August 28, 2014

JLR Kabini River Lodge - An Institution in the Making OR A guide to what makes JLR tick

What defines an institution? What separates a normal organisation from the rest, fast forwarding it to a venerable status, admired and respected? Is it the change that is brought in the lives of the people who work here, is it the positive interactions that visitors experience, is it something extra that has helped construct the very industry we work in, a pioneer of sorts? JLR has held its ground providing it with the unique flavor that it deserves. Its existence is a testament to the fact that a government owned and government run organisation can achieve levels of high quality hospitality in remote locations inspite of the many limitations that come with running such an operation. JLR has gone off the beaten path several times over the past three decades.

It has played a leadership role in the weekend getaway section. Driving customer behavior from once-a-year family visitations to frequent two day trips was never going to be easy. However, the strategic manner in which JLR set up its resorts within a few hours of driving from Bangalore and offered activity oriented holidays and not simple leisure is the credo of the institution. There was an inherent demand for short holidays amongst the middle class and JLR filled this gap. Over the years, the weekend getaway segment has developed considerably with holiday options available to the customer at various prices.

JLR has succeeded in the concept selling of off-beat locations with respect to the weekend getaway. Previously, it would have been virtually impossible for an average family to imagine camping out in the night, without electricity or common luxuries provided at a standard hotel. However, it took some deft planning and intensive interactions with guests to bring these ideas into play. Now, most tents across most JLR camps are booked continuously and the demand keeps on increasing.

JLR as an institution has primarily been a leader in building destinations for the state of Karnataka. Most tourism ventures exceed their carrying capacity as the emphasis remains on promoting a single destination, inspite of increase in the number of visitations. With a chain of sixteen lodges and counting, JLR has helped reduce adverse impacts on the fragile environment while at the same time, promote an altogether new destination. With 10-15 rooms, the organisation reaches out to a hitherto unknown site in terms of its tourism potential. Within the first year, an average of 2000-2500 guests make a visit, based on the brand recall that JLR enjoys. A new destination is created and sufficient jobs are made available to the local populace, besides auxiliary benefits to the community in and around the venture.

JLR has played a leadership role in combining leisure with activities. The thought leadership has assisted in destination formation hosting specific activities with one supplementing the other. The more unique the destination, even more interesting would be an activity associated with that particular destination.

JLR has templatized schedules. A safari early in the morning, breakfast at a certain time, lunch at the pre-designated hour, trek at the sharp dot of the clock and guests arriving on a schedule have aided in developing a system that works without too many glitches at most times. However, the template is flexible. If a guest does not want to go for a safari, he may be taken for a bird watching tour in the nearby coffee plantation or he may be taken to a nearby dam for a quiet evening. The template revolves around the guest and not the camp schedules. This process automatisation is also useful as the organisation can scale up using local people who are trained intensively to do their duty well, besides being ready for a call to attend to any other service required of them at a particular moment. The men and women become extremely efficient doers as against planners as they know their job thoroughly. With a certain number of professionally trained supervisors, who are adept at managing their respective departments, the intensity at the Jungle Lodges and Resorts campsites never reduces.

In future, the role of JLR as an institution will be put under tremendous challenges. New players, innovative in their ideas and chastened by experiences will arrive and thrive. Competition will increase and work will be more challenging, however JLR will always remain as the change leader that showcased the commercial viability of an ecotourism venture and helped create a sea of change in the tourism sector of Karnataka and indeed, the entire nation.

Today, JLR unlike a purely business venture is innovating still. It is perhaps one of the very few commercial ventures that actively participates in sharing its experiences with others and does so with no compunction. Worldwide, this fact is being acknowledged and within India, several states have worked with us in enriching their knowledge base. Working in cooperation with the Orissa, Jammu and Kashmir, Maharasthra, Andaman and Nicobar, Punjab and other state governments, JLR has suggested ideas on setting up similar institutions in these states. It takes more to share knowledge, but that is what JLR is keen to showcase to those interested in its story.