Priya Paul, chair of The Park Hotels, India, talks about the growth of her design-led properties.
The company has hotels in Bangalore, Chennai, Kolkata, Navi Mumbai, New Delhi and Visakhapatnam with a new 280-room property in Hyderabad due to open in October2009 and its first resort in Kerala by late 2009. It is also opening new hotels in Eastern Metropolitan Bypass, Kolkata and Pune and Jaipur
What gave you the idea for design-led hotels in India?
Well the company is over 40 years old, and the first hotel started in Calcutta in 1967. By the 1990s we had three properties of varying degrees of look and feel so we started to develop the idea of boutique or designer hotels, primarily because we felt that we were small and we had to develop a niche to stand out in the market. The first property that was reconceptualised and launched was the Park in Kolkata and then we moved to Delhi and by the late nineties we had acquired properties in Bangalore and Chennai and then developed another property in Navi Mumbai. So it all came together at the turn of the century. Now we own the niche in India and if anyone's looking for an alternative lifestyle type of hotel, it's us.
|The Park Hotel Chennai's pool|
Are you interested in modern design or was it a commercial decision?
Well I was 20-something and I didn't want to stay in boring hotels myself and I didn't feel they should be boring. At that time the Ian Schrager-type of hotel had just begun so I was influenced by that. I'm not a hotelier, so I started creating and briefing and working with designers and the whole service team to do hotels I would enjoy staying in. And then you get a loyal following and people understood and looked to us to do something different and to provide a different experience. Certainly it's design-orientated but it's backed up by a lot of high-end services, intensive training at all levels and in the industry we are known for investing in our people, so that backs it up. It's not just empty design, it comes with a full service hotel and very capable team members. There are a lot of design hotels that are beautiful, but they really don't promise anything more than that.
So would a traveller recognise your hotels?
People find a similarity of theme. None of the hotels is identical, but obviously it does come out to the customer in some way. People feel ‘Oh, this looks like a Park', or sometimes they go to other hotels and say ‘Oh, they are trying to do a Park'. Or they've been to someone's house and they say ‘It looks like a Park'. We've pushed our designers to do new things so people get excited by that and then they want to take a part of it home with them.
As you grow larger, isn't it tempting to repeat the things that work?
The thing that works is being new. It's a lot more work this way, developing new things and new designers. The new Hyderabad property has 15 designers for instance and we are still adding to them. But the whole premise of that hotel is to look at Indian design so it makes sense.
Do you achieve a higher rate as a result of all this extra cost?
Well it doesn't always cost more in the first place. We are a small group and we watch our costs. In some markets we do get a higher rate, but not all. We have very fair pricing in all the markets we are in. All our hotels are five star or five star deluxe. But having said that, the star rating in India is very subjective so you can have a hotel with three restaurants or one with six and they might both be five star. We are not the highest in terms of pricing, we are a notch below. But we catch a lot of the business people or those who are coming regularly.
Do the hotels have meeting facilities?
Yes, all of them and it's a large component. In addition we do a lot of food and beverage because one of the things we did when we reconceptualised was to make hotels really fun and interesting places to be - and not just for the hotel guests but also for the locals. So at whichever property, you will find the bars and restaurants buzzing with local nightlife as well as guests. Our property in Kolkata has four bars and clubs as well as another three restaurants and they have a life of their own and it's chaotic. And we get different segments of customers for each one. Every property has a lot of local F&B which the hotel guests like because they are not just living in a cell but can meet interesting people who are from the city or fellow travellers because this is a place you can meet and interact.
Do you think international travellers understand the brand? Park is a very common name?
We are called The Park, and we have a brand identity which is quite strong. We take part in the international trade fairs so we are directly in touch with agents and corporate bookers so I don't think that there is much problem and when they pull us up on the GDS it's very clear what the Park is.
|The new Park Hotel Hyderabad|
Do you use a marketing alliance?
We are affiliated with Design Hotels and have about four properties with them. We have been with them for the last six or seven years and it's a good affiliation for us.
You own all of the hotels at present. Would you consider management contracts?
We are doing our first resort in Kerala which opens in October and is a 20-room property, partly on land and partly on a boat. It's new for us because this is a management contract so it will be quite exciting. We've been wanting to go into a resort for sometime but finding the right property with the right numbers has been difficult. We have another four properties under development, and we are looking at about 20 properties in the next 10 years, mostly owned. We would do management contracts but we need people who understand what the aesthetic and design is about. Because that's our blueprint, there's no point bringing us in to just do a regular hotel.