How did your association and involvement with tourism come about?
When we opened the Lake Place in Udaipur in 1963, there was no such thing
as tourism in Rajasthan. The airport did not exist, there were no flights
and there was no tourism infrastructure to speak of. Further, it was
considered a sin to make money out of people who came to stay with you or
those visiting your place. We started and pioneered the concept of tourism
in Rajasthan and removing the stigma that was associated with commercial
How did it happen?
We enhanced tourism to the status of an industry that could benefit the
whole economy. My father converted the Jag Mandir Palace into the Lake
Palace Hotel in 1962. We were the first to tie-up the operational
management of the Lake Palace Hotel with the Taj Group. In 1960, both the
Taj and HRH Group were a one-hotel company. We brought in public companies
into this business and, gradually, a distinct trend in the hospitality
What has been the change in the hospitality sector over the last 40 years?
The understanding of tourism and the hospitality sector as an industry has
emerged. People have come to embrace and welcome the idea of converting
their ancestral homes into hotels. There has been a very perceptible shift
in mindset and, as a consequence, a lot of these ancestral heritage
properties have now come to be restored. Otherwise, it would have been very
difficult for these properties to sustain themselves. In the case of
Rajasthan, the regeneration of the old heritage properties has also, to a
large extent, made certain places viable tourists destinations.
Today, no tourist stays at a particular hotel only because he likes that
hotel. This was true some years ago. Tourists came to stay at the Lake
Palace hotel, which is the most photographed monument after the Taj
Mahal, because they wanted to stay there. But this is no longer true. Nowadays,
people come for a destination. It is what the destination has to offer that
is now more important for tourists.
What has been the contribution of the heritage movement in making Rajasthan
a popular tourist destination?
The heritage movement did start with much promise but has failed
itself. In fact, I think that the movement has now seen a downturn and has
taken a step backwards.
What has been your approach to developing heritage tourism?
Our policy has been that being a heritage hotel, we are in no way less or
behind in terms of facilities than any 5-star hotel. These days people use
heritage more as an excuse for not providing the kind of facilities that
they should otherwise provide. Kitchen facilities, standards of hygiene,
environmental standards and matters like recycling of water, treatment
plant, sewerage, communication facilities and other facilities are
necessary for any compromise in terms of food, facilities and services.
That is why I say that heritage hotels have gone retro. I think the time
has come for people to realise this. No visitor who pays for his stay at a
heritage hotel will accept shoddy service. Facilities like running hot and
cold water, airconditioning, telephone and TV sets are necessities and not
exclusive facilities. But it needs to be emphasised that apart from a
certain standard of quality and services, there are many other important
things that remain to be done in most heritage properties.
What is your opinion of the heritage tourism product of Rajasthan today?
The heritage product in Rajasthan should not get mundane.
This is where we have to put on our thinking caps. It
should not be the same sort of
food, the same kind of evening entertainment, the same safaris...
everything can get very mundane. This will and could
already be hurting tourism in
Rajasthan. You go to Bikaner, there is a camel safari, you go to Pushkar, there is a
camel safari, you go to Jaisalmer, there is a camel safari. You see the
same entertainment everywhere. By the time the tourist has spent six or
eight days, he knows all about the tourism product and the sort of
entertainment he is going to get here. There is no newness. There is
nothing to distinguish Jaipur from Udaipur and Jaisalmer from
Bikaner. We need to bring in variety and offer something that is different. After all,
how many tourists can you draw on the strength of one or two attractions
And Rajasthan does not have that kind of tourism which is akin to beach
resorts and holiday destinations. In the case of Rajasthan, it would be
absolutely wrong to say that if you make a beautiful hotel, people will
automatically come to stay in it. People will come only if there are a lot
of other things to do apart from getting a comfortable stay. It's now the
destination with its many activities and attractions that people go for.
People first choose the destination and then the hotel according to their
budget. So it's important to really improve the facilities which the
destination has to offer.
Do our destinations need to become less expensive?
Actually, the problem of over tariff is something that is killing the
tourism business. This is one of the main reason why tourism in Rajasthan
and India is suffering. We had the last boom year in 1995-96 and when
everybody lost their head and prices shot through the roof. Unfortunately,
it's now become very difficult to sustain the tariffs. You have to look
beyond India People who are coming to India are also looking at the world.
If India wants a certain tariff, it should also look to what the world has
to offer at a particular tariff and what you are offering at the same
tariff. Are the facilities that we offer comparable? We need to look at our
tariff in the light of international global tourism and put our tariff in
the right perspective.
Marketing of Rajasthan has become too cliched and we have got to divert and
move away from those cliched images. Because today, if a tourist stays for
six days in Rajasthan, he has seen it all. We have to come up with new
ideas and go beyond the camels to things more innovative and creative. I
see the profile of tourism changing in Rajasthan. From just being a
holiday-maker, a tourist is more of a commercial, leisure traveler today.
Holiday-makers will always be there and India at one point of time used to
get only holiday-makers. But we have to now concentrate on business and
From an interview published in
Travel Trends Today