Shortly after I moved to India in 2004, I did a lengthy trip along the west coast of India from Mumbai to Kanyakumari. A highlight of the journey was staying at the gorgeous Malabar House Hotel in Fort Kochi. Some years later, in 2009, I interviewed the German owner, Joerg, for a magazine article and learnt about how, as a hippie in the early 1970s, he arrived in Fort Cochin and fell in love with Kerala. Joerg returned with his Spanish wife, Txuku, in the early 90s and together they renovated an old colonial bungalow. It ended up being too large for a family home so they decided to become hoteliers in 1997. Malabar House became the first heritage boutique hotel in India and the opening also placed the charming old town of Kochi on the luxury tourism map.
Today, Joerg still takes a hands-on role running Malabar House, as well as two other properties Trinity and Purity and a houseboat, Discovery, under the banner of Malabar Escapes. All are sensitively designed to ensure an authentic sense of place and contain Joerg’s splendid art collection. Malabar House was the first Relais & Chateaux member in India and Joerg is the Chairman of the Asia delegation. Over recent years, I have enjoyed meeting with Joerg in Kochi and am impressed with his on going enthusiasm and commitment to his adopted home of Kerala.
Our conversation takes place In July 2020 during the Covid-19 Pandemic.
What were you just thinking of?
Our lovely last weekend at Purity with our friends, sharing time on the lakefront under the monsoon clouds.
What are you doing for the rest of today?
I have always worked from our home office in Fort Kochi. There is not too much of a change, except for the safety protocol around us. Today I am working on the QR code menus for our restaurants to avoid printed menus; you can download the QR menu on your mobile. We also have introduced the concept of having private dining for every room on the verandah and have created a family dining room and all other tables spread out al fresco. The menu is available at all of the locations.
How ‘real’ does the threat of the virus feel? Do you know any one personally who has contracted the virus?
I do not know anyone personally who got the virus in Kerala. Our numbers are very low, with a population of almost 35 million we have to date 25 mortalities. But yes, we follow a strict safety protocol regime, which reminds you all the time of the risk. Every evening at 6pm the Chief Minister shares today’s figures in detail with the population.
If your own health and that of your family/friends is ok; then what is the greatest impact on your life (and on your work) of the pandemic?
Not to be able to travel. As a personal tragedy, my mom passed away peacefully at the age of 95 in Germany and I could not travel to attend her funeral, it still hurts. We do not expect international flights to resume shortly. This apart, I am seeing little of my friends, but yes, safety first.
What are you looking forward to post pandemic?
More travelling, however, it will be less frequent than before. Then creating very safe experiences for our guests, adapting the cocooning and exploring experiences to the new realities. But then our concept of highly personalised experiences and spacious privacy is already made for the post pandemic needs.
Has there been anything positive from the pandemic?
The way Kerala as community has handled the crisis so far is absolutely exceptional and positive. From the grass root village level to the city wards structures have been quickly put up, including close and helpful monitoring. When we went with our group of friends Friday evening to Purity for the weekend, we got a Saturday morning visit from the village health inspector checking protocol and data, then informing the neighbourhood that all is fine. It also reconfirmed my belief in our health system and hospitals.
Is there an innovation (service, product, science, media) that you have been impressed with?
Zoom has obviously changed the way we communicate and have meetings. Some of it will certainly stay but I see also limitations. Seeing everyone sitting in a round is different from the individual images of speakers on a Zoom meeting. Individual statements cannot replace a proper discussion. Also, the digital menu, service manuals etc. will remain, there will be no way back to all the printed stuff in a hotel.
What does your personal future of travel look like? When and where will you go first? What are you dreaming of?
Definitely our second home in Greece, we have been there every summer for the past 35 years. Here in Kerala we will spend more time in Purity. This is our villa hotel directly overlooking Lake Vembanad, located just over an hour’s drive south of Malabar House. Going there last weekend after three months at home was magic!
What are you finding inspiring now?
Shailaja Teacher, as she is commonly known, the Health Minister of Kerala, a schoolteacher by profession, who has organised our successful ‘break the chain’ community campaign to control the virus, exceptional! Then looking at the world events the saying of Gandhi: There is no way to peace, peace is the way! And as a global citizen with family and friends in multiple countries this saying by Rosa Luxemburg, German philosopher, feminist and communist, inspires me “I feel at home in the entire world, where there are clouds and birds and human tears”.
What has made you laugh out loud most recently?
My friends and the experiences they share.
If a reader would like to make a contribution, can you recommend a specific organisation/initiative that could do with the support?
The Raksha Society. This is a non-profit comprehensive special needs rehabilitation service centre base in Kochi. They focus on the needs of children and young adults with neuro-developmental disorders; Cerebral Palsy, intellectual disability, Autism and multiple disabilities through community – based programmes. Raksha has grown from being a special school to a multi-faceted, multidisciplinary organisation. It is best to contact Mrs. Ragini Menon via email email@example.com or by phone: +91 484 222 7707 or + 91 484 222 3920
All of the Malabar Escapes Hotels are now open and ready to welcome guests from within Kerala and, hopefully not before too long, from other states in India and visitors from abroad. Bookings can be done directly on the website or I am happy to help you plan a fuller India itinerary through the Love Travel Journey Service.