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Hotel groups split over wildlife projects

By Prabodh Chandrasekhar in Mumbai
April 18, 2006 13:28 IST
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The hospitality sector is divided over wildlife projects.

A section, including Hyatt, Mariott, Hilton, and Leela among others, feels the country is not yet ready for hospitality projects in wildlife areas owing to infrastructure, environment and land acquisition related problems. Another section, led by Taj group, feels otherwise.

"The infrastructure in the country is not yet developed to bring tourists to a resort in a forest or a national park. We will not be participating in such projects in the near future," said Arjun Oberoi, deputy managing director, East India Hotels.

Oberoi has one resort Oberoi Vanya Vilas at Ranthambore, Rajasthan, but is not confident of replicating such models in other wildlife parks.

The Taj Hotels, however, has tied up with South Africa-based CC Africa and Cigen Corporation to develop resorts across various sanctuaries and national Parks in the country.

In the initial three years, the group plans to develop resort projects across Ranthambore, Bandipur, Bharatpur, Kanha, and Thadoba. The tariffs are likely to be as high as $350 per person per night.

"During this year, we will be completing two wildlife resort projects in the country. There are 485 sanctuaries and 87 national parks in the country. So the potential is huge," said Raymond Bickson, managing director, Indian Hotels Company.

CC Africa is largest eco tourism group and operates in South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, Kenya, Tanzania and Zimbabwe, fulfilling management, reservations, tour operating, guest services and administrative requirements.

"The infrastructure and accessibility to wildlife parks in countries such as South Africa, Zimbabwe and Kenya is much better. However, in Indian parks tourists just trickle in and we will be surprised if Taj is able to build a successful business model of its wildlife projects," said a senior official in a foreign hotel.

The Taj group currently has five properties - Taj Hari Mahal, Sawai Madhpur Lodge at Ranthambore, Taj Garden retreat (Thekkedy), Hotel Chandela at Panna and the Gir Lodge at Sasan Gir. These properties are promoted as wild life resorts.

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Prabodh Chandrasekhar in Mumbai
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