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Priya Paul

Chairperson | 14 Nov 2003

“For the hospitality industry to grow, the industry has to work together towards marketing and promoting India in a better way; we have to make travel to India painless.”

Starting off as Marketing Manager, ‘The Park,’ New Delhi in 1988, Priya Paul took over as the President, Hospitality Division, Apeejay Surrendra Group after her father’s untimely death. Positioning ‘The Park’ as a collection of luxury boutique hotels, Priya was nominated Chairperson in April 2003. Nominated as ‘Business Women of the Year’ by Economic Times in 2002, Priya has also been recognized as ‘Young Hotel Entrepreneur of the Year’ by the Federation of Hotels and Restaurant Associations of India.

In a tête-à-tête with Jasmeen Dugal, Priya Paul, Chairperson, Apeejay Surrendra Park Hotels discusses the possibility of overseas projects, the change in corporate identity and the marketing challenges a hotelier faces.

Q. Let’s take it from the top. What is the USP of the brand – 'The Park?'

Basically, we’re positioning ‘The Park’ as a collection of luxury boutique hotels, and that is the niche we’re trying to create through differentiation and innovation.

Q. Does the small size of a boutique hotel restrict its ambitions?

No, it does not. Maybe we need more hotel rooms. We have three boutique hotels and the smallest has sixty rooms while the largest has two hundred and twenty. There are boutique hotels in the US and Europe who are of a larger size. But we have a very intimate level of service and a close connection with the customers and our staff. So moving forward and becoming larger, one has to really see how to balance the two.

Q. Tell us something about your on-going projects.

Right now we have started the first part of our project to renovate ‘The Park,’ New Delhi. In the next two-three weeks, we’ll be opening our new Indian restaurant and a bar. We’ll be doing mock-up rooms and going into a complete refurbishment, which is a big project.

On the Chennai front, the project is over and done with; only the spa is left to open. In Kolkata, we’ve done six new rooms.

Q. Are there any plans of an overseas project?

We don’t see anything closed to us as an option. Over the last ten years we have been consolidating our position within India and now we have hotels in four of the key metros – Bangalore, Chennai, Kolkata and Delhi – and Vaizag. Of course, there are other cities too where hotels of our type need to be there. Mumbai is one of them. And then going forward, we are trying to sell a very contemporary lifestyle product, and that would fit into any city. However, there are no concrete plans of going overseas at the moment.

Q. What of the 100-room hotel that has been under construction in Navi Mumbai to cater to the increasing corporate requirements in the region?

We acquired the property in Navi Mumbai fifteen years ago and from time to time we’ve gone into developing it, but we haven’t really gone much further there. That’s something we still haven’t taken a call on.

Q. Who do view as competition?

Right now, the kind of hotels that we do, we offer prime locations and we are the largest in terms of key properties; but there are smaller properties, and each one, because they are so individualized, offers a different experience. So I think competition is infinite today. But we are the only company that offers location and a wider range of experience.

Q. Your hotels lay emphasis on contemporary design in its private and public spaces. In terms of decor, you were more design-driven, and the atmosphere is not like that of a traditional five-star hotel. What made you risk being innovative in an industry that is slow to embrace change?

We’ve always taken risks and done innovative changes. That’s something we’ve done at ‘The Park,’ Bangalore and in all our room renovations. It’s easier to renovate a complete hotel; in phases, some things work out fast, others take time – there are minor nuances. There are advantages - things that we have done several years ago are still quite fresh today because it was contemporary at that time.

Q. As an hotelier, what are the marketing challenges that you face?

If you go back to five years ago, we were not a national company. And what we really tried to do was to consolidate our business and grown ourselves nationally. And we’ve done this through our loyalty programmes, cross-city booking from all the hotels, rolling out events in all our properties a cross the country. We can now roll out events in three-four different cities rather than just one or two. This has resulted in a wider reach and we have been able to communicate in a more effective manner with all our consumers.

Q. You’ve changed your logo four times. What is the concept behind these changes?

This has happened as the hotel continuously innovates with the changing times. So as we evolve, we have a complete look at our logo and how we represent ourselves publicly. And this happens almost every ten years.

I don’t think it’s a bad thing to do. As the style changes and things vary, and we’re also a company that over the past fifteen years has gone through many changes, we felt the need for something that would reflect the collected individuality of these properties. We also wanted a more cohesive, corporate look that would go out into the market.

Q. So how do these changes, and the more recent new logo, reflect your corporate identity?

In the sixties, the name of the hotels was launched as ‘The Park’ with a completely different logo from what it is today. In the eighties it was felt that the name and the logotype needed to change to keep up with the changes around, as well as to highlight location as the USP. The hotel's then became to be known as ‘Park Hotel.’ In 1995, ‘The Park’ and the logotype were given a more simple, elegant and clean look. The focus of communication was designed in a very modern manner to be consistent with the look and feel of a contemporary boutique hotel.

The philosophy behind the new identity was to create a logotype that was both simple and versatile; a logotype that was unique to each hotel and yet would retain the sibling resemblance throughout the group. The new logos present ‘The Park Hotels’ as a family of individual hotels, each with its connection to the group's corporate identity

Conran & Partners UK was commissioned to develop the new group identity and to consider its application to each of the individual hotels. The intention was to create a sense of real cohesion throughout The Park Hotel Group through each hotel's graphic manifestations. The idea was to present The Park Hotel Group as a family of individual hotels, each with its own distinctive character but sharing a common spirit and standards of excellence; as individual siblings rather than globally generic corporate clones. This has now been achieved by addressing the group as 'family' and individual hotel identities separately, considering how the family brand is expressed as well as how each location can retain its own unique identity in the context of the region and guest profile.

The new identity introduces flexible 'threads' device. The 'threads' could be seen as silk threads, computer cables, abstract art, contemporary pattern or even as the threads of DNA. Each individual hotel identity shares a common navy blue thread (or gene!) – linking them to the group identity and reflecting the 'family' relationship throughout the group. The colour palette of each hotel identity reflects its characteristics as well as the vibrancy, energy, history and culture of the region, giving a sense of individuality. The corporate identity and livery, confirms the maturity and expertise of the group and is appropriate for a more formal positioning and manner.

Q. Who handles your creatives?

Grey Worldwide.

Q. Under your tenure, ‘The Park’ Kolkata and ‘The Park’ New Delhi became members of ‘Small Luxury Hotels of the World.’ You renovated and re-launched existing hotels in the chain and successfully positioned them in a competitive market. What steps did you take in positioning 'The Park' as a deluxe boutique hotel?

We have positioned ‘The Park’ as a deluxe boutique hotel in terms of renovation – building new products, new restaurants and things like that; in the advertising and communication that we’ve done, complemented by the style of communication; the type of events that we’ve had – our bars and nightclubs fuel events. And lastly, in our internal process – setting up the human resource system, the right selection of people, training programmes to build the right attitude in terms of servicing the customer.

Q. We believe you’ve undertaken a project towards the preservation of Jantar Mantar.

Yes. Apeejay has signed a MOU with the Archaeological Survey of India and the National Culture Fund for the conservation of the Jantar Mantar. By virtue of this MOU, ‘The Park Hotels’ will be responsible for the conservation, preservation, maintenance, upgradation and beautification of Jantar Mantar.

To begin the process, ‘The Park Hotels’ will commission a professionally prepared feasibility report on the conservation, beautification and restoration of the Jantar Mantar. The work to be done in the next few years will include restoration of the monument, lighting up the area, putting up visitor signage and facilities. It’s moving in the right direction.

We’re the pioneers in doing this. A lot of people are waiting to see how this project works before taking up projects on their own. On one hand, it is also building the brand. I think many more companies should be doing it.

Q. You mentioned a couple of years ago, 'We are in the process of completely restructuring the hotel business.' What steps did you take in doing the same?

We were operating as separate, individual companies and now we have completed a merger. All the hotels are under one company. So that was a major restructuring in terms of acquisition.

Q. Going forward, what is your opinion on the Indian hospitality industry? Does it have potential to grow further?

I think it’s growing pretty well. And at 6% growth, India as a healthy growing economy needs hotels with the right infrastructure. But we have a very poor number of incoming leisure tours into India. This could be attributed to the type of options we offer; if we want to attract a large number of tourists, then we have to build the infrastructure. Travel is gradually becoming much easier. People do want to travel and discover the world. The industry has to work together towards marketing and promoting India in a better way.

People are planning holidays and breaks on a very short notice. How do we make India an easy destination? On my recent trip to Maldives, I literally did not know until the day before when I was traveling; but I got my visa on arrival; it was so convenient. Srilanka also has visa on arrival; it was so painless and so wonderful. We have to make travel painless. Moreover, expensive airfare is detrimental.

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