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‘It’s high time Kerala had a Luxury Tourist Train connecting North to South’

Wednesday, June 6, 2018, 15:57 Hrs  [IST]

Muthoot Pappachan Group, a diversified business Group from Kerala with major stakes in Financial Services, Realty, Automotive, Hospitality, etc., has recently opened their third hotel, Novotel Kochi Infopark in Kerala. The group also owns Hilton Garden Inn Thiruvananthapuram, Taj Green Cove Resort & Spa, Kovalam, and an award-winning standalone Restaurant, Villa Maya in the heart of the state’s capital. The Group has land banks for hotel development in leisure destinations like Marari in Alapuzha; Bekal in Kasaragode, Kerala, and in other States like Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra. P Krishna Kumar met with Thomas John Muthoot, Chairman & MD of Muthoot Pappachan Group where he shared his honest views on tourism investments in Kerala and the group’s future investment plans.

Q Where does Tourism and Hospitality figure in your Group’s overall business portfolio?
Around 95% of our business is in financial services. Being a Kerala-based group, we have diversified a bit into tourism and hospitality just to tap the potential of the sector and support tourism in the state. We currently have two business hotels (Hilton Garden Inn Thiruvananthapuram and Novotel Kochi Infopark), a resort (Taj Green Cove Resort & Spa, Kovalam), and a standalone award-winning restaurant, Villa Maya in Trivandrum.

QIt is learnt that you have land banks for hotel development both within Kerala and outside. What are your roadmap for those projects?
Our group has already invested more than INR 450 cr in the hospitality sector. Yes, we have land banks in Marari and Bekal in Kerala. We have 30 acres of land for leisure resort development available with us. We are waiting for the tourism market to pick up in the state. Once that happens we will take up one project at a time. The kind of investment that would be required for development would be known only when we seriously start working on it.

We have land parcel in Chennai as well in the city’s IT corridor, but we are holding on to it for the time being as the hotel market in the city is in doldrums. We are waiting for the situation to improve.

Similarly, we also have a land bank in South Maharashtra in Sindhudurg district close to Goa. There we have a 100-acre land for tourism development. So, land banks have been created over a period of time. It is a matter of time that we have taken up these projects for tourism development.

Q Do you think Kerala Tourism and the God’s own Country tagline have lived their life? What needs to be done to reinvigorate the destination?
We have been talking about Kerala Tourism and God’s Own Country for a very long time. Many places have become stale by now. They need revival. The government can do a lot of things. We have hi-end resorts here, but hi-end travellers do not come because of the hassles of road travel. What we have been recommending is a luxury train for tourists from Trivandrum to Kasaragode. Such innovative models can take away lot of hassle now being faced by foreign tourists while travelling by road. States like Karnataka and Rajasthan have their own luxury trains. Why not Kerala Tourism can have its own Luxury tourist train.

Q While Kerala has emerged as a model for tourism development in India, the tourism industry, especially the hotel industry, carry a negative image as encroachers and ‘resort mafia’ in Kerala. How do you look at this image deficit?
Those who indulge in these negative publicity - the political parties and the government should realise one thing, that it was the private entrepreneurs who assiduously built the tourism infrastructure and an industry here, without any government support. They are these investors who are promoting tourism and bringing laurels for God’s Own Country. If you look at Kerala, only two sectors are growing in Kerala - Tourism and the IT. The government is providing lot of importance to IT. But, what about tourism? An investor in tourism has to wait for 5-6 years before he starts receiving the returns. There is a lot of risk involved while investing in tourism which other sectors do not have.

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