Eve Chartrand-Dandurand, Asia head of Palmex International and the Arsha Consulting team are participating in the Hotel Operator’s Summit India (HOSI), New Delhi. They will be showcasing Palmex  synthetic thatch roof solutions. Eve talks to us about why the time has come for sustainability in the hospitality industry in India and much more… Here’s an excerpt

Your work takes you around the globe, what is your impression about the hotel sector and how do you connect Palmex with the sector?

I am very critical about hotels because my work entails high frequency of travel. I’ve stayed in around 35 hotels and visited 11 countries last year. Some of these are Fiji, Australia, Maldives, India, France, the US and Sri Lanka. Some were hotels that were already using Synthetic thatch roofs and some were not.

I feel that hotels that look at a thatch look for aesthetics but don’t put in efforts to maintain it care less about their customers. I know of someone who stayed at a resort in Mexico that had natural thatching. They were invaded with bugs and mosquitoes and the guests ended up with the Zika virus! So bad maintenance of natural thatches can be a health hazard.

Synthetic palm helps hotels cope with rain, birds, bugs, insects and entails low maintenance helping luxurious hotels maintain their desired aesthetics. When I travel around I am able to see the advantages it provides to properties.

Can you recount any interesting experiences regarding Palmex from your business trips?

When I was in the Cook Islands, I visited Rarotonga, where half of the island had synthetic thatch roofs. Our distributor told us that it was the ‘Palemx island’! We were surprised because from the airport there was synthetic thatch – in city councils, public places etc. First he set up his own hotel with a synthetic roof and people were curious and interested. With one first project it’s really easy for people to see for themselves what these roofs are like.

How do you approach new clients and showcase Palmex?

Showing and demonstrating our thatch is what we prefer. But this isn’t always possible, so sometimes we just go to potential clients and show them our portfolio. This is what we did in French Polynesia. Today, since we have top notch clients, it’s a testimony of our quality.

Why are these thatches better than natural ones?

We realized that people no longer adhere to the ethos of how traditional thatches were made. Shortcuts are used and this has led to the diminishing of natural thatches. A few decades ago, natural thatches were constructed well. The entire process is tedious and takes 10 to 15 days. The palm leaves need to be soaked in salt water and left to be dried for two days. This process needs to be repeated five or six times. Today, leaves are just dried and sometimes installed even with mould. They harbor insects and bugs and need heavy doses of daily insecticides which are an environmental concern. In some parts of the world like Fiji, cutting palm branches due to the volume have been prohibited.

What are the challenges you face in newer markets?

There is a cultural gap sometimes in a lot of countries – like India, French Polynesia and even in the Maldives. Building of natural thatch is a skill that has been passed on from one generation to another. However, when opting for synthetic thatch there are local communities that might be affected.  That’s our main challenge.

Another important factor in a country like India is the price. However, we will be putting our efforts in showing potential customers the longevity of Palmex. Natural leaves come with a lot of related hidden costs. With Palmex you don’t have to worry about it for 20 years. However, with natural thatch you have to use chemical spray on mould and insects. Within 5 or 6 years Palmex will be cheaper to use.

Why did you think of this foray into India?

India is a country that is booming. The high volume of international tourists and travellers has led to hotels wanting to cater to their customers with the best standards. The customers who are well travelled also expect the best from hotel resorts here. So we felt that a high quality product definitely has a demand here worth meeting.

How do you tackle the perception that synthetic materials are not as good for the environment as natural thatch?

Yes, there is such a strong association of plastic being perceived as fake or damaging to the environment. The material we use is High Density Polyethylene (HDPE). This is the same material that your sturdy water bottles or kayaks are made of. It is greenest of plastics and isn’t attached with health and environmental issues unlike PVC and other plastics. It is also not a “use and throw” product adding to environmental impact. Your roof will last at least 20 years and this means a long term investment that is good for the environment.

Another aspect of the product is that it is also LEED certified and helps a hotel gain points in its green building certification in India. Green buildings are a trend that hotels all over the world are steadily moving towards and we’re glad that our product adds to sustainable buildings.

What are your upcoming plans as part of your India visit?

My schedule is packed, I’ll be travelling to various cities in India – Bangalore, Mumbai, Delhi and Chennai. At Delhi our team we’re at Hotel Operators Summit India (HOSI). Being at HOSI is a wonderful opportunity for us, we can demonstrate and showcase our product, so people can see it for themselves. Then, in Chennai, we will be at Roof India.

Elizabeth Raj |  Blogger- Arsha Consulting


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