5 Evolved Hoteliers Who Are Reforming Indian Tourism

A little bit of innovation can go a long way, and here’s a hat tip to those hoteliers who are making a difference to the hospitality industry, step by step.

Published On Feb 02, 2023 | Updated On Mar 07, 2024


As the world moves towards a different level of travel consciousness, where people are looking for more experiences than just nice rooms and great service, one of its biggest enablers — the hospitality industry — is gradually changing as well. A tourist-heavy hill station is now being challenged by offbeat destinations, and a day exploring farmlands is gaining traction as much as a relaxed evening by the pool is popular.

But it’s not just what you see that’s changing, hoteliers are adopting ways to make a difference too, the results of which you see in the food you eat or the water you drink during your stay. Large international corporations aside, individual hotel owners and Indian companies, small to mid-sized too, are waking up to a new era of tourism. And behind each of these properties are insightful and innovative people.

Be it sourcing local ingredients, growing their food or even taking up sustainability not as a challenge but as a way of life or giving back to the society they exist in — every step they take aspires to not only give their consumers something ‘extra’ but to also make a difference. “What else and what more” are aspects that drive these hoteliers, thus building an undeniable legacy.

Take Keshav Suri, for instance, the youngest executive director at The Lalit Suri Hospitality Group. He is responsible for the company’s expansion, marketing strategy, F&B revenue, operations and more. But he is also the founder of the Keshav Suri Foundation which focuses on providing employable skills to the LGBTQ+ community and sensitising organisations on diverse and inclusive HR practices. And this reflects in the hotel company’s hiring policies as well.

Then there’s Shruti Shibulal whose brainchild Tamara is an ultra-luxury wellness resort company with its core values embedded in Ayurveda. But Shibulal is not just a hotelier, she’s also a sustainability champion.She’s constantly striving to make a difference in the industry, asking the right questions and enforcing policies within her organisation where they adopt responsible tourism as their mantra. But there are more such names to the list, albeit concise.

Zee Zest takes a look at some Indian hotels and companies that are setting examples for the industry.


In George Joseph’s words, CGH Earth does not want to do anything differently but pursue their path of responsible tourism. “We are constantly working towards reducing our carbon footprint, reducing single-use plastics, benefiting the community, and continuing the local culture of the respective places we're situated in — their cuisine, architecture, experiences that are crafted, etc,” says the vice president of the hotel company, adding, “The one mantra we stand by when it comes to the way you work is our core values. 'God lies in the details, waiting to be discovered’, is the thought that has inspired CGH Earth from the very beginning, and the non-negotiable core values of environmental sensitivity, benefitting the community, and being local have always been our constant guide.”

These values provide, not just the invisible pillars on which their efforts stand, but also serve as daily inspirations, made visible in a hundred little details. Over the years, with 16 unique holiday experiences and four well-being and curative retreats created across Southern India, this boutique chain discovered itself through nature and community. It learned that less is more, that luxury lies in simplicity, andthat reality is more enchanting than fantasy, he adds.

CGH Earth is a family-owned enterprise that began way back in 1954 with their flagship property, the Casino Hotel in Kerala. One of their USPs, to restore heritage homes to transform them into beautiful stays for travellers, makes them a leading player in the responsible tourism category. CGH Earth currently owns and runs multiple properties in Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka.


Based in Karnataka, Evolve Back (formerly known as Orange County) is possibly one of the most luxurious resort chains India would have ever seen. Currently present in Hampi, Kabini and Coorg, the core philosophy of this homegrown hotel brand has been to go back to nature and give back to the planet, be it through land or its people. From adopting neighbouring villages and improving their quality of life to not only sponsoring but actually running the local government school to educate the children, Evolve Back takes its job as a responsible hotel extremely seriously.

“When we founded the first hotel in Coorg in 1994, there was not a single resort there. When we went to Hampi, there was no player there, at least not in our category. The same goes for Kabini. Our goal was to go to places which we believe had untapped potential, a place we could turn into a destination of sorts,” says Jose Ramapuram, director of marketing, Evolve Back.


From heritage to wildlife, Evolve Back has been judiciously taking strides to give sustainability in Indian tourism a fresh push. “The core concept is to leave more positive imprints than negative,” Rampuram adds, further explaining, “We have a policy that at least 60 percent of our staff should be local. And why do we keep 40 percent for people from outside the region? It’s so that they bring their strengths and diversity into our ecosystem. So that the locals learn from them and they learn from the locals. If you become frogs in the well, it’s not healthy. We have a complete system of waste segregation, recycling, water treatment, etc — all in-house. We have reforested areas with local plants. In Hampi, our forestation has brought back hundreds of birds, which is proof that we are doing something right. Our agenda was to restore the biodiversity of the land we exist on.”

But that’s not all. Community is a big deal for Evolve Back. “We have employed teachers, got the kids uniforms and education material, set up reading centres and so on. If you want to really transform lives in a community, education is the first thing,” Ramapuram says.


Moksha Himalaya Spa Resort, hidden away in the lap of the Himalayas, is not just about giving you a vacation where everything is quiet and peace reigns. It’s about giving you the chance to make wellness a part of your life. But its current CMD, Akash Garg will tell you how they’ve also taken up the responsibility of preserving their environment. His father, the late RK Garg, was considered to be a visionary and played a crucial role in shaping the hospitality industry in the Himachal. “As I took over the leadership of the company, I recognised the need to evolve and adapt to the changing landscape in the hospitality industry. The COVID-19 pandemic has reshaped the way we do business and has necessitated a renewed focus on health and wellness,” says Garg.

Moksha Himalaya Spa Resort also focuses on everything local — from people to produce. “We recognise the importance of cuisine as part of the wellness experience, and our chef prepares regional gourmet dishes made from locally sourced and organic produce,” says Garg, adding, “We know the importance of protecting the delicate ecosystem of the Himalayan region. In line with this, we have taken several steps to make our resorts eco-friendly and sustainable. From the implementation of a no single-use plastic policy to utilising solar power for heating water, we are committed to reducing our impact on the environment. Additionally, we have a waste segregation program in place, and we also have a sewage treatment plant that helps us conserve water. Furthermore, sustainability for us also involves engaging the local communities in preserving the ecosystem. The majority of our workforce is from Himachal Pradesh, giving us a direct connection to the local community.”


Located on a 400-acre private coffee and exotic fruits plantation, what makes Tranquil a unique experience in itself is the family of Tranquil — hosts Ajay Issac and Nisha Dey. Now here’s the interesting part, of the 400-acre of land, the resort takes up only three acres, leaving the rest of the space for coffee and other nature. The 17-year-old property is where you might go to hide from the world and soak in the local flavours of Kerala but Mathulla will tell you how one of their key focuses is sustainability, which he says “is what will guide the hotels of the future”.


“We grow our own vegetables and fruits and give our guests a true ‘farm to table’ experience. We also use solar cookers, Gujarat water boilers fed with used coconut husks, fallen driftwood, efficient lighting systems with LED, water conservation by way of reducing laundry usage, etc. Sustainability is definitely something we are big on,” Mathulla further said. But that’s not all; the resort knows that there can be no sustainability without getting local communities involved. “We are directly involved in the improvement of these communities by way of responsible employment, respect of cultural practices sensitive to the community, minimisation of negative ecological/economic/social impacts, etc,” he adds. Mathulla explains how it’s in the hands of the present generation hoteliers to change the way the industry operates. “It’s necessary to offer an experience than just a beautiful hotel room.”


Founded by Sanjay Sharma, BluSalz is the result of a hotelier’s decision to do something different. “I wanted to expand my horizons of creativity where I will become the owner of my own destiny,” says Sharma. BluSalz, while might not be a purist hotel company, manages and operates properties that offer something more than a hotel.

Take the BlueSalz Date farm in Rajasthan for instance, where you get to stay in the middle of India’s largest date farm, surrounded by 15,000 date-palm trees, watch dates being farmed and indulge in what is now being called ‘rural tourism’, touted to be the next big thing in the world of hospitality. But to Sharma. it’s also about giving travellers a taste of true culture and inspiring them. “It is simple. In my opinion, people go for wellness to rejuvenate themselves, to find solace and peace. I think today we all say wellness and relate it to spa, ayurveda, detox, etc. The biggest detox for your stress or to rejuvenate your thought is travel. Where you see new places, environments, cuisines, languages, people, something which is different from your routine and you won’t get that from spa treatments. There is a correlation between travel and wellness and I strongly believe that if you travel and keep exploring the world, this is as much as the wellness you get in a spa or ‘retreatment’ centre,” he explains. Sharma strongly believes that the more you learn about culture, cuisines, people, and environment, the more knowledge you gain.

Photo: CGH Earth; Featured brands