Sustainability, community, and the domestic market

As we approach Earth Day, Shoba Mohan, the force behind RARE India, a collection of luxury heritage palaces, boutique hotels, conservation-based wildlife lodges and more, writes about the making of an earth-ready brand that represents sustainable, connected-to-the-roots luxury boutique hotels and the new rebranding measures

Mihir garh rajasthan
The conservation ideals practised by the hotels RARE India represents has influenced their narratives strongly. Photograph: Mihir Garh, Rajasthan

RARE India has been a personal journey of learning and believing. 

My first job was as a journalist and copywriter. From there on, it has been a journey of evolution. I worked as a travel consultant between 1995 and 2003 before I found a gap in the market for promoting small experiential owner-run hotels. I would call this the first phase of my journey. 

As a lone crusader, I was working with a blank canvas. I put all my creativity and my experiences thus far into creating this business. I remember I was like a sponge, taking in everything, learning from people’s comments and often unkind feedback as well. Some of the initial hotels I represented found my writing terrible. That’s when I understood that I was writing what others wanted. My first lesson was to be myself and to look at everything from the window of my experiences, my childhood, my love for drama and poetry, art films and anecdotes, my life from back home in Vizag, my interests and my education. 

This mind-switch changed my perspective. I never needed to copy anyone else’s narrative. I had my own. It brought conviction and credibility. It was an original story.

The second phase began in 2009 when I created RARE. The words, the notes were mine. By now I knew RARE was on to something. The second phase of our journey had begun. And every copy was a compliment. Again, the narratives were original, taken from the inspiring life and sentiments of the hotel owners. Why we decided to represent a brand, why the community came together under RARE was a very unique perspective. I believe that your destiny creates a path, which is your life’s journey. 

Chanoud garh rajasthan
The hotels RARE India represents focus as much on sustainability and conscious choice as on ubiquitous luxury and service quality. Photograph: Chanoud Garh, Rajasthan

I tread the path steadily. Many people joined and left us on this journey; some stayed on as a family. One marketing company was unsure of the RARE tagline: It’s about the people. Feedback from professionals would fill me with self-doubt, but each time, the answers came to me. Like on a hotel visit, when I spoke to the hotelier about his journey, his team which he drew from the local community, how his wife and he trained them, gave them opportunities, and voila, I was left assured and with the strength to carry on. 

This phase consolidated RARE and experiences became centre-stage to our narrative. Slowly, the conservation ideals practised by the hotels we represent began to influence our narratives strongly. ‘Creating shared values’ was our tagline, which, incidentally, many questioned. But we created events and participated in events around the country and abroad, where we represented our philosophy. We were slowly representing a prominent group of hotels and were creating a tribe who believed in what we believed. 

Even then, the power of brand RARE was lost on me, until 2019 when a change in partnership pivoted us as a team. We consolidated and focused to rephrase, go back to the core of our beliefs and bring ‘conscious luxury travel’ to centre-stage. 

Again, the narratives and ideation began at this point. A new partner was the beginning of a new phase for RARE, the beginning of professional branding and a pivot to a new format and a logo, metaphors for change that almost coincided with the pandemic. 

The source at sula
Throughout the 2020 lockdown, the RARE team kept their consumers engaged. When the lockdown lifted, the hotels benefitted by attracting guests. Photograph: The Source at Sula

The third stage of RARE, which required a strategy that is sustainable, authentic and future-ready, powered our lockdown days. The team took to zoom and cloud like never before. Our vision to focus on the domestic market since inception paid off. A team that has been with me since 2004 took on the mantle of creating value for our community in the domestic space, now a willing community. When the lockdown lifted, all our efforts paid off. 

Most of our hotels saw good occupancies and we created networks for travel agents and influencers. We retained most of our staff. Those who left were the ones not willing to take on the new challenges of sales. The media was a big support, and so were friends and family. My team and I lived and worked in hope and faith. 

RARE India has just launched its new website and logo, which symbolise our commitment towards conscious and mindful travel where luxury is redefined as experiences beyond excesses, stays that are sustainable and regenerative. 

As a rebranding exercise, RARE India launched a new, fresh logo and website.

The new website emphasises the nine RARE touchstones as unique value propositions of every hotel in the community. They will be our benchmark for making a conscious choice and will create value beyond the ubiquitous luxury and service quality. The attributes that every hotel will be measured against: single-use plastic, local community engagement, safe garbage disposal, water conservation, low impact tourism, living heritage and its preservation, wildlife, nature and habitat conservation, sensitive destination discovery, and the power of human touch. 

Solitude in the himalayas
RARE India is seeking to drive a change of traveller’s mindset towards a more mindful and responsible approach to travel.

The halt that the industry is witnessing at present is our opportunity to reset our businesses and aim to switch over to more conscious and earth-centred business models. In the next few years, RARE India is seeking to drive a change of traveller’s mindset towards a more mindful and responsible approach to travel. All our narratives are geared for that. 
I grew up on the quotes of the great poet Thiruvalluvar, who wrote Thirukkural, a classic Tamil language text. My father would quote a couplet for every occasion. My favourite was, ‘Aram siyya virumbu’ (Have a desire to do good) and that is key to the Brand RARE: Service to the industry, people and community. The rest of our tribe and community have helped us imbibe this thought and nudged us to evolve.

Ms shoba mohan

Shoba Mohan, Founder Partner, RARE India, is a creative and independent spirit, a travel entrepreneur, whose world revolves around unique and extraordinary travel.

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