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Harvesting Tourist Dollars in Tea Gardens

The Hindu Business Line
26th October, 2005

BALIPARA (ASSAM): In what is set to become a trend, tea companies are taking a relook at some of their idle properties, in order to make them income-generating ventures, while also promoting the cause of the industry and helping local people. The ball will be set rolling with a project jointly being promoted in Assam by McLeod Russel (India) Ltd (MRIL) and River Journeys & Bungalows of India (RJBI). While MRIL has tea gardens in Assam and Dooars, RJBI is the holding company of WG Resorts Ltd., which owns one of the region's oldest resorts near the Kaziranga National Park.

Ranjit Barthakur of RJBI told a group of visiting journalists that he was hopeful of partnering other tea companies like the Goodricke Group, and Tata Tea besides some smaller companies for setting up eco-tourism projects in Assam, Dooars in North Bengal and in Kurseong and Darjeeling.

However it was not only the tea industry, which was trying to insulate itself from fluctuating fortunes by releasing alternative revenue streams. Other major corporates, including some in the Birla clan, were mulling on unlocking their idle assets in the picturesque north-east to set up similar projects, Mr. Barthakur said.

He was unwilling to divulge names as yet, but said that nine properties in Shillong, Aizawl, Agartala, Kohima, Dibrugarh and Diphu were being negotiated. Keen to develop a chain of such properties with a colonial heritage he was scouting the crescent of countries from Thailand to Myanmar.

On the project-on-hand, he said that to start with, a property owned by the B. M. Khaitan group at Balipara, some 200 km from Tezpore had been developed for tourism purposes.

Aditya Khaitan, Managing Director, MRIL had said at the annual meeting that Balipara had been selected for MRIL's first tea-tourism project.

Mr. Barthakur is, however, unwilling to limit the endeavour as a mere tea-tourism venture. "It is a life-style project, which will offer the best of facilities through a venture which will have a multiplier effect on the local inhabitants". The 17-year-old WildGrass Resort in which Mr. Barthakur has a majority stake, is set amid a village close to the 100-year-old sanctuary.


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