In Conversation: Jose T Ramapuram Of Evolve Back Resorts

From its origins as Orange County and their expansion to adoption and formalisation of responsible tourism, Jose T Ramapuram shares the story of Evolve Back Resorts
Luxury Lily Pool Villas at Evolve Back Resort in Coorg
Luxury Lily Pool Villas at Evolve Back Resort in CoorgEvolve Back

The story of Ramapuram Holdings traces back to Emmanuel Thomas Ramapuram, a lawyer and freedom fighter but also an entrepreneur with a strong commitment to values and ethics. Over 130 years, the family business has expanded into plantations, food & beverage, hospitality, and real estate, all while maintaining a focus on ethical practices. Their success grew alongside their dedication to charitable endeavours, emphasising education, healthcare, and environmental conservation. Today, with over 1200 employees, their company stands as a symbol of integrity and service, continuing Emmanuel's legacy of ethical leadership and community impact.

Evolve Back Resorts, a name that promises boundless earthly luxury in the lap of nature, with thoughtful architecture and excellent hospitality at its back, has a strong legacy. OT caught up with Jose T. Ramapuram, one of the seven brothers - the holding pillars of the business today. He tells us about the evolution of the brand with time.

Evolve Back started as Orange County. How did it all begin?

We are from Kerala, although we've been in Karnataka for close to 100 years. Primarily, we are a family of planters, growing coffee, rubber, pepper, cashew and so on. We still have plantations in different parts of south India. It's a small family of 11 children (laughs) seven boys and four girls. I'm the seventh boy.

Coorg was not a tourist destination when we were growing up. But we used to go there for holidays and found the weather wonderful and the place beautiful. Our estate in Chikkana Halli had a great location by the Kaveri. So we thought we could set up something. Since we used to grow oranges, we decided to call it Orange County. This was in 1994. At that point we had not envisaged multiple resorts.

Why did you rebrand?

In 1999, we started going for international travel exhibitions. That's when we realised our brand name had a strong association with California. The first resort did well and in 2000 we started thinking of the second. Work started in 2005 and we opened Orange County Kabini in 2007.

In 2005, we did an internal workshop on branding, where we came up with our "spirit of the land" concept. All our experiences try to capture the localness of the destination. Our guests stay in luxury but experience the local culture. But it was a while before we rebranded.

Jose T Ramapuram
Jose T RamapuramEvolve Back Resorts

Tell us more about "spirit of the land".

Our managing director is an architect. So when we launch a property he studies the life of the place people, architecture, food, clothes, etc. All these elements are blended in with luxury to create our experiences.

The cottages at Evolve back Kabini is inspired by Kuruba tribal homes
The cottages at Evolve back Kabini is inspired by Kuruba tribal homesEvolve Back

So the architecture of our Kabini property is inspired by the Kuruba tribes of the region. A name like Orange County wouldn't really do justice to it. We next went to Hampi, where we built a palace inspired by the architecture of the Vijayanagara empire. We also had plans to expand outside of India. That's when we took a call to rebrand as "Evolve Back", which is more in sync with our philosophy. As we evolve as human beings, we look back and draw inspiration from the past, when we had cleaner air, cleaner food, cleaner water. The new identity was adopted in 2017.

What are some of your brand values?

Our brand values are well defined. They are eco-sensitivity, straight-from-the-heart, constant innovation, elegance, attention to detail, going the extra mile.

When we enter a destination, we want to be the best there. We don't go to places where there are too many players. We also like our properties to be small and intimate.

Evolve Back Hampi Kamalapuram Palace
Evolve Back Hampi Kamalapuram PalaceEvolve Back

What are some of the responsible tourism practices you've adopted?

We have always had a deep connection with the land. I first heard of responsible tourism at WTM in London in 2002. As I studied more, I realised we were already doing this stuff. We just hadn't formalised it. So in 2006-2007, we did. Environment, community and culture are the three areas we focus on.

When we acquired Kabini it was agricultural land. We reforested it with local species and brought the biodiversity back. We banned all plastic bottles in 2005. The roof in Hampi has solar panels. We've invested in wind power.

Children at the Morning Glory Preschool
Children at the Morning Glory PreschoolTE Trust

In Coorg, we have adopted the local government school, besides launching our own state-of-the-art pre-school. After the kids are through with the pre-school, we will sponsor and place them in good schools. We have a policy of 60 per cent local employment and try to improve staff quality through education.

Not one drop of water at any of our hotels is let out. It's all treated and used for gardening. We have an onsite waste segregation programme and 97 per cent of our waste is either recycled in-house or sent out to a proper recycling centre.

Where are you opening next?

Evolve Back Kalahari
Evolve Back KalahariEvolve Back

We acquired a private game reserve in Botswana spread over 110 sq km that recently opened after intensive renovations. It's in a pristine location, very exclusive. We upgraded it before lending the Evolve Back name to it. With three categories of tented accommodations, the lodge can house only twenty guests at a time. Mandu and Bhutan are also on the cards.

You cannot go into any place without having a negative impact. If we're going into a destination, we always try to contribute more positives. We believe in low-impact, high-end tourism. That's why we are looking forward to our Bhutan project. The country is so forward thinking it's trying to bring its annual tourist arrivals of 500,000 down to 400,000.

Jose T. Ramapuram is the Executive Director at Evolve Back

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