Skyview Patnitop by Empyrean Skyview Projects is a relatively new adventure tourism destination which claims to have set many firsts as a leisure destination in the region and the country as a whole. A Indo-French joint project, Skyview Patnitop is an integrated mountain tourism project in India with highest ropeway in terms of ground clearance, longest zig-zag zipline in Asia, an all-season tubing sledge, a Magic carpet ride with highest surface conveyor capacity. Although the Covid-19 related lockdown has impacted adversely the revenue expectations of the short term, Syed Junaid Altaf, Managing Director, Empyrean Skyview Projects (ESPPL), is hoping for a revival of fortunes in the mid and long term for the world-class integrated mountain tourism infrastructure on the lap of the Shivalik ranges of the Himalayas in Jammu & Kashmir. While the company has received global health and hygiene certifications to reassure the customers, they are also planning to hold a two-week long Winter Carnival at Patnitop starting from December 23 to attract visitors. Excerpts from a conversation:
ETTravelWorld (ETTW): Through Skyview Patnitop ESPPL has tried to create a one of its kind adventure tourism destination in the country. What impact the global pandemic that struck in the first year of its operation will have on your prospects in the short and medium term?
Syed Junaid Altaf (SJA): Yes, indeed. At Empyrean, it was our vision to create a world-class integrated mountain tourism infrastructure. With Skyview Patnitop we are committed to not only put Patnitop on the map of adventure and leisure tourism but also as a benchmark for responsible and sustainable tourism in this unexplored paradise with its clean air, unique landscape, endemic flora and wildlife, biodiversity and the timeless local culture and history.
In the short term, we had to shut down the site for several months and there was undoubtedly a huge loss in revenues that we had budgeted for. However, we have used these months to refine and add value to our offerings and activities through collaborations with outdoor activity and adventure experts to make Skyview Patnitop a world class destination offering a holistic lifestyle experience. We reopened a month ago with all Covid-19 safety procedures in place including compliance with WTTC Safe Travels protocols for adventure travel.
In the medium term, we expect travel and tourism to gain momentum. Therefore, we are confident that Skyview Patnitop will continue to offer a destination for short breaks that is safe for travellers, is environmentally conscious and responsible, and one that gives back to the community – all values that hold multi-fold importance in society today.
We have also introduced a variety of packages with our partner hotels at Patnitop which include a ride on the ropeway and a range of adventure activities at the lower terminal in Sanget valley. The product is designed to attract all visitors — ranging from budget to high-end. On offer are a number of unique experiences such as continuous zig zig zip lining, tubing sledge, magic carpet, on site. And offsite activities include guided mountain biking, hiking and much more.
These are low contact activities which allows for physical distancing. It is expected that this type of adventure tourism will see growth in the post-Covid landscape.
ETTW: You had relaunched your operations on week-ends till Nov. 30. What was the response since the reopening and how would the operational schedule change after December 1?
SJA: We have received a good response since we reopened for weekends and footfalls have doubled week-on-week. We expect business to grow as rail frequency to Katra improves and pilgrims to Vaishno Devi increase. In December we will be operating from Thursday to Sunday every week and in January 2021, we expect to be operational on a 6-day week.
ETTW: Considering travel is expected to revive through self-drive short distance tours, how do you plan to make Skyview a compelling proposition for travellers from neighbouring cities and towns?
SJA: Our outdoor location in the Himalayas, just a two-hour drive from Jammu, is ideal for holidays/short breaks for families, small groups or even solo travellers who are driving down from Jammu, Katra or Punjab – Chandigarh, Amritsar or Pathankot or those taking short distance flights and trains from Delhi, Mumbai, Gujarat (Ahmedabad, Surat, Vadodara) and Kolkata.
Today, Skyview Patnitop in Sanget Valley is a new mountain tourism and lifestyle destination for those travellers looking for serenity, unsurpassed hospitality, differentiated luxury, eclectic gastronomy, holistic living, culture, adventure sports and folk art against a backdrop of pristine and undiscovered surroundings. Not only has it transformed Patnitop into a new tourist destination with its state-of-art ropeway that connects Sanget, an idyllic hamlet where the lower terminal is situated to welcome visitors, to Patnitop, the upper terminal, but by taking a lead in green mobility, it has also eliminated a 45-60 minute road journey by way of a picturesque gondola ride of over 2.8 kms of inclined destination in just 10-12 minutes.
Visitors to Skyview Patnitop can spend an entire day here or up to 2-3 days filled with fun activities, bespoke experiences, including adventure activities on site such as taking a ride on the ropeway, high above the pine trees with stunning views of the valley below and the sky above, to thrilling zig zag zip-lining, tubing sledge, as well as offsite activities like trekking, birding, sightseeing and interaction with local villagers.
We are all geared to attract new age travellers. Through our new vertical Skyview Adventure Valley, we have introduced very attractive packages available at different price points which include accommodation, a ride on the ropeway and a choice of adventure activities at reasonable prices.
ETTW: Winters being off season time for tourism in the region, how do you plan to promote the destination through innovative packages?
SJA: Winter is not off season where Skyview Patnitop is located. Onsite activities like zip-lining, tubing sledge magic carpet, at the lower terminal in Sanget valley continue to attract the adventure seekers throughout the year, whilst the upper terminal in Patnitop, clad in pristine snow is a winter wonderland and a sight to behold. Indian tourists love frolicking in the snow and through the months of December to March this is a major attraction along with the picturesque gondola ride over snow kissed pine forests. In addition, our Skyview Adventure Valley offering of hiking trails, mountain biking, birding will also be available through the year.
Come December, snow lovers will also be able to enjoy meals with a view at the soon to be opened BBQ restaurant at the upper terminal in Patnitop.We will also be offering Christmas and New Year packages in partnership with our hotel partners in Patnitop and they will include unlimited ropeway rides to Sanget Valley. Plans are afoot to host a two-week Winter Carnival at Sanget valley from December 23. We will also be organising live entertainment at Patnitop, a kind that has not been experienced before.
ETTW: What kind of changes that you are trying to incorporate into your different products to make sure health and safety concerns are addressed properly?
SJA: Ever since we opened last year, we have ensured that safety is a priority and that all activities adhere to and are operated under international safety standards. We have regular and stringent safety drills. During the lockdown due to the pandemic, the site was comprehensively audited for Covid preparedness by SGS – the world’s leading inspection, verification, testing and certification company. A Covid-ready compliance certificate of safety was issued by them just before the reopening making Skyview Patnitop a safe destination for all visitors and employees with stringent SOP’s like masks being worn by everyone on the property, online bookings, thermal screening, social distancing, sanitization routines and digital menus, etc in place. We are also following the WTTC Safe Travels protocols for adventure travel.