From being an exclusive wildlife getaway, Corbett has successfully transformed into an all-weather, all-season destination. We meet with the man who started it all, for Corbett country to come alive as it has today. Mukund Prasad, the chairman of Leisure Hotels, who has a vast inventory of properties across the state of Uttarakhand, easily who pioneered modern day hoteliering in the state, talks to TourismFirst on how the area has grown.
How has Corbett Park and around evolved as a tourism destination over the last 20 years? You have been personally a veteran in this area, and have virtually built the area from scratch. How has the visitor profile evolved?
In all these years, the number of properties in Corbett have increased from being 5 properties in 1997 to 63 currently, which itself says a lot about how the place has emerged as the best destination for any segment, be it for wildlife enthusiasts, for Family and kids, for corporate off-sites or for quick romantic weekend getaways. Though the focus of the wildlife enthusiasts for this destination has slightly deviated as the location has actually become the best hub for every traveler and hence the required privacy in order to capture shots may have been hampered. But the place is always buzzing with good amount of tourism.
Corbett isn’t just a getaway for the adventure seekers anymore but has also become a favorite spot for destination wedding. “Wild Weddings”, as a concept, has taken a big leap and people are nowadays more indulgent in investing in such concepts, given the fact that the budget and everything falls in place.
From then to now, what has been the visitor experience like? Has this improved, remained the same?
The visitor experience has rather improved from not only wildlife and nature lover visiting the location but families with kids to corporate off-sites, foreigners to adventure seekers, majority of which falls under the age group of 25-40, largely working professionals.
There has been a significant rise in domestic movement due to easy access through well constructed roads. Road trips top the chart as when the masses are asked to choose from rail, road and air travel, the drive is infinitely more preferred as the drive is just about 5 hours from the capital, the journey itself is quite comfortable and enjoyable -when you drive. you can halt with your own ease and comfort.
What is the class of visitor that Corbett attracts? In terms of luxury, mid-market, and budget? My understanding was that the ARRs here are possibly better than in many other cities of India?
The Experience for wildlife enthusiasts has certainly gone down in terms of bird watchers or photographers as they require a certain level of privacy and isolation, which due to safari movement has been hampered. But having said that, there hasn’t been any dip in adventure seekers, family and friends groups, corporate off-sites, weddings and travellers who love to explore rough terrain. We can bifurcate the class by 60% mid market and 10% is contributed by luxury segment where as budget travellers take away a good chunk of the balance 30%.
Thanks to easy accessibility of the location with well constructed roads, and better rail network, plus adequate amount of electricity supply in the region.
The overall yield is far better than the ARRs. ARRs have actually gone down due to increased competition but definitely the yield or experience is more that what one invests.
What more would you like to see in Corbett? To make it a bigger and more popular destination?
Good roads, direct rail networks, 24×7 electricity supply is definitely a must in order to enhance its tourism. World class adventure set-up, airports to enhance direct foreign crowd, aerial views of the forest maybe through cable cars or hot air balloon can definitely pump up the tourism appeal of the overall destination.
Is there a possibility of a bigger circuit around Corbett region? What would this entail? Is it viable and are there any plans in this direction?
Corbett can and should get connected with nearby attractions like Naini Lake, Bhimtal, Naukuchiatal, and then to Switzerland of India- Kausani, to give a view of snow capped Himalayan ranges, and to the Garhwal district of Uttarakhand to give a glimpse of local culture. I feel an overall circuit of Tiger-Himalayas-Lakes-Ganges will definitely make a difference to tourism in the region.
What is the profile of Leisure Hotels presently, and where do you intend to take this further?
The company has expanded throughout the state of Uttarakhand and has had the opportunity to serve the largest number of tourists in Uttarakhand at much sought after locations of Nainital, Corbett National Park, Haridwar, Rishikesh, Ramgarh and Rajaji National Park.
With resorts, bungalows, camps, residences and timeshare, we are currently holding the position of being the top hotel chain in Uttarakhand and we cater to not only high but mid-market segment as well. We also intend to spread our wings in the luxury segment as well and we want to be the answer for every type of accommodation queries.