Tea tourism seems to be the brew of the month. The BM Khaitan group-owned McLeod Russel has drawn up a plan to deck up its British-era bungalows in Assam and north Bengal in a bid to attract domestic and foreign tourists to this ecologically-diversified region.
McLeod, the largest plantation company in the world with 45 tea estates producing 60 million kg of tea annually, is currently giving final touches to one such pilot project at Addabarie-Balipara tea estates near Tezpur. The Khaitans would play a passive role in this initiative.
The management and day-to-day running of the properties will be handled by Ranjit Barthakur, the former chief executive of Orange, the telecom group that now heads the Indian operations of the Netdecisions Group of the UK, a technology developer that employs close to 1,000 professionals across the world.
A wildlife enthusiast, Barthakur has authored several books on Kaziranga Park, where he owns a resort, Wildgrass, managed by his company, River Journeys and Bungalows of India (BJBI).
The tea tourism project, Barthakur said, would be run as a joint venture between McLeod Russel and BJBI. The project will eventually bring in six other properties of the Khaitans and would be promoted under the umbrella brand of British Assam Heritage Properties, Mcleod officials said. Talks are on with several other planters like Goodricke to take over some of their bungalows and properties, Barthakur said.
While investment figures were not disclosed, it won't amount to much for McLeod Russel, which has just got itself listed on the bourses, as it would only hand over its existing heritage properties to Barthakur, who would then renovate the British-era bungalows to provide modern amenities and top-of-the-line services to the discerning tourists.
"The 100-year-old Balipara bungalow has already been renovated. It has been renamed Wild Mahseer. We have already gone for a soft launch of the resort and are in talks with the Khaitans and some other planters for this project," Barthakur said.
While accessibility remains a problem area, talks are on, he said, with some of the airlines to increase more flights to Tezpur. The Khaitans' own private planes could also be used to ferry tourists.
The travel for the story was sponsored by McLeod Russel.