Monday, August 14, 2017

Heart-To-Heart Service

Joerg Drechsel, of German origin, talks about the Malabar House, at Fort Kochi, which recently won Lonely Planet's Heritage Hotel of The Year Award

Photos: Joerg Drechsel by Albin Mathew; Malabar House 

By Shevlin Sebastian

When David and Rebekah Benjamin checked in at the Malabar House hotel, at Fort Kochi, a few weeks ago, it was obvious that the latter was unwell. So, she was taken to a nearby hospital. After tests and a check-up, the doctor told the Swiss couple that Rebekah had dengue.

So, Rebekah stayed in the hospital for a few days. But every morning, the staff from the Malabar House would go and change the pillow and sheets. They would also provide all the meals.

Later, after Rebekah recovered, David wrote a mail to owner Joerg Drechsel (of German origin), in which he said, “We have never experienced such care and hospitality anywhere in the world.”

Drechsel has a reason to extend such help. “When you travel to a foreign country, you take along everything you need, but leave behind your social networks,” he says. “So, you have to depend on the people you interact with, like the taxi drivers, tourist guides and hotel staff. And we want to do our best.”

So, it is no surprise that, with this attitude, the Malabar House has won many awards. The latest, a few weeks ago, was the Lonely Planet's Heritage Hotel of The Year Award. In 2014 it won the World Travel Award for best boutique hotel in Asia, and became the first Indian member of Relais and Chateaux (a highly-respected global group of individually-owned and operated luxury hotels and restaurants).

Asked the charms of the 17 room hotel-bungalow, CEO Saji Joseph says, “People come, not for a good night’s sleep but to have an experience. The ambience, the exposure of the restaurant to the tropical weather, while the cuisine is based on local flavours (you can have the seasonal catch of the day: fish with tempered tapioca and coconut milk gravy). Then there is the art collection, a blend of contemporary art and collectible old art. We also offer ayurveda treatment as well as yoga lessons.”

Guests are also encouraged to travel to the famed backwaters of Allapuzha, or take part in a beach picnic, and see how coir mats and carpets are made.

However, what greatly adds to the charm is the people-to-people experience. “The Malayali is a born host,” says Drechsel. “He is friendly, kind, warm and cordial. And intelligent, too.There was a waiter who studied philosophy and was happy to discuss French existentialism with a client. For the guests it is an unique experience.”

But, interestingly, the turnover of staff is very high. “In Kerala everybody has a passport in his pocket,” says Drechsel, with a smile. “I have people knocking on my door at 7 p.m., and saying, 'Sir, it was wonderful working with you, thank you very much. My flight to Dubai is at 3 a.m. So I am leaving'.”

Despite the hiccups, it is clear that Drechsel loves Fort Kochi. In the 1970s, he came to stay one night at Fort Kochi and ended up spending two weeks. Thereafter, he kept returning every two years. However, in 1994, when he came across Malabar House, a shuttered bungalow for sale, he decided to buy it. And stayed on. As he put it on the hotel website: 'Country of Birth: Germany. Motherland: India'. 

(Sunday Magazine, The New Indian Express, South India and Delhi) 

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