When one is invited to an Achiever’s Retreat on the lines of an Unconference that ends up being a FunConference or in my case, a PunConference, then there is no better way to spend a fruitful couple of days.
I had the privilege and honor of being one of the 10 people chosen to attend the Sterling Achiever’s Retreat at Sterling Fernhill, Ooty, a holiday destination in the Nilgiri Hills in the state of Tamilnadu, India.
This was an exclusive event where the invitees were a group of select achievers in various areas of expertise, knit together by one common thread – their passion for travel.
As always, Sterling with their literally sterling and excellent brand of hospitality, made sure that we were well pampered and we returned with a brand new set of memories that were created by the exclusive experiences that they have access to.
From crawling into tribal huts to standing tall on helipads atop mountain peaks, these couple of days took us through diverse adventures on which you are going to vicariously join me, as you continue to read !!!
About Sterling Holidays and membership –
Sterling Holidays is a 30+ year old Chennai based brand that started out selling holiday time shares which was a new concept in those times. Currently it operates on a unique mixed-use model where 50% of its inventory is dedicated to Sterling members and 50% is for non-members.
A few years after its inception, the company did have several issues due to which the brand lost its sheen and went pretty much downhill. However, in 2014 there was fresh investment by Fairfax Canada, a large investor, which infused life back into the brand. This coupled with new leadership, hiring of well trained staff, extensive renovation and a complete refurbishing and overhauling of systems, caused the reinvention of Sterling Holidays. Today in its new avatar, it is leading the game with its 33 destinations across the country.
Sterling Membership is an ideal commitment where one can enjoy a wide range of resorts, destinations and curated experiences for the next 25 years. Tomorrow’s holidays at today’s prices, so to speak. More about the benefits, later in this post.
The event –
The 2 day Unconference was a jam packed and exhilarating session that combined work with pleasure and encompassed carefully curated cuisines, tribal village visits, cultural entertainment by none less than the All Stars who were their own talented employees, tribal interactions at the resort, TED style talks by the participants and meetings and briefings from the top guns of Sterling.
It was the ethos of Sterling packed into a 48 hour sized bottle, at times leaving you breathless with the rapid sequence of events and at other times leaving you with breathtakingly impressive encounters.
Of special note is the climax, which literally gave us a High – the James Bond’esque meeting (or maybe in our case, Bonda’esque) on a helipad perched 6000 ft high atop a tea estate, surrounded by nothing but rolling carpets of tea plantations below, studded intermittently with clusters of pastel hued tribal hamlets clinging to the slopes.
A rendezvous where we felt like secret agents being briefed on our next encounter, which in this case is far from going to be kept a secret 😀 for the word of Sterling memberships needs to be carried far and wide in order that more travellers can be aware and gain from its various benefits.
A few glimpses of the event –
From the traditional welcome dance that was specially curated for us by the Kota tribe who are normally very reclusive and who obliged us to indicate how special we were, our time at the event at Sterling Ooty was filled with a series of memorable happenings.
We were given a personal welcome by the COO Mr Peshwa Acharaya, a gentleman whom I have been very impressed with and look up to, ever since I met him a few months ago. We also had the pleasure of meeting Ms Vimla Dorairaju, an expert on time share resorts, who has been associated with the brand for many years and who is currently a consultant with them.
A grand feast literally gave us a taste of things to come and Chef Ankur and his team won over the hearts of even those who were non foodies (yes there is a tribe like that :-D), with their rendition of a Chettinad spread, complete with all the relevant decor, the most endearing of which, was the menu chalked on a large banana leaf.
Of course the spice filled stone mortars and pestles always excite me to the point of wanting to take them home with me, their weight being the only factor dissuading me from sneaking them into my baggage 😀
A introduction and briefing session after lunch, when we ideally should have had a sleeping session :-D, was next on the agenda but to their credit, they managed to keep us awake, with Peshwa narrating the Sterling story right from its inception 30 years ago, to its decline a few years later and then to its Phoenix like resurgence in 2014. This was the story of the new face of Sterling with exciting tales of where it was poised and how high it was planning to fly.
The people behind Sterling Fern Hill were then introduced to us, and we met the managers of all the departments, in the conference hall.
A property tour followed, where information framed on walls offered us tidbits of revelations about Ooty’s origins and its contributions to the world. Yes gin and tonic had its birth here, as did snooker. We also had a quick trip that covered the rooms, the stunning, multiple award winning gardens which are the pride of the resort, the spa, the adventure activities and the children’s section which had quite a lot of options to keep kids out of their parent’s hair 😀
A High tea followed (too soon after lunch) and then it was off to listen to the talks by the participants who wove in travel along with the diverse topics that they excelled at. It was a very educative session and there was much to gain from each other.
A barbeque dinner by the fireside, to the accompaniment of singing, dancing and even a magic show by the All Stars, who were none other than the talented staff of Sterling Fernhill, was our reward for having been very good participants through the day 😀
Day 2 began with an invigorating trek, guided by Sharan of Sterling, who diplomatically made sure we reached the top and then later mollified us by pointing out a giant Malabar squirrel and a large gaur that was lazily chewing the cud just meters away 😀
The trek was followed by well deserved, painstakingly crafted breakfast on the lawns, where again the chef and his team had outdone themselves.
After this it was time to set off on to our meeting at a ‘High profile’ destination, a helipad on the top of one of the highest tea estates. En route we visited the Kota tribe who had greeted us the previous day and we had the privilege of clicking pictures with them even though they are usually a reclusive and private tribe. That was yet another example we had of the power of Sterling.
The lunch on the mountain was a fantastic experience, with the tiniest of details being attended to even in the middle of nowhere. Vimla gave us some valuable pointers about the benefits of time share and Sterling membership and she being a travel junkie, certainly knew what she was talking about.
The rest of the evening was spent back at the resort with a few more speaker sessions and an al fresco dinner with the Baduga tribe and the Toda ladies interacting with us and dancing for us. Of course we danced along too.
On day 3 we checked out of the resort and the managers Richard and Bharath who were taking care of us through the event, also managed to sneak in another memorable visit en route, this time to a Toda tribal settlement.
Of course the special service did not just conclude there, for Richard knew of some more secret places and we had the opportunity to buy Ooty chocolates and the famous Ooty varkey (a type of flaky biscuit) en route the airport 😀 A sweet way to end our stay.
I cannot end this narrative without thanking Kiruba who masterminded this entire event on behalf of Sterling and brought together not just Like Minded people but also people whom my Mind Liked 😀 A supportive, accomplished, humble and incredibly talented group who were an apt choice to forge a symbiotic relationship with Sterling Holidays.
Why Sterling Holidays –
With a highly charged leadership that is on a constant quest to innovate holiday experiences, Sterling Holidays is on an upward swing and is striving to make vacationing a more immersive and inclusive experience. A COO who is an travel aficionado himself, Mr Peshwa Acharya is pulling out all the stops to hunt for novel ideas and methods to give the guest unique memories to cherish.
The PEPS model – People, Experiences, Places and the S standing for the Marie Kondo’esque, Sparking joy, is the mantra of the new and improved Sterling.
‘Local flavors’ being a large part of their selling proposition, one can have access to a whole range of hitherto unknown encounters that many a time arise from exclusive tie ups or special permissions that various Sterling resorts have in their respective geographical domains.
This of course also extends to cuisine, a very relevant part of any holiday. Sterling chefs and teams excel in bringing the traditional to the table, at times even surprising well travelled palates with an unusual ingredient or dish.
Attentive service that is both formal and homely at the same time. Knowledgeable staff that you can rely on and who are always around to assist when needed.
Local staff that can tell you stories that are not documented in any book or journal or even in the Mother of Know it All – Google. Tales that are only passed from mouth to ear, from generation to generation, find their way to the tourist, via staff who are soaked in the culture of the land.
These are also the people that have access to secrets like where the best chocolates are found or where the best biryani is served or where that rare seasonal fruit can be located or how one can track that elusive specimen of wildlife or where those hidden ruins lie and so on. Our stash of the chocolates and varkey from the neighboring Kotagiri, was testimony to this fact 😀
Well maintained properties, many of which have been aggressively renovated and refurbished to provide a comfortable and luxurious stay.
They offer full service stay options designed for families of all sizes with large, well appointed apartments and rooms with impeccable bath and bed linen, branded toiletries, cleanliness above reproach, all standard facilities and a commendable level of attention to detail. Multi cuisine restaurants, activity centers, swimming pools and spas are a part of most of the resorts.
Geographical and topographical variety – With mountain, river, jungle, nature, beach, riverfront and heritage destinations peppered across the country, Sterling Holidays has something to spice up everyone’s tastes and preferences.
Why Sterling Membership –
So why go in for a membership ?
Well Vimla’s talk concludes that there are a few compelling reasons to go in for a committed relationship with your holiday.
Time share has evolved from its longer period of 99 years to the more visible 25 years.
So now you pay once and discover a wide range of resorts, destinations and curated experiences for the next 25 years, thus making your investment inflation proof.
Buying membership commits you to taking that break periodically, which is a good way of ensuring that much needed time to bond and relax with the family.
Sterling offers a wide choice of places to pick from, with diverse destinations that cover a variety of experiences. Likewise, it is easier to pick from a finite list while deciding where to holiday.
The points based system gives flexibility to choose the type of accommodation and season of the holiday, every year.
There is a facility to carry forward or advance points within the set rules or break up points to avail of multiple holidays or different sizes of room.
Gifting holiday entitlement by paying the appropriate guest fees.
The Sterling Membership can be transferred and even bequeathed by notifying the company and paying the appropriate transfer fee.
Expanding the number of destinations to a far greater number both within India and globally with tie ups – Sterling timeshare also offers a choice of holidaying at more than 4000 resorts in over 100 countries around the world through the affiliation with RCI (Resort Condominiums International) which is the world’s largest holiday exchange network.
The advantage is the facility of holidaying at international destinations at domestic prices.
Economically, time share works out at least 50-60 % better than going on individual holidays.
The mixed use model benefits the time share members because the the revenue from non members also helps in the maintenance of the properties.
A brief idea of Sterling’s mixed-use model –
Sterling has a unique mixed-use model where 50% of its inventory is dedicated to Sterling members and 50% is for non members. Most brands are pure play membership based, or at best will have separate companies and resorts for the two streams.
As per Sterling, the mixed-use model has several advantages for the members –
1. The member can be confident of the upkeep of the resort over time. Since 50% of the same resort is being occupied by non-members, the resorts need to be well maintained for the non-member users.
2. The member can be confident of continued good service. Once again, since the resort is 50% occupied by non members, the resort needs to be adequately staffed and service levels need to be good to attract non members. Also, the combination of members and non members leads to strong occupancy levels throughout the year. This supports a good level of staffing, which in turn ensures good service at all times.
3. Mix of destinations – Sterling provides a wide choice of popular and undiscovered destinations. This is made possible by the mixed-use model. Their strong member base gives them the ability to discover unexplored locations and promote and create destinations, bringing them on the tourist map – eg Dindi, Kufri, Karwar, Anaikatti
4. Business model – Broadly speaking, the membership provides the cash flow to put up the resort and the non members provide the cash flow to run the resort. Together this makes a stronger model for both verticals and cross-subsidizes the customers. It also provides an opportunity for a prospect to try out the holiday experience before taking a decision to take on the long term membership.
So what are you waiting for ? Go and get your Sterling membership and also solve your problem of what to gift me on my birthday 😀
Booking and contact –
Email for general enquiries – firstname.lastname@example.org
Feb 28th – Mar 2nd, 2019
Please Note – I was an invitee to the Sterling Achievers Retreat at Fernhill – Ooty.
The narrative is based on the inputs that I received from various sources as well as my own experiences.