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Thursday, 20 August, 2015, 10 : 00 AM [IST]

‘What differentiates Lavasa is the uniqueness in its promotion’

The planned city of Lavasa has undergone quite a metamorphosis, thanks to the dedication and genius of all those toiling for its growth into a sought-after destination. One of these is Rajiv Duggal - a man who has scaled heights in his 25-year career in the travel industry. Having recently taken over as CEO & President of Lavasa Corporation, he wishes to innovate further in the developmental plans for Lavasa. He speaks to Shilpa Shankar Iyer about the same
Rajiv DuggalQ. How does it feel taking over as President of Lavasa? How do you plan to enhance the offerings of the destination?
Lavasa is the first to be approved by the Maharashtra government as a mega project. It was built on the principle of ‘smart cities’. Given the circumstance wherein we do not have a construction chief or an equivalent as head, it is no less than an honour for me to be at the helm of such a mega project.

My focus will be destination marketing, since I believe the first call for a traveller is the curiosity that a destination evokes. In less than three years, the tourist footfalls to Lavasa have increased from 4.6 lakh to 12 lakh. Currently, most of our visitors come from Mumbai, Pune, and Ahmedabad. We now plan to tap the Northern region. Once a traveller comes to Pune from Delhi on a two-hour flight, he can then reach Lavasa by road in an hour or hour-and-a-half. Thus, I don’t see why we cannot get travellers from North or other regions to experience Lavasa. We are working on opening India’s first Bollywood theme park. The announcement of the same will be made within a year, and the park will be operational by 2018-20. Similarly, work has commenced for a cricket pitch, which will be launched in a year’s time. We are yet to decide the names of the park and the pitch.

Q. Please tell us about plans to increase accommodation options at Lavasa.
We have an inventory of 300 rooms, with hotel properties of ITC Hotels, AccorHotels, The Waterfront Shaw, and Ekaant The Retreat. We plan to add 600 rooms to these in the next two years. Among them would be properties of Novotel (200-key), Holiday Inn (120-key), and Formule1 (140-key), which should all be ready in the next one year.

The objective of this plan is to not only offer more rooms during increased footfalls on weekends, but also to facilitate the stay of more business travellers who attend conventions at Lavasa International Convention Centre (LICC). With the current room inventory, we are able to host around 180 days of conventions in a year. With the planned addition, we will be able to hold over 220 days of conventions.

Q. Are you looking to open more F&B outlets?
We are comfortable with the current 22 F&B outlets. However, we do have plans for a sports bar and a hookah lounge. What we really need to explore is the retail sector, because no leisure trip or weekend getaway is complete without retail therapy. I am dedicatedly working towards starting retail outlets at Lavasa. We are in talks with a famous retail brand to set up a store here. We will make an announcement soon.

Q. With the increasing number of business travellers visiting Lavasa, are there plans for another convention centre after LICC?
Well, LICC is good enough for 10 years! It features all the latest, state-of-the-art technology and equipment that are pertinent to hosting conventions and other business events. As a standalone convention centre, LICC ranks third after Hyderabad International Convention Centre, and Jaipur Exhibition and Convention Centre.

Q. Lavasa hosts many festivals throughout the year. How significant are these in the promotion of a destination?
. I strongly believe destination promotion must be replete with unique ideas; and that is what differentiates Lavasa. We are completely driven towards destination promotion, and organising festivals and events are an essential component of this plan. We have the Lavasa Hill Run, which we organise on the first Sunday of every year. This year we recorded 1,400 runners for the event, while last year the number stood at 1,100. Then we have the Lavasa Women’s Drive, which is held every February, though this year we have pushed it to October-November. The rally holds the Guinness World Record for being the largest such rally in the world. We also have music festivals like Freedom and Lavasa Fame. The former is held every August for Independence Day, and as the name suggests, the theme is patriotism and nationalism. We also had the Motor Day on June 24 this year, which had 1,500 riders participating.

If I may speak a little more on entertainment and recreational options at Lavasa, we also have a theatre, named Fun Square, which screens movies in two halls. One hall can accommodate 150 people. What is unique about the theatre is its ‘Our Movie, Your Time’ concept, which means the visitor who is staying at Lavasa can decide when he wants to watch a movie. Moreover, the ticket is delivered at the visitor’s room and he can just walk to the theatre for the show.

Q. Could you tell us about plans for the educational institutes in Lavasa?
. We have Ecole Hoteliere Lavasa (EHL), which offers a four-year course in hotel management; Christ Institute of Management that offers courses in MBA; and Christel House, which is our CSR initiative. At EHL, we will launch short-term courses in segments like baking, housekeeping, and laundry. We now plan to open an English residential school that will be announced in October 2015. For this, we have tied up with a very famous institute.
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