By Himmat Anand
A lot has been said about Covid and its impact on travel and tourism. It certainly has changed the way people will travel in future. Travel is now more about the experiences that one now offers. Covid has also put great pressure on the mental wellbeing of people – they want to get away from it all. I see travellers staying away from traditional city centre hotels, away from crowds. I see more consciousness towards the environment. I see space and privacy as the premiums.
Keeping these in mind, I ventured on a project which many of my well-wishers have termed as “crazy” – using shipping containers in creating an eco-friendly resort. Yes, this came from a desire to do something different, to challenge set hoteliering norms and to create another niche for the Tree of Life Resorts. Agra is too deeply associated with the Taj Mahal and with everything Mughal.
For me, it has become sort of staid and boring, needing a shake up! It has also always been my belief that you should create your own market rather than wait for the market to develop. And what is life if risks are not taken?! I would imagine that we are the first branded hotel chain in the country which is taking a project of this nature.
I am looking at a total of around 15 units on 3 acres of land, in line with the Tree of Life thought process of staying ‘small’. This will give our guests a huge amount of private space – again, a positioning which the Tree of Life stands for. The idea here is that while the indoors will be adequate and comfortable, the focus will be on all that is provided outdoors. Each air-conditioned unit will have around 1,500 sq.ft. of private garden space, outdoor covered and open seating, grill and bonfire. There will be a cycling track, along with sport facilities like croquet and badminton. We will also provide some very interesting excursions to neighbouring places, including a boat ride on the River Chambal.
Another initiative which is very close to my heart is travel with pets. It all started with my Labrador Jugnu and me going on holidays. Most hotels I checked, turned us down – ‘Pets Not Allowed’. And those who allowed Jugnu in, were behaving as if a favour was being done. They did nothing special for him. I also believe that hotels just putting a tag of being ‘pet-friendly’ is not enough. It is also all about being ‘pet loving’.
This led me to think – why not create a brand where you can stay if travelling with a pet? Why not have a style of service where the pet is your preferred guest and the human is only accompanying the pet? That’s how A Dog’s Story came into being, with Jugnu as its mascot. We launched the first one in Jaipur, followed by another in the Mussoorie foothills. The third at Corbett is due soon. With time, we started getting requests from people who did not have a pet but wanted to stay at our properties, as they were pet lovers. We have slowly and selectively opened up to this too.
Pets are the most accommodating and undemanding guests you can get! And since most of them come from cities, open space is their top priority. All our locations provide between two and three rooms, in acres of land. Rooms are uncluttered, yet comfortable so that pets have enough free space to move around. There is no restriction on their using the bed, sofa or whatever else. And at the same time, the accommodations are very comfortable for the pet parents. We offer our four-legged guests a garland welcome and welcome drink.
In-room amenities include a mattress, sterilized bowls and toys to play with. There is a Wags menu for them with various types of stews, pasta, and egg and vegetable preparations. We are also happy to prepare any special dietary requirements that they may have. A chef is on call for them. We are also happy to babysit the pet for a while in case the pet parents want to go to town or do something on their own.
I have for long advocated that pet parents should occasionally plan a holiday ‘for’ their pet and not just ‘with’ their pet. There is a huge difference, because in the former type of travel, your pet becomes the focus – his/her comfort, enjoyment, food, travel time etc – it should be all about the pet and not about you.