My resorts are an extension of my aspirations, says Himmat Anand, founder, The Tree of Life Resorts & Hotels, emphasising that the word ‘single window’ is far from reality, and that he will never create detailed SOPs By Reema Lokesh
What is the vision for your brand the Tree of Life, both in terms of its spread and brand positioning?
When I launched the Tree of Life some eight years ago, I was very clear that brand positioning would be my driving force. I laid down few non-negotiable parameters, tweaked them as I went along and now have a firm blueprint in place. Just to share the most important – we will never be in the city, always a few kilometres outside, away from the noise and crowds. We will always be between the 10-20 odd keys in size per property. We will never do buffets in any of the Tree of Life properties. We will never create detailed SOPs (Standard Operating Proceedures) – each staff is an individual, as is each guest and we will interact with them as individuals and not as part of an SOP.
In terms of spread for this brand, it will mostly be either properties owned by us or managed properties, which we know provide a high level of luxury and experience – there will be no compromise here. After Tree of Life properties in Jaipur and Varanasi, we plan to start building a Tree of Life in Agra where we have already bought three acres of land.
Why Banaras as a destination? Is there a certain peculiarity of the region you wish to share?
Doesn’t Banaras encompass all that India actually is for a tourist – mystic, touching the mind and soul, chaotic and still functional? Given its huge potential, this is one of the most undersold destinations that India has. It has increasingly good air connectivity, both domestic and international; infrastructure is on its way to being revamped with various initiatives already implemented; but is weak in providing quality hospitality to guests. Hence I see a perfect slot for brand Tree of Life to come in. Here again, we are not in the city – ideally located between the airport and town, with just 18 junior suites and a resort, which has a very strong Banaras connect. We should be ready by mid 2017.
Your new venture Tree Leaf is also all set to spread its branches. What is the roadmap and the way forward?
While Tree of Life will operate at the upper end of the market and be mostly our own properties, we have recently created brand Tree Leaf, which will be more the leased or managed properties providing amazing experiences. Here again, they will be a maximum of 20 odd keys and no more. Our total spread will hence be a mix of owned and leased/ managed properties, but both driven by common beliefs of guest experiences. We are presently operating the Marari Sands Beach Resort by Tree Leaf in Kerala and have just signed another property in Manali. We are also consulting with owners for an amazing property in the Nubra Valley, Ladakh where work has already started and this will be ready by end 2017. In addition, talks are on with two other properties as I write. So I expect some six properties under brand Tree Leaf in the next two years.
Is India an investor friendly region in the hospitality space?
The fact that I am seriously contemplating taking the brand overseas does indicate that I am highly frustrated with what it takes to do business in India. The supposed ‘one window clearance’ is just like the Hawa Mahal in Jaipur – with over 50 windows, you keep wondering which is the ‘one’ you are supposed to go to! No, it is very difficult here, specially for small sized entrepreneurs like me and there is only a madness about us which keeps us going. From acquiring land, to the high rate of interest on a loan which must be repaid in a short period of time, to the stumbling blocks and ‘considerations’ at every step – it’s not easy.
As a builder and operator, what is it that you incorporate when you plan the interiors and design of your project and property, especially as you take pride in going local to a large extent?
There are a couple of parameters which I like to work within. To begin with, I must connect with the land that I buy and it must ‘speak’ to me. This may sound crazy, but land does speak to you – provided you are willing to listen! Second, the project we put up should connect locally with the city we are in. Examples – the Tree of Life Resort & Spa Jaipur is built totally in natural stone and lime – just like the century old forts and palaces of Rajasthan. We have hardly used any bricks, steel or cement there. The Tree of Life Resort & Spa Varanasi has a very close connect with Lord Shiva and the ghats of the Ganga.
Further, as far as possible, we try and use workers who live in close proximity to the property, with an intention of hiring some of them when we open. Our Jaipur property was made by some100 workers who lived within one km of the property. Some 15 of them were absorbed in the resort when we opened. Two of them who were ‘beldars’ (labourers) at the time of construction, are today holding mid-level position as chefs in the kitchen of two of our properties – these are the stories that I like to see happen!
While building, although I may have my own ideas and thoughts, there is always one question on my mind – what would my guests like? I do not outsource construction and interiors to any third party. Each resort I build has my 100 per cent commitment of time and energy and I know why each brick has been laid and where. In a way, my resorts are an extension of my aspirations and the aspirations modify themselves according to the city that I build in.
Like the world over, is India ready to accept an eco-tourism concept offering within a luxury hospitality set up, that goes beyond the expected glitz and glamour?
The term ‘luxury’ has different meanings for different people. I do believe that this word now has a wider width than just the glitz and glamour that it has normally been associated with. For me, luxury is all about space (our Tree of Life bathrooms are between 150-180 sq ft each), privacy, calmness, serenity and a laidback service. That is why we have also termed our service as ‘Laidback Lifestyle’ – not in your face, discreet and yet attentive. If you see the growth pattern in India in the last decade, while the 100 room plus hotels continue to spring up, there has been a huge growth of small and experiential properties, mostly owner run, all across the country. Yes, this segment will challenge the larger hotel chains who are still following the cut-paste cookie models. What India is still not following and will continue to pay the price is controlled development and respecting the laws of Nature. I am sure we will eventually learn, but the hard way.