If ‘Kerala model’ of tourism has won global acclaim and accolades, the credit for it by and large goes to visionary entrepreneurs like Jose Dominic. The model was not crafted by any government agency or big corporate houses, but by people like Dominic who instead of replicating others tried to create something of their own that is appropriate for the landscape and the environment. Jose Dominic realized the true meaning of luxury when he took over the operations of Bangaram Island resort in Lakshadweep from the Island Administration in the late 80’s. The resort property was “without”, he reminisces, means “without telephone, television, hot water, multicuisine restaurant, swimming pool, etc.” But, still the experiences that the hotel company weaved around the destination lured many travelers. “It was Bangaram experience that brought the realization in us that there is another model of luxury,” Dominic says. The hotel group replicated that model successfully in future ventures like Spice Village at Thekkady; Coconut Lagoon at Kumarakom; Marari Beach Resort, Mararikulam, Alleppey; and Brunton Courtyard, Cochin.
Starting his career as a Chartered Accountant with AF Ferguson & Co in Mumbai, Dominic joined father’s hotel business in 1978. It was his father’s constant persuasion that made him leave his CA job. “At Ferguson, I used to handle the Taj Hotels accounts. I didn’t know anything beyond that about hotels prior to joining this business,” Dominic says. Ajit Baburao Kerkar, the then top man at Taj Hotels, when informed by Dominic his decision to join the same hotel business, while appreciating his “sense of loyalty and sense of responsibility” to his parents, cautioned him that to be successful in hotel business one has to be “part of a larger chain” or must “have the scale”. The parting remark of Kerkar immensely depressed young Dominic. “What we had was a small 32-room hotel – Casino Hotel – in Willingdon Island in Kochi,” he says. His father, Dominic Joseph, together with few friends had taken on lease the iconic Malabar Hotel from the English owners, Spencer & Company, in 1954. In 1967, he bought over the stakes of his partners and renamed the hotel as Casino Hotel & Restaurant. “When I joined the room rental for Cochin’s best hotel was Rs 25 for a day,” informs Dominic. But, he was not bogged down by Kerkar’s word of caution. He assiduously built a standalone hotel brand, its philosophy and ethos moved many to change the way they perceived luxury hospitality.
Today, CGH Earth is a leading business house with diverse business interests in Kerala. Besides the hotel business, it is into Air catering and Real Estate. All activities related to the business is controlled by the family comprising five brothers and their siblings. “As head of the family, I look after the brand. I am the brand guardian of the Group,” he underscored.Day Break
Dominic’s day starts quite early at around five in the morning. As it is still dark outside, he spends first one hour by reading books or checking personal mail, updating facebook, etc. As the daylight breaks in, he gets out of his waterfront apartment at Thevara in Cochin for the morning walk. Back home, he goes through the day’s newspaper. In case he finds some news item provoking his conscience, he quickly makes sure responding to them immediately and make his views known by posting his comments on the facebook. Dominic couple have twin sons and a daughter who stay together. “The rule at home is strictly no shop talk,” he states.
He reaches his office at Willingdon Island around 10.30. Since it is a family business, every member of the family, his sons, daughter, brothers, all support and share responsibilities. Responsibilities like Sales, Projects, HR, Finance, Operations are divided amongst five brothers. “We have our own conflicts and issues in the family. But everyone realizes the immense strength in staying together as a unit.” As the head of the family tree, Dominic takes care of the brand CGH Earth. While a brand guardian of renowned business house, Dominic also takes active interest in the social circle of the city. Interests
Dominic is a person who thinks out of the box. His understanding of luxury is different and unique. “Luxury is not built ostentations,” he asserts. He hates choreographed destinations even for holidays. He loves places which are unpredictable in nature. He likes reading books of history and civilization, loves to stay close to nature. When asked about his food, he said his dream was to open a restaurant without flames.
The pioneer of experiential luxury and responsible tourism feels dejected when he sees the over-enthusiasm among hoteliers to “ape the Western brands.” “There is such a great opportunity in the conscientiousness of India which is based on rich culture, heritage, philosophy, etc. But I am sure that opportunity could never be realized by the big corporate brands. Indian hotel industry will come to fruition when we realize that whatever we have is here, and not there,” he asserts.