One of the hottest countries for hotel development is India. And like the big international chains, the country's homegrown brands are aggressively looking to expand. Hotels editor Jeri Clausing talked with Priya Paul, chairwoman of Park Hotels, which is part of Apeejay Surrendra Group, a diversified industrial conglomerate.
Q: Park Hotels bills itself as India's first collection of luxury boutique properties. How did that come to be?
A: Our company really started in 1967 with our first property in Calcutta. Until the early '90s, we had three properties: the Park Kolkata, the Park Visakhapatnam and the Park New Delhi. We are a family-run business, and when we were looking to expand we were really looking at what the business was and how to stand out and really differentiate ourselves. I really looked at this boutique hotel strategy because I liked the whole design, creative aspect.
At that stage, in the early '90s, most hotels were very boring places. And I think Indians needed a place to go out and have fun. We used design to differentiate our hotels. We used that as a kind of launching pad to build, and we now have nine hotels.
And really it was about more than design. It was looking at refreshing service and making sure the customer was treated more like a friend than a customer. So it really was presenting a modern Indian product.
Q: What were some of the biggest challenges in taking that direction?
A: It took a lot of training to explain to people and make them understand it is OK to be a small, interesting hotel. And I think we trained not just our own team but also journalists and media and customers, so they now see and understand the value of having interesting, fun places to live in. Whether it's a customer who is coming from Europe, the U.S. or a local Indian traveler, what we offer is refreshing and different.
Q: Where are your other hotels?
A: Bangalore, Chennai, Delhi and Mumbai. And we have just opened three new properties. One is a small, 20-room boutique property in Chennai. Second, and one of the more exciting things, is the Park on Vembanad Lake. It is a small hotel and luxury lake cruiser, like a yacht. The yacht, called the Apsara, has eight bedrooms and sleeps 16. It basically does three-night itineraries of cultural tourism. Every evening it docks at The Park on Vembanad, a 10-room resort with amenities like a gym and swimming pool and more space to wander around. Guests can sleep on the boat or at the hotel. We just launched that in February. No. 3 is a larger, 270-room hotel in Hyderabad. It's a great new city for people to discover in terms of traditional culture.
Q: Tell me about your expansion plans.
A: We have three hotels under construction, in Calcutta and Puna, and we have land in Jaipur. We think that over the next 10 years we will probably take it to about 20 properties.
Q: Will those be predominantly city-center business hotels or resorts?
A: It will be a mix of a few resort properties and some strong city locations. And maybe some new destinations that come up. Right now we are looking at India but certainly feel that going forward we could be in neighboring countries.
Q: Presently, all the big international players are focused on India, and a lot of the growth seems to be in midscale properties for business travelers. Has your company talked about creating a new brand for that market?
A: We do feel there is a lot of opportunity for midscale, so we are looking at a couple of secondary cities and whether to spin off another brand. But we're not sure yet. We are looking at properties that actually work with our existing brand. So whatever we do, whether it be midscale or upscale, would be very design-led.
This column appeared in the July 5 issue of Travel Weekly.