Third generation hotelier Amruda Nair takes stock of what the new age traveller really wants
AMRUDA NAIR has a new baby named Aiana and has big plans for it. The eldest granddaughter of C P Krishnan Nair, the founder of The Leela group of hotels, says her Aiana Hotels and Resorts, launched last month, will have an India-inspired design focus but will target a younger audience (global travellers from the mid-20s to 40s, ‘‘or even a 55-year-old who shares the same mindset’’). Hotels today must draw the line between being intuitive and intrusive, given the personal information that is easily available online, Nair insists. ‘‘But I see a clear shift from scripted and staged holidays to something real and not necessarily perfect,’’ she says. Her own holidays can be categorised as kite-surfing or yoga trips with girlfriends and breaks squeezed into work trips.
Likes and dislikes
Nair, 33, who has a master’s degree from Cornell’s School of Hotel Administration in New York, and work experience at Jones Lang LaSalle Hotels (JLLH), headed Asset Management at The Leela. She has been studying millennial travellers for years now and echoes hospitality consulting network, Horwath HTL’s observation that technology has changed the way travellers identify themselves. ‘‘I’d say 21st century travellers are super active explorers who seek challenges. They are no longer confined to travelling with family, spouses and kids, and are not interested in going to places that their friends and family have visited. They would rather consult an app than a concierge or family. And they are the first to post a picture from an exotic location that no one else has been to,’’ says the fan of Belgian white beers and gourmet coffee. Enabled by technology, these travellers appreciate sustainable green practices. ‘‘I had a lovely experience in Four Seasons Chiang Rai, Thailand, where we signed up for mahout training sessions in old forest areas and later, bathed the elephants,’’ recalls Nair.
Pets on board
Another thing about millennial travellers across Asia, says Nair, is that they make time for family holidays and reunions. ‘‘Hotel products are changing to accommodate this. For instance, at a resort, there would be spice trails and berry picking for the kids, with masala chai sessions for the seniors,’’ says Nair who sets out on safaris and cruises with her cousins. Hotels that are pet friendly are welcome, with dog walkers and resident dogs and cats (Skabenga, featured right, is from The Oyster Box, a boutique hotel in Durban). ‘‘Also, the next generation of travellers will want to plug and play in every area of the hotel, whether it is by the pool, in the lobby or in a cafe. Access to charge points, reliable wifi, modular furniture and lighting is key,’’ Nair concludes.
Apps to the rescue
Millennials prefer apps to travel guides. Social media posts from an influencer or a trusted source is a game changer. If something at the hotel is Instagram-ready, good. A picture is worth a thousand words, and this is even more critical in a world which is now restricted to 140 characters. For apps, I like Trivago for hotels, Wine Spectator for wine ratings and Foursquare for location tips.
Back to roots
Rural tourism is big now. I have travelled with the Mumbai outfit, Grassroots, to a village three hours away, where we had meals in a villager’s home. It was a sports-driven itinerary, with sports drills in the paddy fields. I knew only one other person in the group of eight.
Later, local kids taught us to fish.
Such ‘boot camps’ are popular with young travellers.
Thrills and quiet
I enjoy spiritual retreats. My mother and I do the annual literature festival in Jaipur. My girlfriends and I go kite-surfing in Australia, Vietnam and in Poland, on a strip of land called Hel! We spend weekends away with our dogs. And we like that solo holidays teach us to open up. At a surfing ashram in Mangalore, I went alone and met so many like-minded people there.
On a 10 km Hash run in Nepal, we chased a paper trail. I have a biking holiday in Leh on my bucket list. Many Asian countries still stay true to their roots and in Bhutan, I was blown away by the humble and genuine interactions. Obviously, they hadn’t been exposed to busloads of tourists. My generation believes in being independent and taking risks.
The Aaina brief
Launched with equal partnership between chairman of Qatari Business Association, Sheikh Faisal bin Qassim Al Thani, Aiana Hotels & Resorts aims to be a leading operator of hotels, resorts and serviced apartments in the Middle East, India and South East Asia. The first property will be operational in 2016 in Doha and Nair is considering coffee estates and sanctuaries with a boutique feel and 60-80 rooms, that are immersive and experiential.