Since its launch in December 2012, The Khyber Himalayan Resort and Spa, Gulmarg, has won several accolades and appreciation for its impeccable service, warm hospitality, and facilities at par with international standards. This magnificent resort is truly a fantasy, straight out of a postcard, as the drama of the shifting seasons plays out here all year long. Vinit Chhabra, General Manager, The Khyber Himalayan Resort and Spa, Gulmarg, is more than happy to share the dynamics and allure surrounding this breathtaking property, which has been luring visitors to come back time and time again, as we at TTJ delve deep to learn more about the exquisite mountain resort.
– Prashant Nayak
Q. When did The Khyber Himalayan Resort and Spa, Gulmarg restart operations? How has your revival story been since the restart?
The Khyber restarted operations in September 2020 after the first wave of the pandemic hit the world. Fortunately for Kashmir, and The Khyber, in particular, the revival was quick as everyone was looking for travel after the lockdown and we offered a safe and healthy outdoor environment. So far, Kashmir has been a hot, favourite destination for top-end domestic travellers who had to put their travel overseas on hold due to travel restrictions. Thanks to the proactive steps taken by the UT and airlines offering daily flights to Srinagar, the destination became easily accessible to all.
Q. What has been the resort’s biggest challenge in navigating COVID-19 to date?
The pandemic, coupled with the varying state-wise guidelines, was extremely discouraging for domestic travellers whilst firming up their travel plans. However, in Kashmir, we were truly fortunate that despite all these challenges, we experienced good occupancies. The positive approach by the J&K Government also worked well for all of us. The winter of 2020 was a blessing for tourism in Kashmir and to date, we have had a dream run.
Q. What makes your property unique from the other hotels and resorts in Gulmarg? What are the current average occupancies and ARRs at the resort?
The Khyber is located at an elevation of 8,825 ft. in the Pir Panjal range of the majestic Himalayas is spread over seven acres in a pristine pine valley. Our international class, 85-key resort, clad in timber and stone, offers breathtaking views of snow-capped Affarwat peaks. The resort is an easy walk from the Gulmarg Gondola, the highest ski lift in the world. Also, situated here is The Khyber Spa by L’OCCITANE with stunning vistas from all its treatment rooms, offering luxurious and holistic spa treatments inspired by the rituals of Provence, France.
The Khyber is a recognised brand that has been a favourite hotel of many travellers for the last ten years and has consistently won awards too. It’s the only international class hotel and offers the best accommodation, services and views in Gulmarg. Average occupancies are 90 per cent and the ARR of Rs 35000 has been constant for the last four months
Q. What are the types of lodging and adventure activities available at the resort and what are the immersive experiences to do while at The Khyber Himalayan Resort and Spa, Gulmarg? Which season sees the most visitors?
The Khyber truly embodies the magnificence of Gulmarg. We offer a range of accommodation, from a Presidential cottage to Luxury one- and two-bedroom cottages, luxury balcony rooms with a view of the Himalayan ranges or the Gulmarg meadows and premium rooms.
Guests can enjoy a host of activities such as ATV rides, mountain biking, gondola rides, horse riding, rock climbing, trout fishing, photography safaris and jeep excursions throughout spring and summer.
For the adventurous, the most exhilarating is the hike to the frozen Alpather Lake, at the base of the Apharwat peak at 4200 m, for once you get there, it is a sight to behold!
Come winter, Gulmarg’s snow-scaped vista lends a fairy tale air to the entire area. For many, the sight of the first snowfall gives a feeling of excitement like no other. The unique, backcountry skiing slopes add to its attraction and of course, staying at The Khyber, located right next to the ski lift, is an added advantage.
Winter activities include skiing, heli-skiing, ice-skating, snowboarding, snowmobile rides, sledging, etc. And if you aren’t feeling adventurous, just sit back, enjoy a warm cup of Kahwa, and read your favourite book while it snows in the background or opt for a relaxing spa treatment or a dip in the all-weather indoor pool.
We have a year-round ‘Activities Concierge’ who helps guests plan these exciting outdoor activities as well as those offered at the resort, such as films at The Den our mini cinema, the igloo play area for younger children and snooker to name a few which are also very popular with our guests.
Q. The resort is also known for weddings and MICE events. Tell us about your hotel’s forte in the wedding and MICE segments?
Gulmarg, Kashmir as a destination, is blessed with immense scenic beauty and it is our endeavour to bring it alive for all market segments. Though Gulmarg has always been known as a popular holiday and honeymoon destination, we are now focusing on promoting it as a wedding and MICE destination.
Until the opening of The Khyber, there were no hotels offering a large inventory of rooms or even banquet facilities. The Khyber offers more than 10,000 square feet of meeting, banquet and event space, including the beautifully landscaped Paradeez gardens and an amphitheatre.
The Khyber offers a unique setting round the year and is well set up for any gathering – for board meetings or brainstorming sessions, a destination wedding or a motivational corporate offsite, and can easily accommodate a wedding or corporate event for up to 200 guests.
Q. Please shed some insight on the appeal factor of Gulmarg in terms of tourism and hospitality business?
Gulmarg is an important part of the Kashmir tourist circuit and one with the best development and infrastructure. It features the prime attraction- the Gulmarg Gondola that takes tourists right up to the Kongdoori Mountain in Phase 1 and the Affarwat Peak in Phase 2 at 4390 metres where tourists can experience snow throughout the year.
Q. What are your marketing initiatives and strategies thought of, about retaining old trade partners and exploring new business from potential markets in India?
We have a strong relationship with all our trade partners. We attend trade shows regularly to network and increase our market base. However, domestic tourists remain the backbone of tourism in Kashmir and the metros, the major source markets but HNI in tier two cities in Punjab, UP and the south are new markets that we are also targeting now.
Q. J&K has received tremendous tourist footfall this year. How have the tourism stakeholders in Gulmarg maximised the potential? What are the sentiments of the travel and hospitality business in the state?
Gulmarg has always witnessed massive traffic, mostly during the winters, and this has been evolving and growing over the past few years. But, with the opening of The Khyber ten years ago, the destination has transformed from a popular winter tourist spot to a year-round destination. This has undoubtedly been supported by the controlled situation in the Valley and the active roles of all stakeholders, including hoteliers, Government departments, transporters, artisans and local guides and vendors. The consistent flow of tourists since December 2020 is further encouraging and creating the interest of the stakeholders, and this development will surely pave the way forward for a better future for the travel and hospitality business in Jammu and Kashmir.