India has advantage in making its travel, tourism holistically eco-conscious: Shruti Shibulal

‘Building a holistically sustainable business model requires designing novel systems of operation that will not only function efficiently but remain resilient and self-sufficient.’

India has advantage in making its travel, tourism holistically eco-conscious: Shruti Shibulal
'Due to the diversity of its landscape, India has the unique opportunity to test multiple use cases for sustainability and lead the conversation on eco-conscious tourism. '

The travel and tourism sector is at a junction of transformative change ushered by the pandemic and permanently altered consumer preferences. Sustainable ventures with agile frameworks that prioritise people and planet along with profit will rise to be among the resilient, successful and defining agents of this new market. The Financial Experience Online spoke with Shruti Shibulal, CEO and Director, Tamara Leisure Experiences about the future of travel, Sustainable Development Goals in travel and eco-conscious tourism and more. Excerpts

How important is the concept of sustainable tourism in shaping the future of travel?

Sustainability in business has been a growing urgency for some time now. The pandemic and its irreversible impact on market dynamics, including consumer preferences for wellness and nature-centric travel, has catalyzed the need for holistically sustainable business models. This is particularly important in an industry such as hospitality and tourism, which accounts for 10% of India’s labor market and continues to be a highly interactive, collaborative segment with the ability to influence operational models across auxiliary sectors.

The most successful and resilient future businesses in travel, as well as other industries, will be those that account for climate change, tech-driven optimization, and a rapidly evolving job market.  Harmonizing people-focused and planet-forward initiatives with monetary gain must become a central ethos for all forward-thinking leaders and organizations.

What are the key trends that you see developing in the luxury experiential space that align with Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)?

Conventionally luxury experiential travel has dealt in excess. The selling point was indulgence above all else. This resulted in much of luxury travel functioning as a highly wasteful and environmentally polluting sector.

One of the central shifts in emerging sustainable luxury travel is, therefore, conservation. There are two components to this – reducing waste and reducing consumption. Incremental measures and experimentation make it possible to achieve both without compromising guest experiences.

At our resort, The Tamara Coorg, water-conserving plumbing fixtures allowed us to reduce water consumption by 10,000 liters in a single day at a single property. Similar measures including water filtration and rainwater harvesting, allows us to reduce consumption by hundreds of thousands of liters each year across all our properties.

To reduce wastage, we implemented simple operational changes such as providing newspapers and room keeping services only when requested or as required. We also measure food portions and regularly donate rather than throw away surplus food or produce.

When multiplied across 237 rooms at 5 different properties these seemingly small measures result in significant resource conservation and long term cost-savings.

Considering the ease of implementation and its financial incentive, conservation is likely to be the first and most universally adopted sustainability initiative in the sector.

sustainable business, eco-conscious tourism, sustainable tourism, Sustainable Development Goals, Shruti Shibulal, Tamara Leisure Experiences
Shruti Shibulal, Tamara Leisure Experiences

In what ways is India uniquely positioned to lead the global stage in eco-conscious tourism?

Due to the diversity of its landscape, India has the unique opportunity to test multiple use cases for sustainability and lead the conversation on eco-conscious tourism.

Places like Kodaikanal, Kochi and the Lakshadweep Islands are all notable examples of locations that have implemented eco-centric legislation to protect not only the environment but also local communities and their native economies.

In its position as an emerging market, the growth potential alone allows new ventures and new investors to innovatively integrate sustainability as a policy and practice into business models.

This gives India a significant advantage in making its travel and tourism sector holistically eco-conscious.

Furthermore, the rich generational knowledge of nature-centric wellness practices also position India to capture the growing segment of health-focused and conscious travellers who seek mindful, lifestyle elevating experiences.

Could you shed light on some of the environmental and social initiatives at Tamara?

As a responsible hospitality group, our operations comprehensively adhere to environmental, social and governance metrics that help us in striving to meet the United Nations’ Sustainability Development Goals.

Our long list of environmental and social initiatives include:• Reducing poverty through up to 50% local recruitment and local community support ( I.e., providing aid to conflict and climate-crisis impacted families, donating to local NGOs)

• Promoting quality education by providing scholarships to local students and supporting local schools
Ensuring gender equality by monitoring pay parity and implementing pro-women HR strategies to improve diversity in the workforce

• Water and energy conservation through rainwater harvesting, optimised plumbing fixtures, water filtration systems, LED lighting and green construction practices to optimise lighting and cooling requirements.

• A consistent investment in human capital building, which ensures upward mobility for employees across ranks. Under the Shibulal Family Philanthropic Initiatives, we also operate a non-profit organisation, SAATHIYA, that provides hospitality skilling to the economically disadvantaged and later places them in roles within Tamara or other reputed establishments

• Using only organic compost and the compost that is generated in house for the plantation and landscaping. We also donate surplus compost to local farmers.

• Engaging with the local community by participating in tree planting and clean up drives, and supporting small, socially conscious businesses.

In what ways does designing holistically sustainable business models catalyze innovation?

Building a holistically sustainable business model requires designing novel systems of operation that will not only function efficiently but remain resilient and self-sufficient. While specific practices of sustainability and their measured results may vary from industry to industry, experimentation remains central to the process of establishing successful, purpose-driven companies.

Integrating conscious practices at incremental levels requires testing and innovating routine functions to ensure conservation, eco-responsive adaptation and community engagement.

The process of finding viable solutions requires intensive cost rationalisation and experimentation. This exercise not only makes a business environmentally sustainable, but also improves operations across the board by optimising financial planning, informing employee training and inspiring unique service offerings.

What is the process of balancing financial sustainability and profitability with people and planet focused practices?

Measured experimentation and strategic application is key to transforming conventional business models into thoughtful ones. It requires a sensitive eye for detail and continuous, incremental adaptations that build into modular systems for sustainable change.

Many conscious initiatives – for instance measuring food portions – are surprisingly easy and cost-effective to implement. They also realise immediate cost savings. Testing and repeating even such simple policies across operations can render a more efficient business model that is not only more profitable but also more resilient.

What financial strategies did Tamara employ to tide the pandemic and its impact on hospitality?

Our immediate priority during the pandemic was the safety of our guests and our teams. Without compromise, we deployed resources towards quickly training and equipping our staff to carry out health and safety protocols at the highest standards.

Thereafter, we went through an intensive process of cost rationalisation to ensure that we did not have to let go of a single employee. We offered nominal pay cuts to the top 3% of the organisation and allocated those resources towards conducting extensive employee training and upskilling during the downturn. This investment in both the personal and professional wellbeing of our team allowed us to emerge more agile and united as an organisation.

This was reflected in our ability to efficiently reinvent service offerings to suit the post-pandemic traveller. This has been an exceptional success especially at our resorts in Coorg and Kodai, which have regained and in some cases surpassed pre-pandemic projections.

In terms of ongoing operational investments, where does Tamara prioritise resource allocation? What is the thought process behind this and what are the results?

Both as beneficiaries and as agents of change, people are central to the success of a thoughtful and sustainable business. We continue to invest creatively in our teams, offering them access to mental health care, recreational activities as well as professional upskilling.

Much of the innovation that distinguishes our operations and services is team-driven. It is crucial to continue ensuring that our teams are equipped and encouraged to contribute meaningfully to the purpose-driven growth of the organisation.

What is your outlook on growth for the Tourism and Hospitality sector? In what ways has this growth been impacted by the pandemic?

We’ve always taken a long term view of the market when crafting our strategies. As a group, we build systems of governance that will serve our people and planet for generations to come. In that vein, we realise that volatility is inevitable whether it is due to a health crisis or any other global fluctuation. Planning for uncertainties by building human-centric and climate resilient models is now essential for all businesses. That said, the pandemic has catalysed the need for innovation in sustainability and also increased the rewards earned by responsible businesses. We are, therefore, continually looking for opportunities to expand and remain optimistic about the future of the industry.

How would you advise other responsible hospitality ventures in designing sustainability-aligned financial strategies?

Extensive or transformative change can be challenging to realize, however, a careful rollout of simple changes can be both fast and cost-effective to apply.

Start small and begin by reducing waste. Combining through menial, conventional practices that we often overlook can surface recurring financial inefficiencies that add up to significant cost savings. Then, on that foundation of a leaner, well rationalized financial model, build out strategic investments in human capital, social initiatives, and finally infrastructure.

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