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Shoba Mohan: The Covid disruption is an opportunity to move strongly towards ‘true green’ brands

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Churhat Kothi in Bandhvagarh was the first ‘rare’ property on board RARE India, a collection of ‘conscious luxury’ boutique hotels. Today the RARE community spans 66 hotels and three countries – India, Nepal and Bhutan. In an exclusive interaction, Shoba Mohan, founder, Rare India and board member of Responsible Tourism Society of India and Transformational Travel Council USA, elucidates on the vision behind the brand and the challenges faced by sustainable hospitality brands working in India

Pepper Trail. Wayanad, Kerala

What was the vision behind RARE India as a brand?

While we have evolved from where we began, the core philosophy of RARE India has always been creating sunshine and stardust around owner led, concept driven hotels which are great stand-alone hotel experiences. Also, from the first hotel that came on board, sustainable luxury has been a key component which was always one of the things we strongly endorsed, today however promoting and selling a community of conscious luxury hotels is our brand promise. Conscious about the environment, community and resources is our strategic differentiator which sets RARE India apart while service quality and luxury of experience are a given.

How long do you think the Covid-19 recovery will take?

Henceforth there is no talk of recovery as we all know it will take time based on how we build immunity and when there is a tested vaccine. Many of us are gearing up to living with the virus with care and common sense. Some of the RARE India hotels have begun to open depending on their state’s quarantine regulation. Being small and off-beat, they are dexterous enough to adopt new regulations to deal with hygiene and safety protocols and should there be an issue, happy to close at a moment’s issue.

Glenburn Tea Estate, Darjeeling, West Bengal

Industry government collaboration in speeding up recovery. Your insights.

There is collaboration for promotions and product knowledge; I don’t see any collaborations that actually address the industry’s distress. Meanwhile there is a steady loss of jobs and pay-cuts. It is appalling how an industry that is touted to be one of the key job providers and contributor to the GDP has been sidelined and does not feature in any of the government support schemes.

 The new RARE India entities you launched recently. 

RAIN (RARE Influencer Network) and RATAN (RARE Travel Agent Network) are aimed to create a network of people who are intrepid travellers and can influence their network – personal or professional. The idea is to have a trained network of RARE believers who can spread the idea of ‘Conscious luxury travel’ and expedite traveller mindset as well as create leads and bookings. Beautiful Planet is a pet project of mine to have young people and their initiatives shared on a medium like Instagram where they can inspire young and old alike to think for the long term benefit of Planet Earth.

Future footprint for RARE in India and overseas?

For now it will be India and the subcontinent only, though we are intent on spreading the brand and its ideology to travellers from overseas. We have an office in the UK presently and are looking at collaborations in Europe, Australia and Americas. We are also looking to improve our footprint in India by opening associate offices in Chennai, Bengaluru and Kolkata.

Soulitude by the Riverside, Chanfi, Uttarakhnad

How sustainable is the Indian hospitality industry? Considering the market’s low awareness for environment friendly initiatives, what are the challenges for sustainable hospitality brands working in the country? 

Awareness of the issues due to climate change and consumer excesses; industry best practices to mitigate them are key to responsible tourism. First and foremost for the ‘true green’ brands to have people choose them over the ‘buzz for marketing only’ brands has to be developed through a focused narrative which improves awareness and promotes right choices.

The Covid disruption is an opportunity to move strongly in this direction. But what we are seeing is a challenge when companies believe that sustainability and environment sensitivity have to be set aside to cater to the acute germophobia by promoting harsh chemicals for cleaning and one-use protective masks and gloves.

As for sustainability in the industry, there is a long way to go. To make this a widespread business choice, we need Responsible Tourism as an ideal way forward to be implemented through policies by the government, operations and marketing for change by tourism stakeholders, and as a choice by travellers. There are associations like the Responsible Tourism Society of India who are working towards audits and solutions to help the industry and the governments to achieve the goal of a sustainable industry.

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