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Saturday, Jul 10, 2004

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Bust stress at the beach

Priyanka Jayashankar

As more corporates in Chennai head to the seaside for stress busting, outdoor training and star-studded product promotions, hoteliers, guesthouse owners and corporate trainers are gearing up for brisk business.

Picture this: Executives climbing rocks at a training session in a beach resort and number-crunching managers loosening up at a beach volleyball match.

As more corporates in Chennai head to the seaside for stress-busting, outdoor training and star-studded product promotions, hoteliers, guesthouse owners and corporate trainers are raking in the moolah.

Fisherman's Cove, a Taj Resort in Chennai, has many clients from the IT sector such as Xansa, Polaris and Cognizant Technology Solutions. Amir Faizal, Marketing Manager of Fisherman's Cove, is upbeat about the custom from from IT companies, which are located close to this resort.

The five-star resort has a blend of structured and informal settings for corporate events. While board meetings are conducted in the conference halls, sales meetings and brainstorming sessions are held in thatched shelters on the beach. "We have an event co-ordinator but many corporates employ their own event managers to co-ordinate HR training sessions or get-togethers," says Faizal. Being part of the Taj group — Fisherman's Cove has a strong sales network all over India — corporates from other cities also organise events at the resort.

The pristine seaside that Chennai offers has weaned away many companies from run-of-the-mill conference halls.

Both upmarket and low-cost beach resorts are gearing up to tap this market segment. "Even though we come under a four star category, we offer five star services," says Shanmuga Sundaram, the front office manager of MGM Beach Resort in Chennai. Corporate heavyweights such as Hindustan Lever Ltd, Citibank, ABN Amro, Murugappa Group, St Gobain, HDCL and Scope International have organised programmes at the resort, which is 30 km from the city. Customised packages, including theme-based get-togethers, are offered to such clients. The clients also have the choice of convening programmes organised by their respective event managers. With two spacious conference halls and an Ayurvedic treatment centre, MGM is confident that it can take on competition.

Mayajaal, the entertainment complex on the East Coast Road in Chennai, is bagging more corporate customers too. The complex has an array of indoor and outdoor sports facilities and a resort is also in the pipeline. "Our focus is on entertainment for corporates, and we offer day-long packages," says a spokesman.

Silver Sand, a beach resort 30 km from Mamallapuram, is a rustic and no-frills getaway. It is tied up with Adventure Zone, an outdoor-training group, and provides corporate training. Instead of offering self-improvement sessions in cloistered halls, Adventure Zone makes teamwork or decision-making a hands-on experience through various adventure sports such as rock-climbing and parasailing. The outward-bound training programmes are devised for 15 to 30 professionals. Sports instructors with a military background and industrial psychologists evaluate the corporate team's performance. Each programme is based on a corporate's HR requirements — ranging from ice-breakers for juniors to self-motivation for middle-level employees.

"The programmes have sometimes led to a strong bonding among employees. This is a new concept of training with twin benefits for corporates — a learning experience and fun activities," says Major S. R. Roy, the proprietor of Adventure Zone.

What are the results of such outdoor training apart from employee bonding?

Major Roy says that attrition rates of software clients have come down after such programmes and project teams have performed better after the outdoor-bound-training. Adventure Zone has also given companies a chance to compete for a cause. An inter-corporate event called Sadya is held annually at Silver Sand to raise funds for Vidya Sagar, an NGO for children with special needs.

Unlike other beach resorts, which spend more on fancy fittings and upholstery, Adventure Zone allocates a large chunk of its revenue for imported sports equipment and has retained its clients due to its stringent safety measures. Delphi-TVS, Polaris, Verizon, Gautier (India Furniture Product) and Ma Foi Consultants are among its regular clients.

There are also low-cost beach resorts, where mid-cap company officials can unwind. Buharis Blue Lagoon Resort is popular among mid-cap pharmaceutical companies, software units and auto-majors. "Our USP is a rustic and lush setting by the sea. The resort is like an interior part of Tamil Nadu even though it is just 8 km away from the city," says Nirvan Buhari, Manager.

Buharis is being renovated and an air-conditioned conference hall is on the cards. The sprawling 20-acre resort is goingto be bifurcated and specific areas will be maintained for corporate events. With verdant lawns, an open-air theatre and a restaurant along the beach, Buharis offers a refreshing change for professionals who have wearied of concrete jungles. Last year, Hindustan Lever, as part of its product promotion, organised a bash with Bollywood stars at this resort.

As of now, corporate events make up only 20 per cent of Buharis' revenue, but Nirvan Buhari hopes to bring it up to 50 per cent. He admits that guesthouses in coastal areas have eaten into beach resorts' revenue. Currently, companies have begun to rent guesthouses and hire caterers for get-togethers. But resort managers contend that high-quality services cannot be offered at such gatherings.

Recently, Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) held its annual picnic day at the MGM Beach resort. As IT companies have larger teams, it is more practical to conduct meetings and training sessions at beach resorts instead of conference halls in the city, says a TCS official.

The corporate revenue for resorts mostly depends on HR expenditure. In times of economic downturn, a corporate would withdraw funds from HR-related activities. Small wonder then that the Dotcom bust of 2000-01 took its toll on the revenue of resorts.

But with the outsourcing industry growing, and the IT industry too picking up on other fronts, resorts have wooed back clients from this, as well as other sectors. And hospitality by the seaside is seeing better times.

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