Tuesday, 17 January 2012

My first experience with Club Mahindra Holidays……

I recently visited The Club Mahindra Safari Resort, Corbett and had an amazing holiday with my family (hubby and kids).  Also it took me down the memory lane…. How it all started, I mean the association with Club Mahindra.
One evening in February 2009, when I got home from office hubby asked me to go along with him to the Palm Beach Galleria, a Mall at Vashi, Navi Mumbai. I wondered why on a weekday, he told me that he wanted us to visit the Club Mahindra holiday world, he had had talks with one of the executives. The executive must have done some hardcore selling is all I thought of.  I being from the hospitality industry and understanding the product wasn’t too keen on taking up a membership. Went along, with hubby and my little son anyway. On reaching the office the executive made us go through a presentation meant for the customers. Hubby was impressed but I found it to be just okay.
I was expecting our second child then and I knew it wouldn’t be possible for us to go on a holiday at least in the next 2-3 years. But my protests were in vain as hubby said that we’ll have a reason to go on a holiday and as kids grow up we’ll be able to have a family vacation every year. I gave in; we registered for a studio (1 bedroom) apartment. We got a 2N/ 3D complimentary holiday voucher, which we haven’t yet utilized.
We received our welcome kit and it sat in the cupboard comfortably as hubby Capt. Rajesh Todiwan went sailing and I got busy with work and the arrival of our second son. Holiday wasn’t in the scene as yet. First time that I thought of booking a holiday was in June 2011 when our younger son Abhinav was touching 2 years. Made reservations and hoped that Capt. Todiwan was home during that time, can’t be very sure of the sign off as it can get delayed at times. As true to my fears, he couldn’t be home till mid June and I had to cancel the holiday.
Then booked one for December  when its vacation time for me and the elder son.  But we didn’t get the requested dates so had to agree with the suggestions made my Club Mahindra Reservations, for Safari Resort, Corbett.  Once this was communicated to hubby, he agreed and I planned our travel and booked the tickets.
We finally started looking forward to our first holiday, hubby was excited and so were the kids.  And I was also looking for a nice break from routine.
Come 17th December 2011 and we start our journey. Arnnav kept asking if it was time for us to travel right from the first of December.  We head  to the station to board our train to Delhi. Rajdhani  reached in the morning on 18th. From Hazrat Nizamuddin station, we went  to Old Delhi railway station to board the Ramnagar Link express that starts from there at 3.30 pm. It was a short journey of about 5 hours. The train managed to reach almost on time considering the fog during winters. We reached Ramnagar at 9 pm, the hotel car was waiting for us. We went straight to The Club Mahindra Safari Resort.
The drive was beautiful, we loved the winding roads. We finally checked in to our apartment 1402. Found it nice, clean, comfortable and just ample for our family. I was finally accepting the fact that it was after all a good idea to have become a member with Club Mahindra. As we sat in our room, hubby told the kids that it was a gift for them. I was really pleased to hear that. We had had a tiring day so we all retired quickly. The next morning as well as the entire day was for exploring the resort and plan our sight- seeing and visits. The kids woke up early and were outdoors. Hubby and I joined them after our morning tea. We took a walk around the resort  and realized that so much of thought had gone into planning and detailing, the resort on the bank of river Kosi, not only made it a place for relaxation and rejuvenation but also very serene.  
We met the travel desk staff and planned the itinerary for the next 5 days, 20th to 23rd December. That included sight- seeing on the second day, Jeep Safari the following day, the day after that was for a tour of Nainital. And the last day was dedicated for the elephant safari.  We realized that our apartment did not get the early morning sunshine so we requested for a room change which the reception obliged. The time at the resort was very relaxing as we didn’t pack in too many activities. The kids loved spending time at the Fun Zone, hubby tried his hand at nature photography using his Nikon for the first time! For me it was the tranquility of the place and watching hubby and kids have a good time. I guess we all bonded well over little things and kids learnt to plan and stick to time to be ready and out of the resort for the adventure activities. The jeep safari from Bijrani gate at Corbett National park was a great experience for us so was the elephant ride. Kids loved ‘Lucky’ our magnificent elephant. We did get to see some wild animals. Deers, Sambhars and a few others of the species, we saw elephants in the wild and also a python….a huge one. We missed seeing the tigers but did see some fresh pug marks. That really didn’t matter what we valued is the experience. You have to live it to believe it!
Kids at the Fun Zone
We found the staff at the resort to be extremely courteous; they always had smiles on their faces. The food was good; the restaurants were quite busy at times. The housekeeping was prompt. What the kids really liked was the towel origami; they rushed back to the room each day to check what animal was waiting for them. Be it an elephant, a swan, a duck or a rabbit to name a few. Finally, the stay at the resort was coming to an end, so 23rd afternoon was for packing up and ready to check out the following morning. We are thankful to the staff the resort for making it a great experience for us. We had a pleasant stay at the resort and carry with us beautiful memories of our first experience with Club Mahindra resort…. And we look forward to many more.

The boys appreciating the little elephant.

Elephant safari along the banks of river Kosi.
Ready for the Safari.

Friday, 6 January 2012

Hospitality and Dark Tourism

Death and tragedy have always fascinated people. Dark tourism involves visiting sites and places related in some way to violent death or suffering - Grief tourism is a similar term and they're sometimes used interchangeably. An even more graphic word for this type of tourism is thanatourism, from the Greek word thanatos, the Ancient Greek personification of death. Dark tourism has been in existence since the time immemorial. All of us have heard of the gladiators from the Roman Empire. There were a large number of spectators watching the fights. Closer home in the olden times people found guilty of a crime were hung in the village “chaupals” (centre places) in front of the entire village.
Dark tourism has a huge value for education. Hence could be a sub-set of Educational Tourism. In some cases it might be by way of just visiting the place and understand/ experience first-hand, some aspects that a textbook will never be able to provide. E.g. how ecological abuse has resulted in the weather conditions around the globe. In some other cases the educational value might extend to helping rehabilitation and rebuilding of the place.

Although many elements of atrocity have a mass appeal, such tourism can be classified, within the broad category of 'special interest', which is an amalgam of many quite different interests. From the side of the commoditized site or event, atrocity tourism overlaps with many such specialised 'adjectival tourism such as 'war tourism', 'battlefield tourism', 'disaster tourism'and even 'killing-fields tourism' or 'hot-spots tourism' (i.e. visits to currently or recently well publicised places of conflict). Secondly, it can be incorporated into a categorisation that relates to the disposition of the tourist or the sort of satisfaction obtained from the experience. These are some arguments that could be useful.

Also one can take a look at the motivational aspects of a tourist who goes for dark tourism. There are four basic emotions which play on a dark tourist's psychological state: insecurity, gratitude, humility and superiority. Visiting a dark attraction can raise multiple feelings as well as dark tourism can be seen in various ways. Feelings of romanticism can be aroused from visiting a battlefield, where the visitor can imagine fighting for a specific cause. Sites of barbarism make a visitor feel compassion for the victims and superior to the perpetrators by demonstrating how cruel human being can be. Many sites are part of national identity which can make the visitor have a proud feeling of “we” surviving against “them”. Paying a visit to a socially important place might give a sense of pilgrimage. Visiting a tragic place can raise a sense of mysticism, especially when there is a connection between the visitor and the sufferer. The closer the relationship, the stronger is the experience. More than mystical experience is a sense of spirituality which is based more on a common sense of humanity than on the connection with the place.
There are many facets to this. There is a type that is executed immediately I.e people go as the disaster strikes. This can have both positive and negative. The good is that there are genuine people who go to help in any which way they can. But there are also people who go there either for the heck of it or for publicity. These kind of people get into the way of rescue efforts and cause more harm than good. The 9/11 disaster site holds up as a memorial to the spirit of a country and a memorial to the people who lost their lives. Likewise, Chernobyl (the nuclear reactor disaster that happened in the USSR in the 1980s) serves as a reminder to us about the dangers of nuclear devices and constantly reminds us to be careful.
A few examples of dark tourism are:
  • Ground Zero, site of the former World Trade Center twin buildings.
  • Nazi death camps, where six million people died.
  • Crash sites, such as Lockerbie in Scotland, where a TWA jumbo jet was blown up in 1988.
  • The Paris tunnel in which Princess Diana was killed in 1997 being chased by paparazzi.
  • Cambodia's killing fields, mass graves for some 20,000 Cambodians murdered during the Khmer Rouge genocide of the late 1970s.
  • Central Park's Strawberry Fields memorial to John Lennon, who was assassinated nearby outside the Dakota in 1980.
  • Most cemeteries, including Arlington in the US and the Père Lachaise in Paris.
  • Soham, a small English town, where two 10-year-olds were kidnapped and murdered by their school caretaker.
  • Hiroshima in Japan, where the first atomic bomb was dropped.
  • Chernobyl, where nuclear tragedy took place.
  • The Anne Frank museum in Amsterdam, in memory of a 13-year-old Jewish schoolgirl who kept a diary while hiding from the Nazis
  • Hitler's mountain residence at Berchtesgaden, in the Bavarian Alps.
  • Pearl Harbor
  • Inca ruins once used for human sacrifice.

Dark tourism is an interesting subject to ponder into why do people visit the sites where death or massacre has taken place? Is it due to media hype or a place where people contemplate mortality or a sheer excitement to be a part of some international drama? Just as people like to watch crime based programmes on television, Also, what brings people to a disaster site is their inherent sense of responsibility. People like to believe that they can do good. So any agency trying to manage such a setup should look at ways through which their guests can achieve this emotional fulfillment."
It depends on the site, its history, and ones relationship to it. It also depends to a great extent on which end of the dark tourism spectrum you're talking about. At one end are sites related to war and battle, like war memorials and cemeteries. As a homage to those who fought, out of interest, or simply not to forget what once happened. This type of tourism isn't usually considered controversial or wrong. At the other end is the truly grim type of tourism, such as visiting a place where death is just taking place, like an execution, or where it has taken place so recently that any visit can only be considered gawking.
Visiting sites of questionable value can be a positive experience. It can help you gain a better understanding of history and of the world around you. Your visit and that of others may help contribute financially to an economically depressed area. And if you've been affected by the tragedy, however distantly, a visit can help you grieve and heal.
For instance, tourism is big money in Indonesia, making up 3 percent of its gross domestic product, but the disasters prevent strong growth. The latest eruption closed the local airport for two weeks due to volcanic ash fall and even forced cancellation of international flights to Indonesia's capital of Jakarta. As a result, tourist numbers in Yogyakarta fell as much as 70 percent."Grief tourism," however ghoulish it might seem, is far from uncommon. Similar trends were seen in Haiti, devastated by a powerful earthquake in January, as well as in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.
On the face of it, it may sound unethical. But in the long term, looking at it pragmatically, it is probably a good idea. Tourism rejuvenates the economy and also serves as a reminder of the disaster thus urging people to actively look at ways to avoid such disasters in the future. Also, it can be construed as a display of positive human spirit.
But whatever the case may be, we need to make sure that the spirit of the disaster is not mocked. A good policy, good management and a good way of ensuring that people are educated about the disaster is the key. There are NGOs taking people to Leh where cloud burst resulted in many deaths. They take tourist volunteers to help rehabilitate the people there. It can be a good idea to rebuild and generate revenue for the locals as well as create employment opportunities for them. The tsunami hit sites can be another good example for this.
We need infrastructure and have to make sure that tourists have a comfortable time (in keeping with the spirit of course). The emotional trauma of people who live in such places can be great. Exposing such a place to international travelers could help in donations. It puts into perspective the value of human life, its vanity and you could also turn a lot of travelers to philanthropy.  
Indonesia appeals to visitors with tropical beaches, beautiful mountains, spectacular reefs and exotic cultures. But now the country, which lies along the Pacific Rim of Fire and suffers from frequent natural disasters such as earthquakes, tsunami and volcanic eruptions, is courting tourists interested in viewing its harsher face. For Panut, a 60-year-old woman who lost her house in the eruption, more visitors means income. She sits on a small stool and sell drinks and snacks to visitors from the piece of land that used to be her house. Its good for her and she hopes more and more people come visiting.
People are interested in seeing places that have some mystery about them. Organising tours to such destinations is fine but is the hospitality industry geared for the same?  When people take up these tours a set of Theme hotels can certainly flourish at these destinations. The hotels also should have Dark or disaster as the theme so that they can contribute to the overall experience of the tourist. Just like hotels at religious destinations that cater to the overall experience of the devotees.
There is a huge tourist market for Disaster or dark tourism. But hospitality industry hasn’t come up with the idea of providing an enriching experience to the tourist. There was a time when only a few hotels could boast of having a good spa. In fact there were only destination spas but now spas have reached our neighbourhood. Every hotel has one as there is a demand for it. Similarly, it is time that the hotel industry thinks of themed hotels for Dark Tourism. They can contribute to the local economy by means of employment for the locals, adding to the revenue and creating awareness of the place, putting it on the international map.