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What does it take to build a successful hotel business in Ladakh?

By Danish Din, Owner & Director, The Grand Dragon Ladakh

Friday, September 7, 2018, 14:37 Hrs  [IST]

Life in Ladakh is quite different and challenging from the rest of the world due its unique terrain and unusual weather conditions. When my family first entered in the business of hospitality, there were not many hotels, no one to look up to and learn from because we were the first movers in the industry (for the region).

Ladakh had always been an untouched, remote region from the rest of the world but never completely isolated due to its strategic geographical location. Despite the difficult nature of terrain and cold weather, it has been a passage to many important trade routes and had witnessed great interchange of ideas and knowledge over several centuries. Other than trade, Ladakh also remained in contact with the outsiders through Chinese and other foreign travellers, invaders, pilgrims and the Trans-human groups from the surrounding areas.

Ladakh was first opened to tourism in 1974, and the first in the many to come was hotels. The first one, Hotel Dragon, brainchild of my Grandfather, Din Mohammed, was opened  in early 1974, which later changed the fortune of Ladakh tourism. In that particular year, a total of 527 people visited Ladakh. Of them, 500 were foreign tourists, remaining domestic tourists.

Since then, the trend in tourist arrivals has undergone significant changes especially after the Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council (LAHDC) removed the permit system few years ago.  Earlier, the tourists both domestic and foreign were required to obtain permissions from the district authorities before traveling to tourism destinations like Nubra Valley, Turtuk, Hot Spring and Pangong Lake in Ladakh.

According to the official figures of LAHDC, Ladakh had attracted 227,312 tourist till September last year, which includes 40,126 high-end foreign tourists.

Before The Grand Dragon Ladakh there was an evident gap in the services and quality of the hotels in the region in comparison to their counterparts in other cities. Almost 11 years ago, my family   decided to bridge that gap by setting up The Grand Dragon Ladakh, the first luxury hotel in the region.  The idea behind the inception of The Grand Dragon Ladakh was to create an end-to-end luxury hotel that would fulfil the needs and desires of hi-end luxury travellers.

Being able to successfully build and operate this hotel in a region like Ladakh has come with its own set of challenges. The region is disconnected from the rest of the world for six months in a year due to its cold weather wherein mercury drops below -30°C. Its climatic conditions and geographic location makes it impossible to even have the basic facilities like running water, hot water and enough vegetation to feed life.

With our persistent efforts and dedication over the years, we have not only been able to offer basic necessities like 24/7 supply of hot water but have also been the first of its kind to offer lift facility, centralized heating, solar panels,  and 24-hour room service, coffee shop, barbeque with bonfire, customized itineraries for groups, etc.

Our vision has always been to offer a holistic experience rather than just a place to spend the night.  We at Grand Dragon also firmly believe in growing with the community and ensure the benefits are shared with the local community. Keeping that in mind, we have made a conscious decision of only employing the locals of Himalayan region at this hotel, finding a role that suited them irrespective of their professional qualifications. As a result, we have also created employment for more than 700 Ladakhi people ever since its inception 11 years ago. This decision has not only led to guests loving the local Himalayan hospitality they get at the hotel; but has also contributed towards the betterment of more than 200 families.

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