Home > An Interview with Arvind Singhji


Arvind Singhji of Mewar

 


PoolSide, Shiv Niwas Palace, Udaipur
Rajasthan.
HRH Group of Hotels

 


Royal Suite, Shiv Niwas Palace, Udaipur, Rajasthan.
HRH Group of Hotels

 


Fateh Prakash from the lake





 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

        

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 tourism.

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 sector started.

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 to sustain 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 alone?

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 leisure.

 

From an interview published in Travel Trends Today