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Shruti Shibulal: "There is good demand from domestic tourists for wellness and treatment"

Business travel is coming back, as is travel for weddings and MICE (meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions), says Shruti Shibulal, founder of Tamara Leisure Experiences Pvt. Ltd.

March 26, 2022 / 07:12 PM IST
Shruti Shibulal, founder, Tamara Leisure Experiences Pvt. Ltd.

Shruti Shibulal, founder, Tamara Leisure Experiences Pvt. Ltd.

Hospitality brand Tamara Leisure Experiences is looking to cash in on the post-Covid boom in domestic tourism, by spreading to more locations.

Founded by Shruti Shibulal, daughter of Infosys co-founder and its former CEO S.D. Shibulal, Tamara Leisure Experiences Pvt. Ltd launched its sixth property at Alappuzha. The property, Amal Tamara, the company’s first in the luxury wellness Ayurveda space, is the second property in Kerala after O by Tamara, an upscale business hotel in Thiruvananthapuram.

It has two luxury resorts at Coorg and Kodaikanal, besides two mid-segment hotels under the Lilac brand in Bengaluru. Outside India, it owns four properties in Germany that are operated by other brands: Holiday Inn Express, Gütersloh, Prizeotel Hannover, Moxy Bremen and Courtyard by Marriott Wolfsburg.

Shruti Shibulal, CEO and director of the company, who swears by responsible and sustainable tourism, spoke to Moneycontrol about changing consumer trends and the brand’s expansion plans. Edited excerpts:

Did you conceive the idea for an Ayurvedic wellness resort after the outbreak of COVID-19, seeing the concern for health and wellness?


No, we conceptualised it before the pandemic and had initially planned to launch it in 2020. Our other resorts have spas and massages which are directed towards the general wellbeing of the customers and is not serious Ayurveda. But Amal Tamara, with 19 rooms, is a unique property where physicians evaluate the habits, food intake and general lifestyle of the customers and suggest changes through Ayurveda. It is not a one-time affair. People can take back the experience and sustain even after leaving us.

Our family comes from a long line of Ayurvedic practitioners dating back to the 1920s. With a deep belief in the ancient wisdom of Ayurveda and a long-standing connection to the region of Alappuzha, Amal Tamara is a very special project and I couldn’t be prouder to be opening our doors at a time when so many of us are in need of tranquility and healing.

Post-Covid, there is an increased concern for health and safety. Has it helped in marketing the new venture?

The current Ayurvedic resorts in the country were mostly catering to international tourists. One big shift that has happened after the pandemic is that there is good demand from domestic tourists for wellness and treatment. We started taking bookings last month and we are already full. We didn’t expect it to happen so quickly.

COVID-19 had a devastating impact on the hospitality industry. How did you manage?

Typically, when there is an economic disruption or recession, your luxury segment may not perform while your mid-segment hotels with room rates in the range of Rs 2,500 to 5,000 do well. But the pandemic brought about lifestyle changes. People were not going for international travel. The techie population in Bengaluru and Chennai, who were working from home, had disposable income in their hands. They were looking for properties in which they were safe, which they can trust to stay at and work. Our properties suited their needs. Moreover, they were interested in places they could drive to as they didn’t want to fly or use public transport.

Did this trend increase the occupancy rates in your resorts?

Yes, we didn’t expect this as we had not seen a pandemic before. People were staying for 10-15 days compared to the earlier average of 4 to 5 days. Another change we have noticed in the last two months is that business travel is coming back. People are travelling for weddings and MICE (meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions) and not just for food and spa.

Have international travellers started coming in?

Though international traffic has started, they are not flying into India. But some of the older properties dealing with Ayurveda have seen an uptick in demand from global tourists. If there are no further pandemic waves, we may see a surge in international tourists by the end of this year.

Now that the travel industry is showing signs of recovery, how have you planned your expansion drive?

Our mid-segment hotel at Guruvayur (near Thrissur in Kerala) will come up by the end of the year. We will launch our mid-segment hotels at Kannur (Kerala) and Kumbakonam (Tamil Nadu) next year. We acquired a property in Coimbatore in January and we will convert it to an O by Tamara brand. We are around 450 keys in India now, and hope to reach 1,000 keys by 2025. But adding the global properties, we have already reached 1,000 keys.

Are you exploring options to set up properties in north India and in countries other than Germany?

We are looking for land and buildings in north India. We are open to operating properties for others. We would also like to acquire properties with good valuation for us to come and build a business.

Our hotels in Germany, except a few that were smart in managing expenses, did not fare well during the pandemic. We are exploring possibilities of operating in other countries. We look at countries that are safe and have good governance. Germany fits with our strategy well so far.

What will be your likely investment for the next 3 to 5 years?

We do not reveal the investment figures as we are a privately held and self-funded enterprise.
PK Krishnakumar is a journalist based in Kochi.
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