25th October, 2006
AFTER FORMALLY taking over the operations of Williamson Tea Assam in May this year, the BM Khaitan-promoted McLeod Russel India Ltd is exploring new business opportunity in tea and nature tourism.
To begin with, McLeod Russel, which has now become the world's largest bulk tea company after the acquisition of Williamson Tea Assam from the UK-based Magors, is decking up the colonial bungalows located in its pristine and pollution-free tea estates spread across upper Assam, McLeod Russel has teamed up with River Journeys & Bungalows of India Ltd, a start-up hospitality outfit based in north-east, in this endeavour.
While McLeod Russel will only lease out the bungalows in six of its tea estates in Assam initially; River Journeys & Bungalows will be in charge of managing them. However, the revenue-sharing arrangement between the two is yet to be worked out.
According to Ranjit Barthakur, chief of River Journeys & Bungalows, McLeod Russel's 22 acre Balipara Tea Estate is one of the ideal locations to begin the new venture. Proximity to tourist attractions like Tawang and Bomdilla in Arunachal Pradesh, Kaziranga National Park, Nameri Game Park and dolphin point on river Brahmaputra makes Balipara the ideal destination for an ideal tourist gateaway.
In fact, the company has already renovated a 106-year-old bungalow, which will be open to tourists from November this year. International Finance Corp and United nations meeting bookings in November-December is already in place.
About 20 kms from Tezpur, Balipara Tea Estate's bungalows were originally an Assam Tea Protection force barrack and later a visiting agents' bungalows, which has now been converted into heritage buildings.
"The effort was to create lifestyle products and through this open environment, we are offering the art of living to corporates as well as individuals, In the short run, we plan to have 12 full-fledged double rooms in addition to having our own natural products like milk, poultry, ducks, and fishery in the estates," says Barthakur.
In fact, River Journeys & Bungalows is looking beyond the khaitans in creating a tourism hub in the north-east. 'The company is in talks with other tea major like Goodricke and Tata Tea to manage some of their colonial bungalows in Jorhat, Dooars, Darjeeling and Kurseong apart from roping in individuals who own such properties.
We are building up a chain stretching from Terai toMyanmar wherein we will be managing colonial bungalows, Says Bharthakur. In Myamar, the company already managed two such bungalows.
The Balipara Tea estate project will offer natural tourism, in which tea tourism is also incorporating tea tourism per se doesn't sell much.
What we are now planning is to put alcohol and tea and serve with just like Irish Coffee says Barthakur.
The Balipara Bungalow has been rename as British Assam Heritage Bungalow and an introductory price of Rs 7500 is been offered to the tourist which will gradually be scaled upto Rs. 20,000 per couple a day.
With air connectivity getting better and militancy on the wane in Assam, the unique hospitality venture involving the local people looks to be a recipe for success.
With Aizawl, Diphu, Dibrugarh, Kurseong and Darjeeling on the radar, River Journeys & Bungalows is eyeing to manage 1,000 rooms within 10 years. The company currently manages 100 rooms, as of now.