[HS Conversations] How Shruti Shibulal found her niche in the hospitality segment

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In a conversation with HerStory, Shruti Shibulal, CEO and Director, Tamara Experiences, talks about her journey of starting up in the hospitality space, and how the segment is open for further growth despite COVID-19.
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Shruti Shibulal — the daughter of Infosys Co-founder and former CEO SD Shibulal and Kumari Shibulal — had a normal middle-class upbringing growing up. However, business and technology were everyday conversations around the dinner table. 

It was this drive that got her to start The Tamara Experiences. A science graduate from Haverford College, US, Shruti took the finance route of working with Merrill Lynch in New York. 

“While finance is in my blood, I had always wanted to start something around food and hospitality. The calling was something I just couldn’t ignore,” says Shruti in a conversation with HerStory

Thus, in 2008, along with chef Abhijit Saha, she set up two restaurants — Fava and Caperberry

However, Tamara was an extension and the next step in her plan. During the same time, Shruti had returned to the US to pursue her MBA from Columbia University, while also handling the projects back home.

Tamara Kodai

Building Tamara 

“Until 2012, I worked on setting up Tamara. The idea was to provide a home away from home,” says Shruti. 

She explains it is the experience that matters. The firm today has three brands — The Tamara Resorts, for luxury resorts; O by Tamara, for business hotels; and a mid-segment brand called Lilac

In 2016, under Shruti’s leadership, The Tamara Resort acquired The Holiday Inn Express Gutersloh and Prizeotel in Hannover, Germany. 

Now, The Tamara Resort is expanding with a luxury resort in Kodaikanal, Tamil Nadu, a business hotel in Trivandrum, Kerala, two more Lilac branded hotels, and an expansion on Palma Laguna. Besides its presence in India and Germany, Tamara is looking to further expand its reach. 

Tamara Coorg

COVID-19 and its impact 

“Since the COVID-19 lockdown, we functioned normally for guests who were already present at our resorts, and even gave the option for those stranded in the area a place to live,” says Shruti. 

Nevertheless, it was a tough time for the entire hospitality industry. Shruti says while they had the resources to continue with the expansion, they decided to focus on things they otherwise would not. 

“We had assumed that our affordable brand Lilac would help us survive, but it was our luxury resorts as most people had started looking at longer stay options once the pandemic (lockdown) opened. Business travel was suspended so our mid-segment brands were hit. It was also a time when we worked on refurbishing our space, worked on our training modules, and looked at our designs,” she adds. 

A focus on tech 

With hygiene and experience becoming the key, the team pushed towards adding more parameters on top of what they had already implemented. 

Shruti says, while the team was always following the norms, the pandemic made it an industry-wide practice. What also helped the team was reducing the fixed costs.

“Since Tamara has been about the experience we provide, it is getting more visibility and traction these days. Today, the idea is to experience local cuisines, cultures, and having open spaces that are one with nature. And we have been able to provide that to our consumers,” says Shruti. 

Moreover, COVID-19 has also pushed the company towards working on its technology, hotel management systems that allow for social distancing norms, contactless delivery, and communication. 

“It was already in the works, but the pandemic just accelerated the plan and pushed towards technology like for most businesses,” says Shruti.

Edited by Suman Singh

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