experiential value may be in the form of locational value, facilities offered, ambience and decor of rooms, or all of this put together. It is not uncommon to find many visitors talking about hotels rather than a destination upon return from a holiday. Quite often the hotel is described in such thorough details one is often left wondering, did they step out?
Close to a couple of decades ago, we were traveling across the hot desert lands of Rajasthan from Jaipur to an exotic and unheard of destination called Khimsar, lying at the entrance of the Panchala Sand Dunes of Western Rajasthan. In terms of sightseeing value, there were the magnificent Jain Temples at Ossian. It was a long drive in a contraption of the Morris Minor - the ever dependent Ambassador vehicle. While the official capacity of the car was five persons, ten could comfortably fit into this car. At the time, it was the rage of large Indian families and tourists searching for more leg space.
On reaching Khimsar, we realized there was only one hotel - Khimsar Castle. We stepped out to investigate and were bowled over. We paid a “staggering” US$85 per room, per night, for a fabulous property sitting on the edge of the sand dunes, overlooking the vast desert and local villages. Each room had its distinctive vintage style, with a super layout and was part of the original castle. The setting of the pool and the dining hall ensured we didn’t step out that evening to explore the sand dunes. The Khimsar Castle was one of the first fort castles to be converted into a heritage hotel. Then it was a novelty, today, there is no dearth of heritage or boutique hotels. I must admit the palace experience surpassed the experience of the destination, though the carvings at Ossian Temple are nothing short of spectacular.
The trend continues, as properties are becoming more exotic than ever with boutique, heritage, and luxury properties with individual identities, setting them apart from the rest. The Amar Vilas in Agra and Vanya Vilas in Ranthambhore have their own stamp of luxury and belong to the Oberoi group, while Ananda Spa in the Himalayas at Rishikesh is a stand-alone brand with a unique selling proposition for health and rejevunation. It's not surprising to find resorts in locations off the beaten track like Prakruti Beach Resort, 10 kilometers from Murud Janjira Beach in Maharashtra or the Leopards Lair Resort located 50 kilometers from Ranakpur in Bera, Rajasthan. All the above-mentioned properties record excellent occupancies, with prices ranging from Rs 7000 to Rs 45,000 per night. Brand names that come to mind are Neemrana Group of Hotels, Leisure Hotels, and the Welcome Heritage group - each having substantial presence in distinct villages, towns, and in smaller cities. A visit to many of the group properties has nostalgic visitors raving with delight at wonderful experiences. Be it Del Orient in Pondicherry, Taragarh Palace in Taragarh, or Udai Vilas Palace in Udaipur, there are no two opinions - world famous boarding and lodging not only increases comfort value, but also creates a fascinating chemistry with the destination.
I maintain destinations to be sacrosanct, and a day of informative sightseeing can equal no other experience, yet there are many moments when I've felt reassured by the fact that my temporary abode, in many locations, offer many fine moments that are nothing short of spectacular. Unforgettable was the view of Nanda Devi and Trishul mountains from the State Tourist Guest house in Binsar, nor can I forget a stunning mountain view from Red Hill Resort in Ooty. More than a decade ago, I was delighted by a right angle view of the majestic Taj Mahal from the terrace of Amar Vilas Palace and remember the view to this very day. Now, though, the trees have grown bigger and most parts of the Taj remain obscured from clear viewing.
The Emerald Isle and Oloavipe Homestay in Alleppey climb shoulders above the rest in terms of family hospitality, breathtaking location, finely-planned interiors, and mouthwatering cuisine. From the warmth of my cozy alpine tent, I could savor and take in the beauty of the freezing Tso Morari Lake in eastern Ladakh, down south in coastal Kerala, Aquaserene in Kollam, and Kadavu Resort in Kozhikode, surrounded by water on three sides provided a feeling of eternal bliss and immense satisfaction. What was probably missing was the reflection of the moon on the placid waters, or did we miss it? Built in haweli style and located alongside the river bank in Haridwar, Haveli Hari Ganga is a pilgrim’s delight, as well as my favorite. Listening to the sound of the fast-flowing Ganges and wetting one's feet from the parapet is an awesome experience. Moving 220 kilometers north and affording views of the lower Himalayas (when the weather is clear), Muketeshwar Resort in Pauri provides just that extra bit of space and comfort that weary mountain travelers long for. The list is long, broadsheet space is a constraint.
Hotels have their failings as well, especially in overcrowded touristy destinations across the length and breadth of the Indian subcontinent. Faulty planning at times literally provides a guest with intrusive views of neighboring rooms and hotels. Particularly seen in hill stations and crowded pilgrim sites, it's a dampener for many holiday goers seeking solace and isolation. Parts of Manali in Himachal Pradesh and Ooty in Tamil Nadu provide many such heart-wrenching sites. More often than not, haphazard planning resulting in clustering of hotels is the biggest culprit in ruining vacations (I myself have been the victim of many such experiences). Town planning hasn't been our biggest strength, ruinous development has literally let the cat out of the bag, negating the positives of scenic and historic destinations. With many hotels reluctant to invest in solar power, intermittent power cuts in towns, villages, and in hill stations does mean that many hotels and resorts continue to use diesel generators for meeting power shortages. Practical solutions are often overlooked; projects involving high capital costs are given the pass by, and in the end the atmosphere remains polluted and quite often creates lasting damage. A glaring instance of insensitivity relates to mushrooming of resorts in the animal corridor in and around Masinagudi in South India. At times, an overdose of temporary dwellings to satiate needs of tourists at the cost of putting pressure on flora and fauna needs to be avoided.
Looking ahead, resorts will seek to better the consumer experience, especially in hideaway destinations, while destinations will constantly seek to upgrade facilities and up the ante at different sites. An intriguing question comes to mind: will hotels end up as destinations themselves? There is no denying this is being felt in many exotic properties, be it in India or across the world. This is possible mainly because of brand awareness; consumers need alternate experiences, and complacency shown by some destinations themselves in not treating macro problems, be it upgrading of monument sites; complacency in addressing issues of waste and sewage treatment, thereby polluting rivers and oceans; deforestation of scenic mountain locations, increasing man-animal conflict in forest areas; and the unending chaos of man and machine in cities. Man with his/her ingenuity will always better residential experiences, however, mankind will be the loser if destinations begin to fade away for reasons mentioned above.