1. The year that was

The year that was

Taking a look back at the hospitality sector in 2016

By: | Published: December 25, 2016 6:00 AM
hospitality-l At Urban Hermitage, an “unstarred” hotel near the airport in Nagpur, there was no swimming pool or multi-restaurant options, a Mainland China next door served as the speciality cuisine restaurant. (IE)

As the year 2016 whittles down, it is incumbent on me to take a look back on my hospitality experiences in the last year.The marked departure for me has been the time I have spent in small-town hotels. Be it in Nagpur, Bilaspur, Tellicherri, Raipur, Bhopal and even the satellite town of Ghaziabad, the experience either in a branded hotel or otherwise has been revelatory.

For one, the hotel as we know it in bigger cities has arrived in smaller towns. At Urban Hermitage, an “unstarred” hotel near the airport in Nagpur, there was no swimming pool or multi-restaurant options, a Mainland China next door served as the speciality cuisine restaurant. But there was a service pledge that made it as comfortable as a branded hotel. The in-room dining was perfunctory and laced with comfort food favourites, aloo ka paratha and chilli chicken. The lobby-level restaurant was multi-cuisine and served a decent buffet for all three meals, even boasting a fresh juice dispensation machine. This is where apps and hospitality meet; the Goibibo app is a helpful travel companion, it offers an honest assessment of hotels and gives booking options that help you break up your stay so that you get the best deal possible.

Jehan Numa Palace, the one that I have discussed in another column, exemplified for me the stride-free standing, owner-driven hotels have made when not bound to a chain hotel by a management contract. This hotel with its luxury hotel-trained general manager Gaurav Rege had managed to transform a quaint property into a boutique of dining and drinking options, making Jehan Numa the one-stop shop for resident and non-resident guests in Bhopal. From a trendy cafe to a hopping pub with a dance floor, there wasn’t a single experience that can be missed in this hotel.
The Marriott in Bilaspur was about bringing the five-star experience to small-town India for the first time. There is little to do in this city for tourists; a one-hour drive around is enough to take in the options. Here, this hotel becomes the hub of cosmopolitan living. As it brings the sanitised chaat counter, it also introduces hummus and pita bread to the buffet and other such flavours.

Its banqueting space is always booked for high-profile events and parties. The music may be raucous Bollywood but the set-ups are decidedly elegant, with muted colour schemes. A dissonance, if at all, is not bothering anyone. The only challenge, as general manager Ashley James told me, was to acclimatise diners with the “do-it-yourself” principle of self-service at buffets.Small-town India still believes in the platter-to-plate service as a mark of luxury.

My most recent hospitality excursion was a stay at the Raddison Blu in Ghaziabad. It is an ignorance that afflicts many of us who live in the NCR that civilisation ceases to exist beyond Delhi, Noida and Gurgaon. Ghaziabad was a revelation, still considered a gateway town to Uttarakhand. The hotel here had a small-town appeal to it, given its location and the fact that everything around it seemed to be under construction.

However, with Christmas hovering, the lobby was bedecked with Christmas cheer, a gingerbread house, a Christmas tree, carols on the sound system and the lobby level patisserie selling christmas cakes at R900 a pop. Entering into this hotel felt like being transported into another world, where life outside could belong to any major city in the world.

Most commendable, though, was Avatar, a multi-cuisine restaurant. I am personally most comfortable ordering room service. However, this long restaurant that seemed to be carved out of a corridor, had an extensive buffet spread and live kitchen that tempted one downstairs. Its strongest section was the Indian food. However, this is not as easy as it appears, for this is a part of the country where the local guest will know his Indian food. On the three days I was there, the chef presented different biryanis on the buffet with accompanying curries—on each day he excelled himself. Not only with the biryani itself that can suffer on a buffet but with the accompaniments he chose,making it the central dish on the menu.

We learn about “buffet balance” in hospitality school but often do we see operational exigencies and fancies of the chef overtake this basic principle. At Avatar, it was heartening to see someone still cared about old-fashioned rules.Advaita Kala is a writer, most recently of the film Kahaani. She is also a former hotelier having worked
in restaurants in India and abroad As the year 2016 whittles down, it is incumbent on me to take a look back on my hospitality experiences in the last year.
The marked departure for me has been the time I have spent in small-town hotels. Be it in Nagpur, Bilaspur, Tellicherri, Raipur, Bhopal and even the satellite town of Ghaziabad, the experience either in a branded hotel or otherwise has been revelatory.

For one, the hotel as we know it in bigger cities has arrived in smaller towns. At Urban Hermitage, an “unstarred” hotel near the airport in Nagpur, there was no swimming pool or multi-restaurant options, a Mainland China next door served as the speciality cuisine restaurant. But there was a service pledge that made it as comfortable as a branded hotel. The in-room dining was perfunctory and laced with comfort food favourites, aloo ka paratha and chilli chicken. The lobby-level restaurant was multi-cuisine and served a decent buffet for all three meals, even boasting a fresh juice dispensation machine. This is where apps and hospitality meet; the Goibibo app is a helpful travel companion, it offers an honest assessment of hotels and gives booking options that help you break up your stay so that you get the best deal possible.

Jehan Numa Palace, the one that I have discussed in another column, exemplified for me the stride-free standing, owner-driven hotels have made when not bound to a chain hotel by a management contract. This hotel with its luxury hotel-trained general manager Gaurav Rege had managed to transform a quaint property into a boutique of dining and drinking options, making Jehan Numa the one-stop shop for resident and non-resident guests in Bhopal. From a trendy cafe to a hopping pub with a dance floor, there wasn’t a single experience that can be missed in this hotel.

The Marriott in Bilaspur was about bringing the five-star experience to small-town India for the first time. There is little to do in this city for tourists; a one-hour drive around is enough to take in the options. Here, this hotel becomes the hub of cosmopolitan living. As it brings the sanitised chaat counter, it also introduces hummus and pita bread to the buffet and other such flavours. Its banqueting space is always booked for high-profile events and parties. The music may be raucous Bollywood but the set-ups are decidedly elegant, with muted colour schemes. A dissonance, if at all, is not bothering anyone. The only challenge, as general manager Ashley James told me, was to acclimatise diners with the “do-it-yourself” principle of self-service at buffets.Small-town India still believes in the platter-to-plate service as a mark of luxury.

My most recent hospitality excursion was a stay at the Raddison Blu in Ghaziabad. It is an ignorance that afflicts many of us who live in the NCR that civilisation ceases to exist beyond Delhi, Noida and Gurgaon. Ghaziabad was a revelation, still considered a gateway town to Uttarakhand. The hotel here had a small-town appeal to it, given its location and the fact that everything around it seemed to be under construction.

However, with Christmas hovering, the lobby was bedecked with Christmas cheer, a gingerbread house, a Christmas tree, carols on the sound system and the lobby level patisserie selling christmas cakes at R900 a pop. Entering into this hotel felt like being transported into another world, where life outside could belong to any major city in the world.

Most commendable, though, was Avatar, a multi-cuisine restaurant. I am personally most comfortable ordering room service. However, this long restaurant that seemed to be carved out of a corridor, had an extensive buffet spread and live kitchen that tempted one downstairs. Its strongest section was the Indian food. However, this is not as easy as it appears, for this is a part of the country where the local guest will know his Indian food. On the three days I was there, the chef presented different biryanis on the buffet with accompanying curries—on each day he excelled himself. Not only with the biryani itself that can suffer on a buffet but with the accompaniments he chose,making it the central dish on the menu.

We learn about “buffet balance” in hospitality school but often do we see operational exigencies and fancies of the chef overtake this basic principle. At Avatar, it was heartening to see someone still cared about old-fashioned rules.

Advaita Kala is a writer, most recently of the film Kahaani. She is also a former hotelier having worked in restaurants in India and abroad

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