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NEWS of Columbia Pacific Communities

A safe and sustainable solution for sunset years

As of 2019, over 139 million people living in India are aged over 60, which is over 10 per cent of the country’s total population. The proportion of older people is expected to almost double to 19.5 per cent in 2050 with 319 million people aged over 60. This means that 1 in 5 Indians is likely to be a senior citizen. Unlike the generations before them, today’s elders are more independent, financially stable, well-travelled, and socially-connected individuals.   Among the bold and unconventional choices is opting to spend the rest of their sunset years at senior living communities. Mohit Nirula, the CEO of Columbia Pacific Communities, one of India’s largest senior living community operators, shares his thoughts with CE on the boost in demand after the pandemic, change in perception, and why it’s the way forward.   Excerpts follow: Has the pandemic boosted the demand for senior citizen housing? As a concept, it’s relatively new to India. But, the adoption and acceptance have grown. Given a choice between living with children and moving into a senior living community, society prefers the former, as living separately means lack of love or understanding. But, if you think from the perspective of of children who live away from parents due to professional commitments, it’s better for parents to stay in a community that’s designed keeping in mind their needs than living alone. This reality dawned on many of them during the pandemic. In fact, seniors in our facility fared better than those living alone with their medical and other needs taken care of. Now, the demand has gone through the roof and we have a waiting list of people who want to move into our facilities.   Is the perception of the concept changing among today’s generation? Our society often attaches a stigma to parents and children not living together because that’s the default setting. But, senior citizens — after having fulfilled their responsibility to children, parents, careers, and society — have all rights to decide how they wish to retire. That way, senior living communities have become the preferred option. For children, in other cities, this offers some solace that their parents are in safe hands. It solves the physical, mental, and intellectual needs of all generations.   Four of your living communities are in Coimbatore. How’s the distribution of your service in Tamil Nadu? Coimbatore became the default option for senior living communities because of the good weather, great medical infrastructure, and a low cost of living. Perhaps, that’s why it’s called the retirement capital of Tamil Nadu. But our focus currently is on tier 1 cities as there’s a gap between supply and demand.  Besides our existing properties in Chennai — Serene Pushkar and Serene Adinath — we are hopeful to launch our next property in the metro.   What do the seniors of today expect? Good senior living should fulfil three factors — it should give you the space to explore your wants rather than needs. The medical requirements must be taken care of.  We also emphasise positive aging. The focus is not just to increase the length of life but also on the quality of life in terms of physical, mental, emotional, intellectual, spiritual, and nutritional growth.   How do you keep up with the emerging trends in the segment? We are trying to remain ahead of the curve. Whatever we design today is going to stay relevant for the next three years. Technology is going to be a great enabler. Today’s elders are tech-savvy and adopt technologies that improve the comfort and convenience of their lives. They stay away from anything that complicates simple tasks.   How do you suggest today’s generation and their parents approach the concept of senior living? The focus must be on the service provider. One must always ask ‘Where will I be happier 10 to 20 years from now? If you focus on just the present situation then your options will be limited. There’s a lot of scope and potential for expansion in the industry.

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Design for health and safety in a senior living community

The health and safety of residents are of paramount importance in any senior living community where positive ageing is the primary focus. Hence beyond the safety aspects of design as per the National Building Code of India (NBC) and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) guidelines for disabled-friendly design, the infrastructure should have components that would facilitate residents to embrace a lifestyle that allows to keep themselves physically fit, mentally alert and intellectually stimulated.   The safety aspects of design should primarily focus on details to ensure the smooth movement of mobility aids such as wheelchairs and walkers in homes as well as the common areas of the building. This will encourage the resident to use a mobility aid to move freely in the community, which can further foster social interactions and help in improving the individual’s mental well-being.   Design aspects for senior living communities – Design elements to reduce falls like the use of non-slippery flooring providing grab bars and handrails for assistance, especially in the washrooms – Avoid level differences of any kind in the flooring and use of ramps instead of steps – Prevent complete darkness during power transitions using emergency lighting – Uninterrupted power supply to elevators – Keep power points and switches at accessible reach.   Adequate space Just as good lighting is essential for any senior living community, space is another vital parameter that requires equal attention. Space should be allocated for emergency facilities such as a clinic with an ambulance. The clinic’s location should be strategically planned so that there is a clearly-defined path to facilitate easy movement of the stretchers. Ambulances should also be allotted a path for unhindered transportation. The clinic’s corridor width, elevator dimensions and door structures should be designed in compliance with the NBC/ADA guidelines. The use of colours and elements such as a memory niche can be integrated into the design.   Focusing on holistic health Physical health can be enhanced through gyms, spas, outdoor walking tracks, and yoga and meditation decks made of suitable material. There are other essential components such as mental, emotional, spiritual and nutrition requirements that need proper planning for the complete well-being of the residents in a senior living community. There are several community activities that can take care of most of these requirements. Right from the space planning stage, an appropriate area needs to be allocated for activities that will encourage social gatherings. The design and positioning of the common areas of the building are critical. A welcome lobby having chairs, a bookshelf or television, space to play board games or indoor games, community gardens, an amphitheatre for outdoor movie screenings and multipurpose halls for celebrations can be planned. Further, nutrition is a critical aspect of the health and well-being of senior residents. The kitchen and central dining space should be carefully designed to cater to various needs.   Conclusively, design and infrastructure for residents’ health, well-being, and safety in a senior living community should begin at the space planning stage. This can be translated into design elements spaces for both indoor as well as outdoor comfort and then continue till the detailing of smaller design elements such as furniture, furnishings, signage and interiors.

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We have emerged stronger and wiser

Mohit Nirula, CEO, Columbia Pacific Communities

Looking Back Columbia Pacific Communities is the country’s largest operator and creator of senior living communities. 2021 required us to do right by the residents we have the privilege to serve, the teams that help us provide this service, our vendors who make both the operations of the communities and the development of new projects possible and our investors who were unstinting in both their moral and material support.   I am grateful to our Leadership Team that was able to steer the company through this extremely turbulent year. With the blessings of the Almighty and the seniors we serve, Columbia Pacific Communities has emerged stronger and wiser.   Our communities are safe and happy, our projects are on schedule and we have a robust pipeline of new senior living communities ready for launch across multiple cities in 2022 – 23.   At the operations level, our focussed objective was to keep our residents safe and protected from the COVID virus. Our front-line team ensured that both our residents and service personnel were double-vaccinated expeditiously. The Columbia Pacific Communities’ philosophy of Positive Ageing allowed our residents to continue to be socially engaged while maintaining physical distance.   The guidance from our healthcare partners – Manipal Hospitals, the sage advice of the Resident Committees and the wholehearted cooperation of our residents ensured that both our residents and their extended families enjoyed peace of mind in a year that has been stressful in the extreme.   Most importantly, as a service company, it is our people – both at the communities and the Support and Strategy Office that truly make us the country’s most preferred senior living community operators.   I am especially grateful to our investors for their support and endorsement that allowed us to retain each and every member of our team and not deduct any salaries at any point in time. This was in striking contrast with what we saw happening around us.   Looking Forward   2021 was a tipping point for the senior living industry. The lived and experienced safety, comfort and companionship of senior citizens residing in communities designed for them was in complete contrast with the anguish and desperation experienced by those living on their own or in mixed family condominiums.   This contrast was also experienced by the children living in cities and countries away from their parents.   The demand for homes within senior living communities has gone through the roof – both in operating communities where we have a waiting list and in communities under development where there is a 4x increase in demand.   It is our belief that 2022 will firmly establish senior living communities as a complete and comprehensive solution for seniors needs – both at the moment and as these needs evolve over time.  Well run senior living communities that frees residents from the chores of daily life, encourages them and provides opportunities to embrace positive ageing as a lifestyle and gives them peace of mind for their medical needs will become the preferred option for seniors and their children.   Priorities, going ahead   The reason our team and the company were able to do so well in 2021 was on account of their singular focus on Columbia Pacific Communities’ mission statement: “To be the country’s most preferred operator and creator of senior living communities”.   Readers will notice that, we as a company, by using the term “preferred”, have surrendered the measurement of our success to our residents, our team members and our Developer partners.   It is they, based on their interaction with Columbia Pacific Communities, who shall rate our performance based on their experience as residents of our communities, as members of our work teams and as partners in the projects we launch together.   It is this one all important, all-encompassing driver of all our actions – the desire to remain true to all three stakeholders that will drive our company forward in our endeavour to be synonymous with providing seniors the opportunity to truly indulge themselves after they have spent a lifetime in service of their parents, their children, their organisations, society and the nation.   As far as advice for young professionals is concerned, Our team members are expected to adhere to the Company Dharma in all their interactions with our stakeholders – Unconditional Love, Respect and Care. Being human and respecting core values is normally the first elements to be sacrificed at the altar of what is expedient.   It is at these times that our actions be guided by what is “right” instead of what is “convenient” is tested to the core.   Much can be gained by singular focus on the end or results. Longer term, abiding and sustaining victories are achieved when one focusses as much on the means by which one attains the results.   Learnings and realizations across 2021   2021 and especially the second wave showed us what we should have always known – life is transitory. When one evaluates one’s priorities against this paradigm, one realises that with the right priorities, every moment of this brief time on earth can be enriched by having one’s actions guided by the eternal values of humility and empathy. I hope that “better” times do not make one lapse into the more material and impermanent excesses of the self.  

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Design elements specific to senior living homes

Mohit Nirula, CEO, Columbia Pacific Communities

Prima facie, the only difference between mixed family condominiums and senior citizen homes would be the average age of the residents. From a design point of view, nothing could be further from the truth.   While one may think that designing a community for a single (senior) demographic with homogeneity of needs should be a simpler task, architects will tell you otherwise.   Several reasons underline these apparent dichotomies. A few of these are:   Where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts: A sense of “community” is essential in order to ensure that residents have the space and the opportunity to be socially active. Senior living communities dedicate disproportionately high space for common areas, thereby allowing residents to spend more time out of their homes with friends and neighbours pursuing hobbies and activities of common interest. Good senior living communities will dedicate as much as 10 percent of the developable area to common use areas. This is between four – six times more than regular residential projects.   Where the community is as good for me at 55 as it is at 95: The design of the homes within and the community itself is such that every square inch of the facilities and services are reachable, accessible, practical and usable for all residents irrespective of their age and physical ability. Consequently, there are no height differences on the same floor, which obviates the need for steps. Corridor widths on residential floors, door widths within the home and in public spaces and paved pathways in outdoor spaces are just some design elements that keep all areas of the community accessible to all.   Where the community feels like home but works like a hotel: The “zero headache” lifestyle of residents is the consequence of their daily chores being attended to by the service providers. To this end, the “front of house” spaces are designed keeping the needs of the residents in mind even as the “heart of house” areas facilitate efficiency and ease of access for the service personnel. Hence, the route of the resident and the route of the service provider are kept distinct and separate, thereby ensuring that the residents and service providers with their very different speeds of movement do not converge in the same space.   Where access to healthcare is easy yet discrete: The wellness clinic should be easily accessible to residents but located in a manner to also provide privacy. Well-designed communities will locate the clinic such that while these are easy to access from the “front of house”, the “heart of the house” will include a route to the clinic and from the clinic to the ambulance that is simple, efficient and clutter-free to facilitate speed of movement in times of an emergency.   Where the care is real but discrete: Use of pastel colours to provide contrast, provision of shadow-free lighting, elevator doors that stay open longer, lean rails in corridors, matt finish floor tiles, chairs that have slightly higher seats and with padded arms, rounded edges on furniture and wall corners are all design features that may or may not be observed by either the resident or his / her visitors. Each, in their small way, makes life easier, simpler and safer for residents. It is no surprise that architects of senior living communities seek the advice of and take their insights from operators and service providers of senior living communities. A well designed senior living community allows residents to enjoy the facilities daily and forever while enabling the service provider to support the residents in doing so.

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Diabetes Mellitus

Diabetes mellitus affects populations across developed and developing countries. It has posed a threat to the health of humans worldwide. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), the global prevalence of diabetes for the year 2000 was estimated at 175 million people and the projected estimate worldwide by 2030 is 354 million. In India alone, the prevalence of diabetes is expected to increase from 31.7 million in 2000 to 79.4 million in 2030. (Global estimates for prevalence of diabetes mellitus and impaired glucose tolerance in adults: WHO Ad Hoc Diabetes Reporting Group. Diabetes Care 16:157–177, 1993)   Obesity due to lifestyle changes has increased the incidence of diabetes not only in adults but in children too. The risk factors to develop diabetes among Indians are sedentary lifestyle, lifestyle changes due to urbanisation.   Measures to prevent diabetes Type I diabetes mellitus is not preventable. But Type II diabetes is preventable. Dietary changes, adequate exercises and positive attitude towards life are important steps to pave the way for this prevention.   Dietary changes: This includes eating less carbohydrate, particularly avoiding refined carbohydrates such as white flour, polished rice and refined sugar, eating adequate proteins and fat. Eating at the right time, particularly dining closer to sunset helps the liver perform its function of regulating glucose and building up glycogen efficiently. Exercises: This includes regular walks for 30 minutes for five days a week and engaging in weekend activities with family such as gardening, cooking, cleaning up, washing, etc. Fun filled activities through games with family and friends are very good stress busters. Positive attitude: Stress is inevitable. In life things do not always happen the way we want. To accept circumstances as they are, is a better way to get clarity and reduce unwarranted stress. It is the way in which one deals with a situation that makes the difference. Stress brings about cortisol and catecholamines to increase blood sugar whereas a positive way of looking at every situation releases dopamine which brings joy. Mindful movements such as Tai chi and Yoga help to look at life in a more positive way.   In my personal experience, I have recommended having dinner closer to sunset and manage nutrition through low carbohydrates, adequate protein and fat to my friends and family who have Type II diabetes mellitus and hypothyroidism. This change in lifestyle has helped them reduce drug dosage and maintain normal sugar levels by just changing their diet alone.   An informal verbal consent was sought and a few of our residents gladly agreed to give their statements on community living adding quality to their rhythm of life and thereby helping them keep diabetes under check. They have expressed their well-being in spite of being diabetic and they attribute that to diet, exercise and rhythmic routines which they could follow in the communities.   Mr Balasubramanian from Serene Adinath by Columbia Pacific has been a diabetic for 30 years and says that his blood sugar levels were high before joining the community. Because of regular exercise suggested by the physiotherapist at the community and by following elder-friendly balanced nutrition, his sugar levels are now within normal limits.   Mr TS Swaminathan from Serene Adinath by Columbia Pacific was diagnosed with diabetes 10 years back. He claims his blood sugar is being well maintained with optimum dosage of drugs, along with following a rhythm in diet and activity at the community   Mr Dwaraki from Serene Urbana by Columbia Pacific has been living with diabetes for 7 years.  He says that it can be managed well with strict diet without sugar and fried foods, an hour-long morning walks daily, 40 minutes of exercise and 30 minutes of pranayama. Keeping busy with other useful activities and avoiding stress is the mantra, he says.   Mrs Rita from Serene Urbana by Columbia Pacific is 67 and she was diagnosed with diabetes 10 years back. She consults her dietician regularly and says that one never really has to give up on anything that one likes to eat. One just has to make sure to balance the intake.   Prevention and care Health education to spread awareness about lifestyle changes must start at the school level and importance should be given to physical education as well. This will prevent the risk of someone becoming diabetic or becoming obese.   Periodic health screening can be made mandatory among young working adults for early diagnosis of diabetes which can be managed and even reversed if known at an early stage.   Conclusion Living life more consciously is the need of the hour to prevent lifestyle diseases. Eating with awareness and expending energy consciously will help lower the incidence of diabetes mellitus.

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Real estate trends that dominated 2021

Mohit Nirula, CEO, Columbia Pacific Communities

In a world where the word ‘disruption’ had come to be associated with new technology-enabled businesses that upended the existing status-quo of legacy brick-and-mortar business models, 2021 disrupted life itself. Businesses, the country, the economy and, in fact, humanity itself was disrupted. Real estate was no different.   Classically, the real estate industry divides itself into three verticals – residential, commercial and industrial. These three verticals sat at very different levels of their respective evolution at the beginning of 2021.   Residential real estate in 2021 Several policy-level initiatives, such as demonetisation, the application and subsequent revision of the Goods and Services Tax (GST) and the introduction of a regulatory authority – RERA, in the years preceding 2021 had ensured that only large, well-structured and professionally-managed companies were now serving the needs of the customers.   With the ‘investor-buyer’ driven out of the market, all the cities had large inventories available for sale and new launches were on the decline.   The second wave of the Coronavirus pandemic notwithstanding, 2021 saw an uptick in residential sales across the country. With some state governments offering a reduction in taxes and registration fees, developers, keen to sell existing inventory, offered value-additions. Buyers, who needed increased space to ‘work from home’, wanted the additional peace of mind that came from owned (and not rented) homes. Consequently, various factors combined to see a YoY 2x increase in residential sales across the country.   Conversely, with more and more expat and Indian white-collared workers being able to return and work from their hometowns, rental values of properties across tier-1 cities fell to unprecedented levels, not witnessed in the previous five to 10 years.   Commercial real estate in 2021 Shopping malls, retail outlets, office spaces, hotels, and several such common spaces used for business purposes were adversely affected during 2021. A drop in footfall, a forced shift to online shopping, work-from-home from home towns and video-conferencing, reducing the need for in-person meetings. All this contributed to a huge drop in demand for these spaces.   Consequently, lease/rent models between tenants and developers changed to revenue share, with the developer having to partner the lessee in the downturn, while restaurants moved to cloud kitchens and office space demand in small towns increased to match the cost of the bigger cities.   That said, the last quarter of the calendar year – since the petering of the second wave – witnessed a return to the ‘old normal’. So, while the early predictors of doom were seeming to be right, the final contours of where and how the sector will be affected, are yet to be crystalised.   Industrial real estate in 2021 Warehouses and data centres have seen a huge increase in demand. Large plots near logistical doorways – airports, stations, ports – are catering to the shift to the technology-enabled trade that has been the biggest beneficiary of a world still wanting to consume without stepping out of the safety of their homes.   Finally, a relatively low-profile sub-sector of real estate – senior living communities – has seen an enormous boost in demand. Although this is a service and healthcare solution, the demand for well-designed communities, customised to the needs of senior citizens, is such that communities with ready-to-move-in homes have a long waiting list, for both, rent and resale. Developers are seeking professional service providers to launch this solution as a part of their integrated townships.   As the world starts to return to life after COVID, one hopes that the real estate sector, battered by so much for so long, will finally be able to occupy its rightful space as a large-scale employer and contributor to the country’s growth and economy.

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Should India adopt the time bank initiative?

Mohit Nirula, CEO, Columbia Pacific Communities at an event

Time Bank is essentially a barter mechanism that allows individuals to “deposit” and “withdraw” personal time depending on their ability and needs.  As a philosophy, this is both simple and noble in its conception and is based on altruistic principles harking back to a simpler time.     In essence, individuals offer their time (at no charge) to others. This contribution is logged in their account and available to them as a credit to avail in their times of need.   In its purest form, Time Banking values every individual (and their time) equally, makes “giving of personal time” a tradeable commodity, increases mutual respect and thereby builds a self-sustaining community instead of selfish individuals.   One of the more successful attempts at practical implementation of this concept was seen in the Swiss city of St. Gallen (population ~75,000) where healthy and caring volunteers with good communication skills looked after elderly people and were able to “deposit” the time they spent into their personal account of the social security system.    Over time, as the volunteer himself/herself got old and was in need of assistance, he/she could withdraw the hours that they had in their account and could depend on the social service system to assign them a volunteer.   India too has had well-meaning citizens make an effort in this direction with the first Time Bank of India making its debut in 2019.   A sub-committee within the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) has also recommended that India test a pilot project supported by the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment.   That said, true value of any noble intentions or concept lies in its implementation and success in the real world.     What is evident from the various experiments around the world is that the truism of “time is money” cannot be ignored.  Hence, volunteers who are happy to contribute time for such an initiative need to come from a background or have a social support structure where they no longer need to use their time to generate money for themselves and their families.   In countries where people are at an age or stage of their lives where they have to strive hard to provide a better standard of living for their families and the best possible education for their children, the ability and desire to “bank” time for a return in kind at some future date while noble in its endeavour and thought, loses to the more immediate concerns of daily life.   In the more developed countries that have a well-developed and robust social security system and where elderly individuals need company and companionship, such an experiment has worked well with young pensioners banking time to help and support older pensioners.   The young pensioners in these countries can depend on the state to support their financial and medical needs and are hence able to contribute their time to the benefit of their elders, secure in the knowledge that they too will be beneficiaries of the time they accumulate in their personal accounts.    India is adding 4.5 million senior citizens to its population every year.  By 2050, 20% of the country will be above the age of 60.  The rapid nuclearization of families, improved education and job opportunities, longer life expectancy means more and more seniors are living alone as their children pursue their careers across the world.   What India needs is a solution that encourages seniors to live in a community environment where all their needs of daily living are looked after, their immediate and emergent medical needs can be addressed and where social interaction acts as a bulwark against ageing allowing them to remain healthier for longer.   Senior living communities are the best solution to this need.  Where the country and our seniors need support from the government is through policy and legislation whereby such services are available to all who seek it across all price points.   While the middle class can afford these services from their accumulated savings, many elders will depend on their children’s support to get them access to the care and support they need – especially when the children are themselves unable to be personally present to provide this.   In such a case, children must appreciate and fulfil their responsibilities to their parents.  The COVID-19 pandemic laid cruelly bare the dependency senior citizens living on their own have on external resources to assist them with activities of daily living.   The Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizens (Amendment) Bill, 2019 is a step in ensuring that there is a remedy available to society and elders.  Tabled for approval in this session of Parliament, the Bill introduces several changes to the Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizens Act, 2007.   The Amendment Bill widens the definition of “children” to include adoptive children and children-in-law as also the legal guardians of minor children.  Similarly, the definition for “parents” now includes parents-in-law and grandparents as well.   The earlier definition of maintenance under the Act included the provision of food, clothing, residence, medical attendance, and treatment. This has been expanded to include the provision of healthcare, safety and security for parents to lead a life of dignity.   Most importantly the amendment will remove the cap of Rs. 10,000 per month as the maintenance charge.  Tribunals will now have the liberty to fix this charge based on the standard of living of the parents and the earnings of the children to ensure that seniors are able to enjoy the dignity they deserve.   One hopes that the legislation and the initial rulings will send an unequivocal message to children that the state will stand by the seniors and ensure that children are fair and considerate in fulfilling their responsibilities.   Time banking on the other hand, has the potential to succeed in environments where individuals have fulfilled their responsibilities to their families and where the urge and urgency to translate personal time into money is no longer a factor.   Senior living communities where all residents realise the value of their time and support to friends and neighbours is an ideal place to use this tool to bind residents in ties of mutual support. 

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How homogeneity can backfire sometimes

Mohit Nirula, CEO, Columbia Pacific Communities at an event

The word ‘hospitality’ is defined in the Cambridge dictionary as the act of being friendly and welcoming to guests and visitors. This essence is captured in the mantra from the Upanishad that says ‘Atithi Devo Bhava’ – which asks that one consider guests as equivalent to God. The complete mantra, in fact, asks one to consider one’s parents, teacher and guests as the equivalent of Divinity.   As children, we have learnt the art and importance of treating all who visit our homes with warmth, courtesy and politeness.  We have seen our parents sacrifice their own material comfort to ensure that our visitors are well looked after.   It is no surprise then that Indian hospitality – both in homes and as an industry is recognised the world over for its sincerity, intuitive care and genuine warmth.   It is my belief that formal hospitality training in institutes and hotel training departments should be crafted in a manner that they do not ‘out train’ this innate skill that we possess as a consequence of the nurturing we receive in our formative years.   STOP THE SOP Standard Operating Procedures – a phrase loved by trainers and “branded” hospitality companies who dangle voluminous tomes to potential partners, possess within them, if taken too seriously, the ability to completely homogenise and sanitise the customer experience to a level of blandness.   Processes and procedures detailed in SOP manuals are important as training tools.  They have their value in ensuring minimum standards are met consistently and that efficiency and productivity are enhanced while eliminating errors.  In my opinion, these manuals should be created to communicate and measure the technical craft and skills of hotel keeping.   Interactions that involve guests should not be ‘standardised’.  Successful service companies lay emphasis on creating customer delight and memories that engender customer loyalty and repeat visits or usage.   Standard operating procedures that start to mandate use of standard phrases to drive conversation reduce the interaction to the lowest common denominator.  Customer interaction training should focus on softer aspects that encourage active listening, being sensitive to non-verbal cues and messaging, heightened levels of empathy which in turn results in the customised, intuitive and genuine service that touches the hearts and minds of the guests or customers.   SPEAKING FOR BESPOKE There was a time when international brands were “aspirational”.  This was until they became commoditised as a consequence of their own need to be consistent service and product providers across geographies.  That said, in an increasingly uncertain world, for travellers visiting new countries and places, these trans-national brands do provide the security and solidity that comes from being familiar and knowing what to expect.   Increasingly the luxury traveller is moving from a paradigm of large, glamorous, “big is beautiful” hotels to the bespoke, small and authentic establishments that have a sense of place and are true to the cities and countries that they are located in.   As the service and hospitality industry matures and the travellers become more discerning, authenticity of experiences is the currency of “luxury”.   Brands and branded services and facilities are becoming increasingly the norm especially if the business has service at its core.  Even companies that are primarily producers and sellers of products understand that pre and after sales services are as important to the success of their brand and organisation as the quality and desirability of the product itself.   It is no surprise that whether the product is a car, a telephone, a hand bag or a home, brands are focussing on the customer journey and experience from before the purchase to after the purchase transaction has been completed.   SERVING SENIOR CITIZENS Branded residences and brand supported senior living communities are no different. High net worth buyers of luxury condominiums seek quality service and an aspirational address.  They wish their homes to be a statement of their achievement and a place where they can enjoy the fruits of their labour, entertain friends and family.   On the other hand, middle class senior citizens buy into a senior living community to get the the peace of mind that comes with having the service provider take care of all the activities of daily living.  This enables residents to spend time on their passions and hobbies – things they want to do without having to worry about any of the things that they had to do when they were living on their own.   It is important that residents of senior living communities are able to enjoy the services that addresses their security, housekeeping, maintenance, medical and dining needs and provide them with the “zero-headache” lifestyle they desire and deserve.  However, what differentiates a good senior living community from an exceptional one is the service ethos of those who provide these services.   It is here that service providers must truly embody the true message contained in the Shikshavalli of the Taittiriyaa Upanishad that says “matrudevo bhava, pitrudevo bhava, acharyadevo bhava, atithidevo bhava”.   After all, residents of a senior living community, unlike hotel guests are with us forever.  They are of our parents’ age and have much to teach us with the wealth of their life experiences.  They are our parents, our teachers and our guests – it is only correct that our every interaction with them embody the principle of “unconditional love, respect and care”.   Each and every guest is unique and different.  The needs of a transient business traveller, a vacationing family, a couple on honeymoon, a group of friends on their reunion have nothing in common.  They all approach your team and your establishment with their varied expectations.   Thankfully, the skills required to meet and exceed these all are the same – the skill to listen with care and take ownership of delivery.  A passion to create memories and a burning desire to send every guest as an ambassador of the brand – all captured quite pithily as “the act of being friendly and welcoming to guests and visitors”.

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The most important aspect of retirement planning

Mohit Nirula, CEO, Columbia Pacific Communities at an event

Good retirement plans should fulfil the objective of providing an individual with a stress-free life and lifestyle after the cessation of a regular income and until the end of life. At the same time, effective retirement planning should facilitate transfer or disposal of assets for the next of kin in the simplest and most tax efficient manner.   It naturally follows that retirement planning, to be comprehensive, should include:   – Financial planning that allows individuals to enjoy the quality of life that they would like to even after the monthly income that comes from one’s profession has stopped. This should include not just the day to day expenses but also events and occasions like the celebration of festivals, participation in and travel for family celebrations, travel and vacations etc. – Medical planning that includes an insurance or corpus that covers for serious illness requiring hospitalisation and an amount that is available for day to day medication that is a natural part of ageing and age-related illnesses. – Estate planning that eases the transition of assets to one’s partner, children or next of kin.   One needs to factor in the fact that better lifestyle habits and improved medical care has resulted in an increase in life expectancy in India.   A Lancet study reveals that India and Indians have gained a decade of life expectancy since 1990. The study noted that life expectancy in India has risen from 59.6 years in 1990 to 70.8 years in 2019. What this implies is that a person retiring at 58 in 1990 did not have to put aside moneys for many years thereafter.   Now, on an average, a person must plan for at least a decade beyond the age of retirement. It is not a surprise that the Economic Survey finds that 7 in every 10 working individuals in the country expect financial support from their children post their retirement.   When one combines the longer life tenure with the increasing cost of medicines and hospitalisation, the amount of moneys that one must put aside for retirement has gone up exponentially.   It is hence, not a surprise that 58 or 60 is no longer the age at which one stops working. Good health and a wealth of experience is seeing many professionals working well into their seventh decade of their lives.   Given the higher life expectancy, government and private companies in India are mulling over increasing the retirement age – from the current figure of 60 years. The few exceptions to this rule include teachers, court judges, and even CEOs of private banks, who can continue serving in office until they are deemed competent to perform their duties.   It is hence clear that retirement planning must start well before one retires. In fact, retirement planning should start soon as one has clarity on two aspects. Firstly, a realistic expectation and understanding of one’s income levels until retirement and secondly, clarity on the kind of life that one envisages for oneself post retirement.   Once one is clear about these two aspects, one can calculate the amount of money one must have in various investments and financial instruments that will allow the individual to cover for the financial and medical planning for the post-retirement years. This will allow the individual to know how they should plan their spending over the balance earning years thereby allowing them to save and invest adequately.   The most important aspect of retirement planning is to be aware of its need and importance and start planning for it earlier in life.

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Pandemic has boosted the demand for senior citizen housing

Mohit Nirula, CEO, Columbia Pacific Communities at an event

With the pandemic, independent individuals those active beyond 55 years of age are looking for a community that provides safety and security, along with services and amenities that add meaning to their lives, whether it is entertainment, social interaction, or health and wellness.   The past ten years have been seeing a sociological phenomenon that is becoming mainstream enough to start meriting an especially developed catch-phrase to define it – the grey tsunami. An expression that refers to the disproportionate growth of senior citizens as a percentage of the population.   Much as we disagree with the visual imagery the description evokes, it is a fact that India is adding senior citizens to its population at the rate of four to five million every year. This cohort comprises eight percent of the population today – a proportion that will balloon to 20 percent by 2050.   Another quiet change that is taking place is the number of seniors staying on their own. This may be in private homes and villas or in apartments within multi-family condominiums. The phenomenon of parents and children staying separately from each other is not so much on account of a change or dilution in cultural values but a reflection of the altered circumstances emerging from the evolved aspirations of both parents and children.   Indians have always seen education as a means of enhancing their social and financial standing. Parents have endeavoured to provide their children with the best possible education, even while stinging on personal comfort. Access to quality education in India and overseas for the availability of job opportunities across the globe means that parents have taken pride in seeing their children pursue their careers away from the home city.   Moreover, COVID – 19 and the lived experience of seniors residing alone over the last 20 months have further highlighted this dependence. This has been the cause of a lot of anguish for both generations – children living away from their parents and the seniors themselves.   By contrast, residents of senior living communities have been able to depend on the service provider and the on-property medical support to ensure that their needs were met while keeping them insulated from the dangers of the external environment.   However, demand for senior living communities – both with ready to move-in homes and new projects that would be complete in the next few years has grown exponentially. Additionally, the enforced lockdowns have resulted in the pent up demand surfacing to increase the number of transactions in the period leading up to the festive season.   And the solution for seniors as represented by a community designed with their needs in mind is a unique mix of real estate, hospitality and health care that fulfils their every need. In the past, the average age of the buyer was between 65 and 75 years of age. But today, the receiving enquiries are from a demographic that is much younger and also from children who wish to ensure that their parent’s needs are fulfilled within their homes and by a professional service provider.   This demographic has fulfilled all its responsibilities – to their parents, their children, society, and the nation. Thus, they now have the desire, the means and the opportunity to follow their passions and interests. Hence, senior living communities are a solution that frees them from the worries of things they have to do, enabling them to devote themselves to the things they want to do.

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