Veteran hotelier Kapil Chopra, who quit as president of Oberoi Hotels to launch his own hospitality brand, The Postcard Hotel, with three properties in Goa to begin with, talks about how things at Postcard are not just done differently, but are also felt differently. Edited excerpts:
You promise a unique experience with Postcard Hotels. Could you give details about how unique it is going to be in terms of price, rooms, food, and overall experience?
The Postcard, as a brand, is more than just a chain of small hotels. It is a movement to bring back the old way to holiday, where you awaken to a new way of seeing with gimmick-free holidays that are effortlessly merged with local authentic experiences and regional vernacular design. In a world of romance and charm, the Postcard Hotel offers personalised vacations with soul and high quality of familiar comfort. This feeling, what I call ‘The Postcard Way’, is what makes us truly unique. To explain further, according to me, hotels can be categorised as commodities or a product where a basic clean bed, bath and breakfast are promised; or places with great service where the majority of the big brands operate. Airbnb brought in the segment of experiences where living like a local became famous, however, with no promised service. The fifth stage of transformative hotels is where we wish to operate—a beautiful amalgamation of a great product with world-class service and local immersive inclusions.
In all our touch points, we have had specialists wield their magic. Our lead architect is the eclectic Akshat Bhatt of Architecture Discipline whose design embodies the word ‘melange’. The interiors are adorned with photographs shot by JJ Valaya of the hidden corners of Goa. The brand language is crafted by Mohamed Rizwan of Propaganda. We bring wellness all the way from Coimbatore to Goa from Vaidyagram, an ecological sustainable village run by Purnanava Ayurveda. The doctors, three-generation Ayurvedic practitioners, create what they call an ‘optimum healing environment’. Imagine going from a bustling metropolis to a Postcard Hotel and coming back, having dropped 10 points on your blood pressure, blood sugar and, hopefully, a few inches off your waistline.
Food and beverage are regionally inspired and have freshness and authenticity as their core. Our hotels are devoid of rules like breakfast hours and we have moved away from concepts like buffets, as the real luxury of hospitality is in eating whenever you like and having meals that have been freshly cooked for you. Our hotels respect your intelligence and touch all five senses to appreciate the region’s offerings. They break norms of having French butter croissants in Goa and serve locally-baked poee instead. Sugary welcome drinks are a no and artisanal local alcohol a yes. Canadian maple syrup is ditched for organic Himalayan honey and local chorizo is the alternative to German bratwursts! At The Postcard, things are not just done differently, but are felt differently.
‘Discerning’ and ‘intimate’ are the words used to describe the brand. Do you think this is the direction the hospitality industry is headed, away from the copy-paste model of many big chains? And how exactly are you delivering it?
The hospitality industry is at an inflection point, having grown significantly in the last two years with Indians travelling more, and also experimenting with travelling solo, to newer locations. There are regional players who offer a ‘non-cookie-cut’ approach to hotels; however, most are products of passion and run as an additional business without a well-thought-out strategy and consolidated inventory. Thus, the discerning traveller has stuck to the big chains and traditional hotels, as that alternate view to the set standards of luxury was not uniformly available. India was plagued with great accommodation, but there were no serious operators at the country level who guaranteed high profits, experiential living, assured product and superlative service. I realised that all the disruption and innovation was happening in the budget hotel segment and luxury resorts continued to provide beautiful but sterile products with warm service.
I felt that either experiential luxury was too expensive or what guests were getting was a sanitised hotel experience. At The Postcard, I would flamboyantly say that one cannot expect from us a mediocre or clichéd experience at every touch point across their stay and travel. All the way from the food to the amenities to the curated walks, The Postcard boasts of authenticity and regional imprint. With strong brand standards underlining the service across the company, each hotel in every destination would have its signature propoundment.
Do you think you can sustain the current prices on the website, and who is your primary target audience—domestic or international tourists?
We have a strong revenue management team at the back-end that is constantly analysing the market trends, seasonal changes and deciding prices. To give an example of Goa, the highest average room rate amongst the city’s hotels is about Rs19,000, so the luxury market exists, but no one has actually created a service differentiation that leads to a premium. The idea is not to sustain a particular price point for monetisation and brand placement, but to be accessible to all travellers seeking an experience. A study has shown that Indian travellers crossed 20 million this year and that Indians have started to take a lot of short holidays and are even travelling solo. The luxury marketplace is booming and the innovation in the food and beverage industry has soared. I am confident that this robust growth will not fizzle out and Indians will continue to seek a larger ken of what the subcontinent has to offer. Even though we are expecting a lot of inbound tourists to visit our hotels, the sheer quantum of the Indian traveller will ensure our hotels enjoy high occupancies with a good average room rate.
What was the thought behind choosing the other destinations besides Goa for your hotels?
With The Postcard Hotel, I do not wish to only create great hotels, but I wish to develop destinations. For instance, even Goa for us is not just one state, but at least five different facets to the one state. Having grown up in Delhi all my life, Goa for me was synonymous with rave parties and great beaches. However, through my travels and with the research for Postcard Hotels, we realise that there is a north Goa with dense forests as well as the party hubs; south Goa, which is relatively quieter and dotted with coconut plantations; old Goa rich with 100-year-old churches; the Goa by the sea; and the ‘new’ Goa that is the outskirts with virgin beaches and clean sand. Each unique from the other in its offering.
Thus, the focus for us as a brand is on the warmth, uniqueness and cultural wealth a destination brings with it. As we grow, on the mountains, by the sea, in the wild, nestled in the laps of tea and coffee estates, valleys and arid deserts, a Postcard Hotel shall be found in the quiet nooks and crannies across the subcontinent. We additionally feel that the growing trends of travel are more outward than inward and such locations provide the necessary experiences and solace alike, while allowing operators like us to charge a significant premium.
Do you see the brand expanding overseas in the coming years?
The Postcard is an edited hotel experience with a regional yet very chic vibe that brings along a great potential for adaption and adoption in any corner of the world. I would love to see The Postcard cross the boundaries of the subcontinent. Our focus will continue to be consummate experiences and local design-led architecture. In fact, right now, our development teams are in Sri Lanka doing extensive recces that we can embellish with our presence. Some of the best wine estates in France had approached us and we hope to be working hard to make ‘The Postcard Way’ reach and enthuse as many people across the globe.
How inspired or different will Postcard Hotels be from Oberoi Hotels? What are the takeaways from your previous experience that you are employing here, the dos and dont’s?
The Oberoi Hotels is a great brand and I do carry with me the DNA of the luxury hospitality they offer. However, at The Postcard, the approach is more outward and experiential, and our hotels exist in a completely different space. The design, styling, food and beverage are all locally inspired and sustainable to be as close to nature as possible. For instance, lunch is cooked by a local village lady with the fish the guest caught at 3 am from the Chinese fishing nets in the middle of the Arabian Sea! The hotels are more intimate and with their design and service philosophy, breaking the norms of traditional successful hotel chains.