Rising from ruins: The Neemrana Story
For historian Aman Nath and art connoisseur Francis Wacziarg, founders of Neemrana Hotels (Neemrana), being in hospitality is just a means to a greater end – restoring India’s historic ruins. The duo first met while co-authoring a book on the frescos from Marwari havelis of Shekhavati and it was on this project that they sighted one such haveli in Haryana. The year was 1977, long before the entrepreneurial bug had bitten India, but instead of allowing the opportunity to go to waste, they set about restoring the haveli and in the process was born, Neemrana ‘non-hotel’ Hotels. “For them the entry was from the ‘heritage’ aspect, not ‘hotels’. They then had the idea that heritage buildings could be saved in the future only by making them viable and self-sustaining. Since both founders were not architects or hoteliers by profession, their first restoration served as a learning platform which allowed them to visualise how else they could turn waste into assets. Today, with over 25 properties in nine states in India, the chain specialises in creating destinations – be it Neemrana in Alwar, Tranquebar in Tamil Nadu, or Morvi in Gujarat.
Stepping away from the norm, Nath and his team have ensured that a guest at a Neemrana property takes back an ‘experience’. Stereotypical receptions of guests are shunned. Neemrana does its bit in showcasing the country’s art and culture. There are weekly performances entailing Indian and western classical dance, musical performances and theatre by renowned and local artists. Tourists get the opportunity to learn about Indian heritage as well as interact with art maestros and local artistes from the neighbouring villages. This exchange and flow of cultures engenders respect between tourists and host communities. The underlying philosophy is this – guests should not be superficial tourists and they must return as informer travellers.
Not without a challenge
As is the case with every noble idea, execution can prove to be more than challenging. There are many challenges in setting up a remote restoration and reconstruction site without proper access or water. For Neemrana, there had also been a battle of perception as villagers surrounding its properties would often view it as the curious case of a ruined restoration. Another significant challenge was of finding labour. Finding masons who worked in lime and mortar to raise such high stone walls from 1464 CE, specifically for Neemrana Fort-Palace, was particularly hard. Well, even getting such a high scaffolding wasn’t easy. But, it is a huge tribute to masons and labourers that they found inventive ways to achieve what would otherwise have cost a fortune.
Beyond the bottom-line
Unlike its contemporaries in the hospitality industry, Neemrana’s priority goes beyond its bottom-line. Wherever possible, the company keeps initial costs low to contribute to the self-sustainability of its ventures. Today, Neemrana has annual revenues of close to Rs. 30 crore.
The Neemrana way
At Neemrana ‘non hotel’ Hotels, expecting the ‘usual’ would be a folly. No fancy, no frills, one would think a stay here would not amount to much of a vacation, but this is where Neemrana delivers – a vacation at one of its properties allows guests to embrace beauty through art, culture and nature – ways of life that are long forgotten. Through its endeavors, Neemrana has not so much raised the bar of Indian hospitality, but has worked concertedly towards creating another niche whereby the experiencing of history and its architectural treasures has now become a part of the Indian tourism repertoire.