Experiential tourism is reviving art, generating employment at the grassroots: Sowmya

A more aware and connected traveler, today, seeks to interact with local communities, understand art, culture and explore new destinations. As concept hotels cater to this new breed, it is also helping shed light on our heritage and fast fading local art.

SowmyaConcept based experiences and getaways are finding traction in an urban India, which is seeking to explore newer destinations and products. An old-school concept of tourism would include museums, monuments, palaces, forts and shopping malls on a traveller’s itinerary. However, the new-age traveller is taking an offbeat route, engaging with local communities, and understanding India away from the glamour of major cities and towns in a new light.

It is this concept that Rare destinations – a concept hotel based company – is taking forward. And in the process, some of these hotels are fast growing to become destination in themselves, says Sowmya R. Vijaymohan, Founder and Partner, RARE India. “We strongly believe in concepts. For our partner hotels, we look for individuality that they bring on broad. It cannot be that you wake up in Jodhpur or in Tanjavur, the hotel experience remains the same. And we have achieved this to some degree. Some of these hotels have become destination in themselves,” she says. For example, in Rajasthan we have Chhatra Sagar – which is in Pali district, falling between Jaipur-Jodhpur drive. We have created a two night stay itinerary there. It has amazing experiences to offer, so it is a perfect example of experiential tourism. Similarly, we have another hotel partner called Shahpura Bagh in Bhilwara district falling between Jaipur-Udaipur drive,” she adds.

She shares that visitors during their stay get an opportunity to witness a dying Indian folk painting art apart from interacting with local artisans. “Bhilwada is massive in terms of tribal art and culture. Our guests visit Phad painters – a dying folk painting art of Rajasthan – to first hand witness this art from the last two remaining practicing families. You get to meet them, visit their private forts, so the experience quotient is immense. These properties are creating newer offbeat destinations between two busy centers and giving travellers time to relax and enjoy their vacations,” she adds.

Explaining that the idea behind the concept was to create spaces where one could soak in the experience and interact with local communities, she says that talking from the inbound perspective, India can be a very over-whelming experience for the first time traveller. “One is caught rushing between palaces, forts, bazaars and shopping malls. This back and forth between major tourist destinations doesn’t allow one to soak in the experience in peace. Also, through our partner hotels our guests’ also get to see the rural India, interact with local communities and participate in a plethora of activities – that allows them to experience India and Indian culture in a refreshingly new light,” she explains.

However, on the hospitality front, one of the major areas of concern, especially for such stand-alone properties is the lack of reach in acquiring adequate skills and training to ensure top-class hospitality. She tells us that they have been augmenting skills of partner hotels through constant auditing and training regimes. However, she believes that individuality of each hotel remains their USP. “We help our hotel partners better understand clientele needs by familiarizing them with good hospitality service. There is a series of internal audits and quality check inspections, a lot of back and forth happens before they are allowed on come on board. We supplement them with resources, training etc. Therefore, we strive to maintain the experience standard that our clientele has had,” explain Sowmya.

She explains that instead of focusing on prcing and luxury, they have focused on creating experiences. “We do not base our partners on pricing or luxury. We only concentrate on the experience bit. Therefore, our hotels are priced at very different levels. A camping experience in Ladakh may cost you `50,000 a night for a luxury tent, while there are hotels you will find accommodation in a couple of thousand rupees,” she reasons.

However, much of their presence, despite having a responsive website, has been focused on offline marketing. She explains why she chose to focus on offline at a time when most of the businesses are going online. “The digital platform cannot be ignored anymore. It is the big thing right now. But most of our work as a company is mostly offline and this is because our partner hotels are very different in character, “she argues.

“They are not regular five stars or any other chain of hotels. Because they are either individually owned, most of them are at offbeat destinations. They are small-key hotels, a majority of them are in 15-25 rooms inventory, while at some destinations there are even 6 rooms inventory. The largest partner we have had was 39 rooms inventory. So these hotels are not in the fight of ARR’s,” she tells us.

Taking a stock of the footfalls in recent times, she told us that Indian market was majorly domestic driven and Europe no longer remained India’s major inbound. “Till a few years ago, Europe was our biggest market. But, this does not hold true anymore. Economic recession has impacted footfalls, “she tells us. “On the flipside though, there has been a tremendous jump in domestic numbers. Young travellers, who are so much more aware of surroundings, connected with internet, are seeking to explore newer offbeat destinations. They want to go beyond the usual monuments, palaces and malls experience, “she informs.

As awareness and internet connectivity further increase, many such new and unheard tourism gems will get the due recognition. It will also hopefully shed light on a rich repository of local culture that remains untouched, she hopes.

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