The Hindu Business Line
10th October, 2005
The plan is to create a chain of properties across a number of tea gardens spreading from the Terai and Dooars in West Bengal to Assam and further into Myanmar.
In a trend-setting exercise, tea producer McLeod Russel India Ltd (MRIL) has refurbished and redecorated one of its Assam tea gardens to begin tea tourism in India.
However, the project will not be restricted to just one garden. The plan is to create a chain of such properties across a number of tea gardens spreading from the Terai and Dooars in West Bengal to Assam and further into Myanmar.
For this project, MRIL, a B.M. Khaitan Group company, has joined hands with River Journeys & Bungalows of India Pvt Ltd, promoted by a local entrepreneur, Mr Ranjit Barthakur.
MRIL had recently acquired Williamson Tea Assam from its earlier partners, the UK-based Magors. According to Mr Barthakur, negotiations are on with several other leading tea companies and it includes Goodricke and Tata Tea. Properties have been identified in several areas such as Shillong, Aizawl, Agartala, Darjeeling, Dibrugarh and Kohima.
"We are talking to the Khaitans for five other such properties but nothing has been finalised," Mr Barthakur said. He was talking to presspersons after the muhurat of a freshly decorated barrack of Assam Tea Protection Force at the Addabari Tea Estate in Ballipara division for a conference room. The 106-year-old manager's bungalow in this estate has been redesigned too.
The project will be inaugurated by Mr B.M. Khaitan this week. Subsequently, a soft launch will be made. From January, the property - which is termed as a "self-contained entertainment sport for discerning travellers" - will be open for others. "We are almost booked full in the first four months of 2006. IFC is also scheduled to hold a conference in this tea estate," he said. Currently, accommodation has been created for 24 people but the capacity will soon be increased to 100 rooms. According to Mr Barthakur, 1,000 rooms are to be developed in this region over the next ten years.
Regarding the arrangement with the Khaitans, he said it will be a revenue sharing model but the property will continue to be owned by them. "We are open to other arrangements and based on that talks are on with the other tea companies," he said. Moreover, with the falling fortunes in tea production business, experts said, such ventures have two advantages. First it creates an additional revenue stream and second, reduces maintenance cost of these properties.