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Wednesday, 25 October, 2017, 14 : 18 PM [IST]

A RARE feat!

It was a small personal request from a close friend for marketing and PR help for his resort in Bandhavgarh that prompted Shobha Mohan to start a dedicated marketing company for off-beat hotels and resorts called RARE India in 2004 with her partner, Sowmya Rao. Today, RARE India represents 46 unique off-beat resorts in India, which include – wildlife lodges, river-side hideaways, tropical retreats, etc. Keeping its core to Off-beat, small owner-driven resorts with local experiences intact, RARE India is all set to grow their footprint to more countries in South and South East Asia now. In a one-on-one interaction, P Krishna Kumar traces out the journey of Shobha and RARE India.

Shobha's fascination with travel and tourism started quite early when she was pursuing her Journalism. Tourism was a subject in her course and she had done research on niche Indian travel products like the Palace on Wheels as a student. It was around the same time the stories about successful restoration of old forts and palaces by Neemrana Hotels of Aman Nath and late Francis Wacziarg were making headlines. “I was quite inspired by that,” reminisces Shobha.

Her close encounter with travel industry started with her marriage. Both her husband and brother-in-law were into travel business and they were always in the lookout for offbeat destinations for their customers, usually large incentive groups, from France and other parts of Europe. To learn the travel business, she joined a travel company which was into handling employee incentives for companies. She put into reservations and was given the responsibility of going out and inspecting owner run resorts at far-away locations. That transformed her outlook to travel.

After a short while, she started her own travel company with her neighbour, Sowmya Rao, who shared similar interests and taste. The company focused on domestic travel for expatriates settled in Delhi and around. “In 1995, I used to sit in a club in Gurgaon and used to send people to little-known places. We used to put it like ‘101 offbeat places around Delhi’, ‘20 places one can drive out to,’ etc.” Even for many renowned journalists in Delhi, she became a reference point for their travel itinerary. “I still remember the creative middle Jug Suraiya had written in ToI after his stay at Jilling Estate,” she recounts. People used to feel safe and secure with owners of these properties taking good care of them offering experiences around local food, adventure trips, etc., she said.

However, as a business model, it was not sustaining itself as people who booked through her initially, used to call directly and book rooms with the owner. It was at this juncture, the owners of Churhat Kothi in Bandhavgarh approached them with marketing and reservation support. That is where the journey of RARE began. Three other properties – Chhatra Sagar, Udaivilas, and Siana Camps - joined onboard immediately thereafter. “Other than couple of properties, we rarely approached owners to join RARE. Through our journey, we maintained our core in being out of the beaten track, properties having small inventory, properties run by passionate owners, and conceptually different from usual cookie-cutter hotels,” she says.

Explaining further their core, she said that although it should be offbeat, the property should be accessible. “The owner’s engagement is quite important and equally important is the community engagement. The properties should define the destination with activities built around it. Food is also a major element in our selection,” she informs.

RARE has been able to create market for owners of these unique properties through innovative marketing through the travel trade. “When we started in 2004, there was no demand for offbeat destinations. But today, it is not the case. We played a role in bringing that transformation. We put together narratives around properties and made them luring for the travellers,” she said. “Travel trade has supported a lot in making it happen,” she expressed her gratefulness.

From a PR & Marketing partner for offbeat hotels, RARE has evolved into a more valued partner shouldering sales and other tasks for member hotels. Explaining the reason Mohan said, “After our B2B marketing pitch, we used to leave it to the property owners to follow up, build relationships with travel trade to drive business into their properties. They were not able to do that on a regular basis. Therefore, we started doing sales as well.” RARE is also in the process of making their portal bookable for customers.

When asked about future expansion, Mohan said that they will now be shifting their focus to destinations like Nepal, Bhutan, Sri Lanka, etc. “We wanted to cap our RARE India properties at 50 and then focus on destinations in South East Asia. Our vision going forward is to become a South East Asia specialist.”
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