Calcutta, Dec. 25: Hospitality major Ambuja Realty has joined hands with Makaibari, the oldest tea estate in the world, to set up a luxury resort in Darjeeling.
Tea gardens in Darjeeling usually have their own tourism ventures modest initiatives with four to five rooms inside bungalows.
We have finally decided on our partner for tea tourism. We could not have found a better partner than Makaibari, which is globally renowned for its tea. Now we will decide on the scale of the project and the investments involved along with the nature of the partnership, said Harsh Neotia, chairman of Ambuja Realty.
The resort could get the Radisson tag depending on the outcome of the agreement between Carlson Hotels Worldwide, which owns the brand, and Ambuja Realty. The pact will be reviewed next month.
The project comes at a time when the Bengal government is finding it hard to get partners to promote tea tourism in state-owned estates, such as Hilla and Mahua. Both the estates belong to the West Bengal Tea Development Corporation.
To develop an integrated tea tourism circuit in Bengal, the Union tourism ministry had initially granted Rs 7.6 crore. It was, however, slashed to Rs 3.89 crore.
The Ambuja Realty project will showcase the history of Makaibari, which goes way back to 1859, and focus on tea-related activities such as factory visits, tea facial and spa, tea cuisine, tea tasting and plucking. It will also have a tea museum and crafts centre.
Around 60 per cent of an estate is used for cultivation. Ambuja Realty will acquire 24 acres, allowed under the state law for the utilisation of land in gardens.
As a part of budget tourism, Makaibari now lets out refurbished worker cottages to visitors.
Of the 86 gardens in Darjeeling spread over 19,000 hectares, Glenbury, Gleburn, Tata Tea and Ambootia have started their tourism ventures.
McLeod Russel India Limited has also developed a sprawling tea heritage property at its Adabari estate in the Balipara division of Assam. The Goodricke group has some facilities on a smaller scale at some of its estates.
Previously, foreign tourists made up around 80 per cent of tea tourism traffic. Now the ratio of foreign to domestic tourists has become 60:40.
However, tea tourism is still niche activity, with cottage tariffs ranging between Rs 5,000 and Rs 35,000 per day. There are additional charges for nature activities such as rafting, camping and walks.