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Experts discuss about the way forward for hospitality & travel industry post COVID-19 at RARE India’s virtual event ‘RAREfied’

Tuesday, April 21, 2020, 16:01 Hrs  [IST]
HBI Staff | Hyderabad

As COVID-19 pandemic brings the entire globe to an indefinite halt, the travel and tourism sector is battling its hardest battle to save itself from a tailspin. To discuss ways of sustenance, economic stability, life during the lockdown and the future of tourism industry, RARE India, which is a community of some of the best conscious luxury hotels and travel experiences in India and the subcontinent, recently organized a virtual event called 'RAREfied'. This event witnessed a lineup of hoteliers, wildlife experts and hospitality entrepreneurs engaging in discussions with a multitude of audiences via digital platforms like Instagram and ZOOM. More than 2700 viewers engaged themselves during 15 Instagram live sessions of RAREfied and around 360 people participated in the 4 ZOOM sessions that were organised.


As per RARE India’s Founder Shoba Mohan, “RAREfied was literally a physical event we took to the clouds, inspired by the sheer richness of content, design and concepts that are a part of the RARE India Community. The two days were to ignite memories and celebrate nostalgia around travel to India and the subcontinent, emotions that embrace every travel story. In doing this we set out product updates, some fun with music, dance and food and also celebrated the World Heritage Day hinting on the themes of tangible and intangible heritage which are key to the RARE stories.”


“Zoom Rooms and Live Instagram stories created platforms for immense engagement, while planning this event just kick started us into launching a new way to work and define how and what we should focus on in these uncertain times. Deeply concerned about the workforce in the industry, the key theme was to keep people motivated and thinking about how we re-imagine travel not only due to the COVID-19 disruption but also in a world that is constantly challenged due to climate change.” she added.


Need for sustainability, community engagement and business during lockdown

As the fear of job losses and salary cuts lingers in the tourism sector, hoteliers and industry experts briefly talked about how they are dealing with the crisis and how they are standing together with their workers during this time. Amit Sankhala, the owner of Jamtara Wilderness Camp in Kanha, Madhya Pradesh and a well-known Safari expert, stressed on the importance of community involvement. He said, "Most of the staff are from local communities and are a part of our family. During lockdown, businesses should understand that firing them would be disastrous as they won't find any other job and businesses too will not find suitable replacements for them". He added, "Over tourism is seen to be an important factor behind the spread of the Corona virus in popular tourist destinations in countries like Italy and Spain. The concept of eco-tourism is the need of the hour. All must work together to bring a movement towards protection of nature. We must ensure certification of lodges that promote and practice sustainability to protect nature. Most of the local communities don't own farmland and if left in the middle of nowhere, they might resort to illegal activities like poaching.”


Similarly, a pioneer of river cruises in India since 2003, Assam Bengal Navigation (ABN) in Guwahati too believes that protecting local workers now should be the first priority. During an Instagram live session, Antara, who represented ABN, shared her experiences during the lockdown. “We have employed change makers from the local communities as our property aims to celebrate everything local. We are all together in this situation and by adapting social discipline, we are finding ways to overcome it. Unfortunately, our staff had to be quarantined in the ships as our guests were foreigners. They have been away from their family and we are doing our best to help them. In these times, mutual cooperation is important".


Taking into consideration the well-being of the local community was also reflected in the Instagram live session by Marcus Cotton, the Managing Director of the Tiger Mountain Pokhara Lodge in Nepal. He explained how the burden of the pandemic is borne the most by the local community, the craftsmen who depend on tourism for their livelihood. “I think the businesses are going to be severely impacted but the people I worry about are not the well established businesses. If you have been going around for 20 years and your capacity to sustain is only 3 months then that is not very sustainable. Adversities can strike in any form and they arise pretty regularly whether it is the Corona Virus pandemic, SARS, MERS, an earthquake or your business burning down, etc. We have all heard about ‘People-Planet-Profit, Commerce-Culture-Community’ and in all of those statements we have the word around profit so we should all have those reserves. So I am not entirely sympathetic towards the business owners but the people who suffer are those on daily wages, living from hand-to-mouth. Those are the people who need real support during this time.” he said.


Marcus also stressed on the need for responsible tourism that takes into account the needs of all the stakeholders, which will become the key to restoring trust into tourism and dealing with the anxiety around it. He explained, “There is no point in announcing the reopening of the property without the consent and the support from the local community. As for the guests, being able to show the hygiene practices incorporated without paranoia will help excessively. It’s something called the ‘Theatre of Hygiene’ where instead of cleaning up at 6 in the morning, we could clean the rooms at 10 am so the guests can see for themselves and this builds their confidence.”


Ashutosh Garg’s session on building a personal brand story and Minakshi Pandey’s tips on each one of us working on being light footed on mother earth and taking responsibility for the planet were sessions to help people gear up for what will be the new vision for work and travel post COVID-19.


Virtual tour of India's heritage

‘RAREfied’ coincided with the World Heritage Day. Therefore, celebrating India's tangible and intangible heritage, the event presented virtual tour of some heritage properties making them come alive via digital platforms. RARE India's partner hotels like Bari Kothi (West Bengal), Kipling Camp (Kanha, Madhya Pradesh and The Belgadia Palace (Mayurbhanj, Odisha) took participants on a nostalgia ride through digital media.


Kipling Camp hosted a virtual session ‘The Kipling Story’ wherein the Camp’s Head Naturalist Jewsin Kingsley introduced viewers to the property's location, history and took them on a tour around the Kipling sanctuary. Viewers got a chance to see birdbaths, cottages, woodpecker's nest, etc. during the session. The camp, which was a farmland, has now adapted Miyawaki afforestation to plant trees. A biodiversity hub with sightings of rare species like small Indian civet, it is untouched by outside interference. The session ended with a lovely sight of Tara, Kipling Camp's lovely elephant, eating giant chapatis.


Similarly, in a ZOOM session titled 'A Living Heritage with Darshan Dudhoria of Bari Kothi’, participants were given a chance to witness the grandeur of Bari Kothi, a heritage property in Murshidabad, West Bengal. During the interaction, Darshan said that a heritage which is not in a usable form dies a natural death. Stressing more on innovation and new ways of storytelling, he briefly narrated stories of his ancestral property. Home to the Sheherwali Jain family, also known as the Dudhorias, Bari Kothi was built in the 1700s. The property is a perfect display of Greek, Roman, British, Rajasthani and Bengali architecture. In its restored glory, the property showcases all important architectural features of the region and period. The virtual experience took participants to witness the cultural past of Azimganj and Murshidabad in West Bengal. The special session for guests helped them to connect with the intangible significance of the place, architecture and objects both emotionally and intellectually.


In his Instagram live session, Aditya from Stok Palace Hotel gave the viewers an insight into life at the 200 year old Palace along with poetic descriptions of Ladakh through different seasons. Associating different colors with every season, he gave the viewers a taste of the enchanting land of Ladakh. Along with this, he explained the relationship of Ladakh with Apricots and how one of the sweetest varieties of Apricot in the world grows in Ladakh along with describing the Apricot blossoms that are equally aesthetically pleasing, if not more than the very popular Japanese Cherry blossoms. He briefly took the viewers through the different festivals that truly shape Ladakh, including the festivals that are hosted by the Stok Palace and the Stok Monastery.


In a session on natural heritage and the Rao Jodha Park, prominent environmentalist Pradeep Kishen discussed the need for recognizing natural heritage as the most basic part of heritage of any land. He then described in detail about his personal experience of working in the Rao Jodha Desert Rock Park, which is situated next to the Mehrangarh Fort when he was assigned the responsibility of ‘greening’ the space. His intriguing interaction with RARE India’s Shoba Mohan proved to be an enlightening experience for the viewers as they got an opportunity to learn about various species of trees and their characteristics.


Food Heritage

Food is an integral part of the cultural experience of India and it has been seamlessly woven into traditions for generations. RAREfied emerged as a platform that held food culture as an essential motivator for tourism and exploration.


Meenu Nageshvaran, the founder and ideator of the Earth Collective, which is India’s foremost farmers market, in conversation with Shoba Mohan of RARE India talked in detail about Food and Cuisine as heritage and that more value must be attributed to it. She explained that, “I do not know of another country that has as rich a cultural heritage, agricultural heritage, food heritage than ours. The sheer magnitude and variety of what we can offer in terms of spices, herbs and seasonal vegetables is mind boggling. But there are so many varieties of foods that are eventually getting lost.” She stressed the need of sticking to seasonal and local produce and how that is not only sustainable but also scientific. She discussed how the consumption of citrus fruits during winters helps build our immunity when we need it the most and eating hydrating vegetables in summers helps in maintaining a balance within our body.


In his session, Bhainsrorgarh Fort’s Hemendra Singh shared a traditional family recipe of Rohu fish. He also discussed the substitutes that could turn the recipe into a vegetarian and even a vegan friendly delicacy. With the fresh Rohu sourced from the river near the Fort, amid the serene sunset and the Bhainsrorgarh Fort in the backdrop, the viewers not just enjoyed a mouthwatering experience but were also left with a sense of nostalgia and the desire to visit the Fort soon.


In his session on discussing Stok Palace Heritage Hotel as a living heritage, Aditya also discussed about the food culture of Ladakh. He talked about the famous teas of Ladakh including the Gur Gur Chai which is the salty butter tea and the Khonak tea which is a salty black tea and how the salt in the teas keeps the locals replenished and prevents dehydration. He briefly discussed the cuisine from the royal kitchen that is served to the guests at the property and how the guests can sit through the entire process of the food being made from scratch.


Spiritual healing and stress management during lockdown

As everyone is finding ways to cope with stress to maintain mind and body positivity, RAREfied too presented a platform for participants to learn and practice from India's traditions.


Uma Shankar, a vedic scholar and priest from Svatma in Thanjavur, took the viewers through a guided session on Vedic Chanting. He recited the chants and explained the significance and the philosophy behind all of the mantras. The different chants were directed towards praising Lord Ganesha, Lord Shiva, the Guru or the teacher and divinity. The session was concluded with the Shanti Mantra to create an aura of peace and tranquility.


Ramakant from Shreyas Yoga Retreat near Bengaluru presented a live demonstration of 'Pranayama' Yoga technique during an Instagram session. The benefits of Pranayama include improved blood circulation, stress management, balance of mind, increase in energy levels, etc. During the full Yogic breathing session, Ramakant taught Vibhaga Pranayama focusing on mainly abdomen, upper chest and collar bone region of the body.


Krithika Subramanian from Svatma, Thanjavur introduced the audience to Sound Therapy as a form of wellness. In an encapsulating session with Shoba Mohan, Krithika explained her personal journey of discovering sound therapy as a form of healing. She explained, “There is so much discussion around COVID-19 being similar to autoimmune systems and I have had a near death experience with autoimmunity. I moved away from allopathic medicines because all it asked me to do was to take shots of harmful elements and steroids. I am a dancer and as dancers we have never hesitated to look into ourselves for answers so I delved into Indian systems of healing like Yoga and I also learned Reiki. Along with this, I renewed my practice of dance and music and what I discovered was that when you are in touch with the arts, all the vibrations and the tonality can heal you completely. I didn’t have to go back to any kinds of medicines.” Along with discussing about sound therapy, movement therapy and puranic healing, Krithika also demonstrated certain mudras and explained their meaning and relevance.


Drawing inspiration and references from India's mythology, Shoba Mohan and mythology expert and speaker ShivSimha engaged in an interesting talk via Instagram live titled 'Messages from mythology'.  While referring to Lord Ganesha, ShivSimha told that the way a mahout controls an elephant by holding it back, similarly it is important to control life to avoid trouble. This is known as the Ganesha Principle.  He also talked about two Devis - Sita's and Parvati's - principles. "Goddess Sita was a queen who chose to go to the jungle. Her hardships were instrumental in killing of the evil Ravana for good. Similarly, Goddess Parvati was also a princess who had to do tapasya to find Shiva. Thus, to attain something good, an individual has to undergo some kinds of hardships. Lockdown is definitely hard but after it, the world will be a better place as nature is trying to heal itself during this period," he added.

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