Shruti Shibulal, CEO & Director, Tamara Leisure Experiences Pvt. Ltd

One of India’s finest young entrepreneurs, Shruti Shibulal is CEO and Director of Tamara Leisure Experiences strives to make Tamara synonymous with responsible tourism by incorporating principles of sustainability into the development and operations of each of Tamara’s properties and creating impactful employment within their respective communities. Tamara operates resorts and hotels in South India and has interests in Germany as well. Shruti is a Trustee of the Advaith Foundation and SD Foundation, organizations involved in providing educational opportunities and healthcare assistance to underprivileged sections of society. She is also a Trustee of WEP – Women’s Education Project, which focuses on educating and uplifting young women from vulnerable backgrounds. 

 

The pandemic has expedited a decades-long urgency for thoughtful business models. Having undeniably revealed the multi-layered connections between human, environmental and economic well-being, the global health crisis has proven that the most resilient, profitable enterprises of the future will be those that account for climate change, technological advancement, and rapidly evolving job markets. This moment is an opportunity not only for change but for lasting transformation. Tourism and Hospitality are especially well suited to lead this paradigm shift.

Tourism currently represents over 10% of the labour market in India. These jobs require stratified skill sets and represent candidates recruited from diverse backgrounds. As an operationally interactive industry, hospitality also has the ability to influence a heavily collaborative culture through partnerships and interconnections with varied supply chains.

Paradoxically, the sector has been a rigid, high polluter that previously linked luxury with often wasteful excess. Given hospitality’s impending requirement to reinvent service offerings post-pandemic, the industry at large has a unique opportunity to replace conventional practices with crisis as well climate-resilient models that can have a profound, long-term impact on auxiliary markets and regional economies.

From its conception, Tamara Leisure Experiences – as a responsible hospitality group – has reviewed all strategic decisions through the lens of harmonizing people, planet, and profit. The triple bottom line, as it is commonly known, features five subcategories of focus. These are human capital, environmental capital, social capital, manufactured capital, and knowledge capital. Both as benefactors of sustainable practices and active agents of this continuous change, people remain central to the process.

This human-centric focus as well as our collective experience and research of volatile markets revealed that in most cases, crises almost immediately result in deep loss of human and knowledge capital initiated by job losses. This ripples into educational regression, especially in developing nations, where students will either drop out of school or refrain from pursuing higher studies due to financial constraints. Even after the crisis has passed, many former workers never return to the labour market. The highest ratio of these includes women. The long term social and economic liability of diminished human capital (both current – as in exiting workers, and future – as in school dropouts) combined with the loss of diversity (fewer women in the workforce) and the inevitable higher impact on already disadvantaged communities can significantly impede social and economic progress – including creating a generational lag in pressing matters such as gender equality and climate-sensitive innovation.

As a group, we, therefore, prioritized an intensive exercise of cost rationalization during the lockdowns which ensured that we did not need to lay off a single member of staff. We only enacted nominal payouts to the top 3% of the organization. And, redirected these and other resources to investing in our employees during the downturn. Over hundreds of hours of training, we were able to quickly mobilize our teams to adopt the highest level of safety protocols to secure existing guests. Beyond this, we curated recreational activities, workshops, mental health care opportunities, and various other supplementary seminars that embodied a creative approach towards professional and personal development.

As a result, we were able to catalog fresh ideas from within the team which catalyzed the development of an in-house communication app. By easing information sharing both laterally and vertically, we incubated staff and guest-driven feedback to design tailored service offerings. The most popular of these include customized packages designed to suit each guest’s needs with a cohesive, personalized matrix of healthy, immunity-boosting meals, curative and cosmetic spa treatments, and nature-centric experiences (outdoor yoga, treks, bird watching, star gazing).

Together these offerings combined to offer what the post-pandemic traveler most valued – mindful travel with a meaningful connection to oneself, the local landscape, history, and culture. Ultimately, building human capital internally had rendered us a more resilient organization – we had the cross-disciplinary agility to assess well-informed change and implement it efficiently with the help of a united, motivated, and well-equipped team.

Another pillar of crisis resilience and operational optimization is the direct bridge between our people and the planet (environmental capital). This bridge is local recruitment. Over 50% of our pan organizational staff are local residents. Not only does this allow us to uplift local economies it provides a valuable arsenal of knowledge capital in the local landscape. Our local employees have been vital to informing ecologically sound practices such as organic farming and rainwater harvesting.

The cost savings issued from resource conservation allows us to, first, build social capital by supporting local non-profit organizations, schools, and even communities affected by climate disaster (for instance the 2019 floods in Kodagu). Secondly, this allows us to invest in more eco-responsive infrastructure including water-conserving plumbing (which saves up to 10,000 litres of water per day at a single property), a water filtration plant to reduce our dependence on clean water, and a reverse-osmosis plant where we can fill water in glass rather than plastic bottles.

Our people and planet-focused initiatives serve to make us operationally agile and financially sustainable. They also make us more desirable to a  growing global segment of conscious travelers. Together these factors combine to make us more profitable in the present and more inured to volatility or crisis in the future, thereby creating a rewarding business model that thrives on benefiting the environment and the surrounding community (including future generations).

Through both shifting consumer demands and market dynamics, the pandemic has highlighted the existing need for highly interactive sectors such as Tourism and Hospitality to function not as isolated, profit-maximizing bodies but as collaborative, thoughtful entities. The agility, resilience, and innovation required to not only manage but overcome imminent change or crises stem from investing in people, aligning with the environment, and setting up good systems of governance that move the world towards a sustainable future.

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