On a Mission to Save the Prime Beach Destination

Raja Gopaal Iyer

Thiruvananthapuram: One day he turns a scuba diver spreading the message of protecting the ocean at Kovalam. On another day, he is seen travelling on a JCB clearing all the garbage at the tourism destination. Yet another occasion makes him the good samaritan organising a unique event wherein dozens of physically-challenged kids are initiated to the waves at Shangumugham beach. Meet Raja Gopaal Iyer who, in his second stint at UDS as CEO, is focused on creating Kovalam 2.0. Riding on his vast experience – of more than three decades – in the hospitality industry, Iyer has tweaked CSR initiatives of UDS giving them a destination promotion angle.

Raja Gopaal Iyer, in his second stint at UDS as CEO, is focused on creating Kovalam 2.0, riding on his vast experience

Incorporating like-minded people and organisations, Iyer has launched Beach and Marine Environment Protection Club (BMEPC) to promote the campaign #OceanLove to spread awareness against marine pollution and global warming.

“Being a prominent hospitality brand in Kovalam, I felt that we are hardly doing anything as far as conservation of the destination is concerned. In fact, the destination is dying gradually due to various reasons. Nothing unique happens here. Hence, with the whole-hearted support from the management as well as the staff, we have decided to create concepts that can make Kovalam more dynamic,” says Iyer.

As part of #OceanLove, in a first-of-its-kind initiative, UDS organised the world’s first underwater CEO conference in association with Bond Safari Kovalam. Chief Executive Officers (CEOs) of five IT firms huddled together on the ocean floor at a depth of around six metres in the Arabian Sea and took a pledge that they would do their best to protect marine life.

On the occasion of the World Ocean Day on June 8, BMEPC organised a cleanliness drive on beaches from Kanyakumari to Kasargod. “Though a first-time initiative, 44 properties across the stretch participated and around 3,000 tonnes of garbage was removed from various destinations. At Kovalam, we cleaned the main junction, which is the entrance to the beach destination. Of course, we could have done it much better. Our plan is to bring in at least 100 hotels under this initiative next year. We will have participation from hotels in Goa and Vishakhapatnam. Within four years, we would like to make it a national movement,” he says.

Under the aegis of UDS, the fourth International Waiters’ Race was held at Shanghumugham. “Actually, I wanted to conduct the race on M G Road. However, we could not do it this time. Next year onwards, we will make the event more popular,” says Iyer, for whom cooking is a passion. He has authored two books on cookery. Iyer has plans to construct an artificial coral in the sea off Kovalam. “That is our ultimate aim. The cost would come to around Rs. 8 lakh and we are looking for the support of sponsors as well,” he said.

Iyer is all praise for Rajasekharan Nair, MD and Radha Rajasekharan, Director, of Holiday Homes Pvt. Ltd., promoters of UDS, for extending support for these programmes. “To be frank, I am just executing their vision for their native place. Above all, it’s the teamwork that matters,” he says.

In his eight-year-long first stint, Iyer expanded the 32-room hotel in 40 cents of land to a boutique property with 208 rooms spread over five acres. ‘Serenity Alappuzha’, the upcoming wellness resort of UDS, is getting ready for September launch. As part of its expansion, UDS will also open a Hotel and Convention Centre at Kowdiar in Thiruvananthapuram in April 2018. It is also coming up with a Hill Resort at Vagamon.

According to Iyer, Kerala Government should allow casinos and boat cruises to make the destination more vibrant. ‘‘In the government, we have leaders with vision. However, we still face the problem of prioritising and getting things done,” he signs off.