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A Paradigm Shift
The Casino Group of Hotels foray into wellness was cautious, delivered with passion and driven by efficiency to create a novel model called CGH Earth. CEO, Jose Dominic discusses the brands humble beginnings and its supreme philosophy towards caring for the environment.

The erstwhile Casino Group of Hotels (CGH), now CGH Earth, is a family owned and managed hospitality venture that has developed a knack for serving luxury in the lap of nature. In 2004, the five decade old group transformed itself and conceived a concept that amalgamated aspects of wellbeing, preservation of nature and support for the local community. The philosophy struck such a chord with visitors that the group ensures that such values are maintained at all its nature-bound properties. 

Jose Dominic, successor, curator and CEO of this unique group talks to Spa Mantra about CGH Earth’s ideology, the joy of giving back to the environment and community, and how this has been instilled into the group’s non-negotiable core values. 

1. How did the hospitality brand CGH come into being? What does Earth signify in CGH Earth?

Originally, when the enterprise was created it started off with a number of hotels that were known as the Casino Group of Hotels. However in 2004, we dwelled upon this name and didn’t think the word ‘Casino’ fitted with either what we were or what we wanted to be. Hence, we re-christened the brand, naming it CGH Earth. The brand advisors insisted that the group have a proprietary prefix to it, keeping the CGH abbreviation, which we refer to as ‘Clean, Green and Healthy’.

The brand consciously took on the word Earth. This was because the word held the core values that we were adopting, connoting environment sensitivity, inclusion of the community and adoption of the local ethos. These three features or characters are CGH’s non-negotiable core values and were best represented by the word ‘Earth’. 

2. How has the company tranisitioned from being hoteliers into a completely new concept that focuses on wellness and wellbeing? 

Re-christening ourselves only re-enforced the process of transition that was already underway. Our turning point was in 1987, when Prime Minister Gandhi privatized the island of Bangaram in the Lakshawdeep. Many hotel groups put in bids to establish beach hotels in order to capitalize on the opportunity. Instead of following the same path as these other hospitality brands, we focused on creating a hotel that would be in-tune with the environment and benefit the island community. 

This decision was taken after reasoning that the hotel should have less ostentation but offer instead the true worth of the spectacularly preserved island and community. We were to learn that the customer’s interest should be held in balance and must not overwhelm the interests of the environment and local community. 

3. How does CGH Earth find that perfect blend of serving wellness with luxury?

In the evolution of the traveller, we’ve now reached that stage of the ‘conscious consumer’. For example, 75 years ago you could walk into a high-street shop in New York or Paris and buy a mink coat. Today this isn’t going to happen. In the same manner, the awareness between the environment and the consumer is undergoing a sea change. The consumer’s interests need to be rated below the interests of the environment and the local community. Customers find luxury in the absence of air conditioning, motorized water sports and television so we are moving to a new paradigm. Customer’s now relate to luxury not in terms of ostentation but in the quality of the experience being offered. Bangaram Island, despite being remote and devoid of ostentation, was much sought-after and customers were willing to pay; we’ve even got feedback from customers saying, “we are willing to pay double the price, but please do not change.”

4. How many properties does the brand own? Which one is closest to your heart?

We currently have 14 properties across Peninsula (South) India and one in the Lakshadweep. My favourite is a new idea that we have introduced called Swaswara in Gokarna. It is my pick because it is an evolving product; a place where you go to explore ‘yourself’. We create a platform where this can work through Yoga, meditation, art and creativity, interaction in the kitchen and being part of the local community. Swaswara enables or prompts you to reconnect with yourself; you may not reach your destination but the journey is fulfilling!

5. What kind of standardization does the group follow?

The group’s only standardization is its core values that are non-negotiable and have to be adopted in every aspect of the business. Other than that, the group strongly believes in no replications and always to re-invent; each place must have its own unique offering. We do not like the word ‘standardization’. The only thing that is common to our properties is eco sensitivity and local community involvement.

6. How are the properties designed? Do you work with a particular architect or design consultant or does the company have its own design team?

Every project goes to a new design company or group of architects; we may use the same designers but we like to work with fresh minds all the time for a better outlook. In the context of heritage preservations we look at architects who are strong in that direction or if it concerns the natural environment we get architects inclined to working on nature-centric projects. We have a strong relationship with our designers so that they not only bring in new elements but make the property look like a part of the village to which it belongs. We like our properties to have a sense of presence but also to blend in with their surroundings. 

7. Do’s & don’ts before selecting a property.

 We have a broad strategy. We seek unique environments for each property; they should not be replicas of each other. The place Online Pokies and culture should be reflected in the personality of the product. 

8. Are all your properties built from scratch?

Not all our properties are new; some of our properties are from existing hotels or heritage buildings. For example, the Ayurveda Center operating in Kalari Kovilakom is a 19th or late 18th century palace of the Vengunad Rajas. I reckon a few years ago when the Maharani called and asked me if we could make the palace a hotel, I said yes as turning palaces into hotels was a done deal. However, in our exchange of thoughts she also mentioned that never before have meats and alcohol been consumed or served in the palace and wearing footwear was always barred inside it too. So, we had to create something different and hence the idea of a Palace for Ayurveda dawned.

9. Who are your clients –international and domestic? 

The construct of our customer is as an ‘Independent Traveller’; one who is on a voyage of discovery. This traveller is distinct from another construct of customer known as the SSS traveller (Sun, Sea and Surf) who is seeking the familiar or predictable. This was coined in a book that Dr. Peter Aderhold authored. Our customer is one whose nature is that of the ‘Independent Traveler’ so nationality does not apply. Most of our guests come from Europe and the West but these days an increasing number are from India.

10. What marketing strategies does the group follow?

We strongly hold our core values and follow it with passion and we believe our values should attract our customers. CGH Earth properties are not only about giving guests a memorable stay but also to provide them with a transformative experience. The experience involves an active, conscious traveler to relish the food and explore the culture and the environment. Our marketing strategy is simple; ‘we tell our story’ and are published by word of mouth.

11. Is there any specific or fixed profile that CGH Earth seeks while staffing?

We believe in offering the best in the world, and it can only be the best if it comes from a local village. Therefore, we engage in employing staff from the village. In that sense, you’re making the ordinary become extraordinary. Of course, we try and get people who have a sense, passion and belonging to our ideology. For example, we follow a policy of ‘zero waste’ where water and other waste is reused. We try and maximise everything consumerable. 

12. With so many players in the industry wanting to enter the wellness segment, how does the company stay ahead in the race?

We believe green is a disposition and not a brand; take up a cause for the community, for the local environment that will attract sustainability and the evolved customer. You can’t change what’s happening; customers are becoming more and more aware and demanding of transformative experiences.

13. Your views on CSR activities…

CSR is often translated into people doing 2% of good works and for the remaining 98% it just doesn’t matter. As per government regulations 2% of profits must be dedicated to CSR activities; however, I feel it is barely anything. I feel there will be a time when the value proposition of serving the customer, environment and the community converge into one and the same. 

14. What’s in the future for CGH Earth?

We are now convinced that this model is extraordinary, unique for modern India and the world and we would like to see it grow, not only in the southern states of India but across the country over the next five years. We are welcoming new concepts to new geographies. We are also willing to work with other hospitality brands without acquiring them. 


Jose Dominic’s association with the Kerala Travel Mart & Eco Tourism Society of India

The Kerala Travel Mart was started in 2000 and Jose Dominic has been President of the Society twice. It is India’s most significant travel mart event and draws buyers from around the world, with participation of all the major hotels in the Kerala region; it has become a powerful instrument in building Kerala Tourism as a whole. He is also a founder member of the Eco Tourism Society which was established 5 years ago, with the purpose of promoting responsible and sustainable eco-tourism in the country. 


CGH Earth’s Awards and Acolades

CGH Earth is the recipient of several awards of excellence from the State & Central Governments for tourism, environment and heritage protection, and the Green Globe Awards from the World Travel Mart. Recently CGH Earth has bagged the prestigious PATA Gold award for their Corporate Environment Program in 2011 and Spice Village in Thekkady has won the 2009 PATA GRAND Award for Environment.


Timeline of the last five decades

1954 – Casino Hotel started in Willingdon Island, Cochin

1987 Privatisation of the Bangaram Island, Lakshadweep, makes an impart on the group.

2004- Re-christening of the brand to CGH Earth. The hotelier now owns and operates “experience hotels” including Bangaram Island Resort, in the Lakshadweep, Spice Village, Coconut Lagoon, Spice Coast Cruises, Marari Beach Resort, Brunton Boatyard, Kalari Kovilakom, Chittoor Kottaram, Eighth Bastion and the David Hall Gallery in Kerala, SwaSwara in Karnataka, Visalam, Maison Perumal and Palais de Mahe in Tamil Nadu.

2006 – SwaSwara a new wellness concept and property was born.



Name: Jose Dominic

Education – Chartered Accountant

Hobbies/Interests – Reading – History

Favourite Cuisine/beverage: Zen – Green Tea

Luxury to you is…? The experience

If you weren’t in this field, what would you be? – Trade Unionist


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