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BTN Spotlight: Kapil Chopra, Oberoi Hotels

Founded in 1934, the Oberoi Group, has crafted a loyal following of luxury travellers by operating iconic hotels in iconic locations, such as the Oberoi Mena House overlooking the Pyramids of Giza.

This March sees a brand new property joining the Oberoi stable, and its most ambitious project yet. Set over nine acres of lush tropical gardens, the Oberoi Gurgaon brings an entirely new level of airy modernism to Delhi, and serves as an oasis amid the chaos of the capital. BTN talks to Kapil Chopra, Senior Vice President, Oberoi Hotels & Resorts.

BTN: The Oberoi, Gurgaon, in Delhi is the most hotly anticipated opening of 2011. How would you describe the experience?
KC: In one word: “overwhelming”! We are all very excited and privileged to be part of opening a hotel that will set new standards and introduce a new paradigm in hospitality. Oberoi Hotels and Resorts is known to build some of the world’s finest, design-led hotels that have set the trend in luxury space. With The Oberoi, Gurgaon, the group is opening its first Oberoi city hotel in 19 years (the last big opening was The Oberoi, Bangalore in 1992).

The hospitality landscape in India has changed dramatically. We have been pleasantly surprised at the curiosity and the buzz this hotel has created within the country and overseas even before its official opening. For me personally, seeing this hotel from its inception and being built day by day, month by month has been an exhilarating and rewarding experience. It’s a real privilege in any hotelier’s life. 

BTN: Which aspects of the hotel are you most proud of?
KC: This hotel is unique. From the design and architecture to its services and amenities, the entire experience it offers guests is exceptional.

This is an ambitious hotel with many first of its kind features. The rooms start at 620 square feet, making them amongst the most spacious in any city hotel in the world.

Three suites in the hotel feature 22-metre outdoor heated private pools. All rooms and bath areas have large picture windows that command sweeping views of water bodies and landscaped gardens.

The central feature of the hotel is a 36,000 square foot water body. On one side of it is a 10,000 square foot green wall, the largest such structure in any hotel in the world. This interplay of green and blue water creates an oasis and lends a serenity to the overall ambience.

The design philosophy of the hotel centres on three basic elements: height, light and space. It is our belief that spacious, naturally-lit accommodations with personalized service are what makes for a luxurious experience for a guest. That’s what we provide in our rooms, restaurants and banqueting areas.

My personal favourite is the 10,000 square foot all-day dining world cuisine restaurant, threesixtyone, which offers guests a multi-speciality experience with live show kitchens.

The restaurant overlooks the stunning central water body. Two teakwood decks extend over the body for a unique al fresco dining experience. Dining in the middle of water, in the heart of a bustling metropolitan city, is something quite extraordinary!

(New heights for Oberoi at World Travel Awards: Rattan Keswani, President-Trident Hotels, Trident Gurgaon; Kapil Chopra, Senior Vice President, Oberoi Hotels & Resorts, Gurgaon, Trident Gurgaon; David Mathews, General Manager, Trident Gurgaon)

BTN: What will be your key markets for The Oberoi, Gurgaon. And what will it add to Delhi’s luxury hospitality market?
KC: The city of Gurgaon is a modern, bustling hub for business, finance and commerce in New Delhi’s capital region, and houses top Fortune 500 multinationals. Over the years, Gurgaon has seen a lot of business traffic from US and UK and now increasingly from Asia. With its proximity to the New Delhi and also easy access to historic cities of Jaipur and Agra, Gurgaon is also emerging as a preferred destination for global brands as well as luxury incentives, events and conventions. With its spacious accommodations and best-in-class amenities, The Oberoi Gurgaon will be catering to these new market segments.

It will set new standards for luxury hospitality in Delhi with some outstanding features. These include each room offering a personal butler service, with staff trained by the Guild of Professional English Butlers. The Spa at The Oberoi Gurgaon is the city’s first 24-hour spa. There’s also a luxury retail arcade with a contemporary Indian art gallery, top luxury brands, a patisserie and delicatessen and an international salon. The hotel’s own fleet of BMW 7 series and Rolls Royce provide guest transfers.

BTN: Oberoi Hotel and Resorts was voted “Asia’s Leading Hotel Brand” by World Travel Awards 2010. What did you do last year to win the recognition of both the travel trade and the travel consumer?
KC: The Oberoi Group has become synonymous with luxury and lifestyle destinations. Its hotels are market leaders in revpar and occupancy rates. We have a 45 percent repeat guest rate. Statistics apart, our success lies in our high level of personalized service standards in an enchanting environment.

BTN: How do you see the hospitality market in India evolving over the next decade?
KC: The hospitality sector in India has witnessed a phenomenal growth in the past decade. Most of the big international hotel brands now have a presence in the country. In Gurgaon alone, more than 3,000 hotel rooms were added in the past couple of years. This new inventory is close to the number of rooms added in all five major metros in India (Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, Bangalore and Kolkata).

Despite the presence of the international chains, the Indian chains like The Oberoi continue to grow from strength to strength. We are now competing not just on home turf, but with international brands in Asia and the world. Going ahead, I feel hoteliering is increasingly about “experiences” and not just room nights. People will always look for new, distinctive stay experiences.

BTN: What do you look for when launching a new property or when entering a new market?
KC: The key is to gauge the market’s potential in terms of understanding expectations of clients and delivering what they need. But it also means creating new trends and new aspirations amongst existing markets.

For instance, when Trident, Gurgaon first opened in 2004, business hotels were just about quick, efficient, almost mechanical service. The Trident gave business travellers a place to relax, feel and experience. It set new benchmarks in business luxury.

Similarly, with The Oberoi, Gurgaon, we offer guests “experiential” hospitality. With the growth of business and industry in Gurgaon, we felt there is a genuine need for luxury convention spaces for incentives and events, global boards and investor forums, while at the same time enhancing the guest’s hospitality experience. We deliver this with our range of fine dining options, our banqueting venues, our personalized butler service as well as our luxury retail arcade. Basically providing for a complete lifestyle experience.

What are you hoping to achieve at this year’s ITB?
KC: Our aim this time is to introduce The Oberoi, Gurgaon to the leading travel experts. We want to showcase our new, experiential destination for business, luxury conventions, incentives and events. We also want to thank our trade partners for the support that they have extended to us over the years. To give you an example, even before the opening, The Oberoi, Gurgaon is negotiating over 40 corporate events, including two top global boards. ITB is a great place to meet our travel partners and associates. Personally I always feel ITB is where you can see the past, present and future of the travel trade – all at once.

What is your definition of luxury service?
KC: Luxury is about “experiences” and feelings. It is no longer about rich, materialistic, tangible things. It is something beyond upholstered silk, bespoke furnishings or exotic chocolates. It is increasingly more about personalised service, or an experience that is memorable. It is also about offering guests a sense of serenity, a space to escape the chaos of a fast moving, cramped world. It is about efficient, instinctive service which is unobtrusive. For instance, having a butler who can judge your need even before you ask for it. It is about attention to detail.

How did you first get into hospitality? And how has the industry changed since then, and the Indian market in particular?
KC: To begin with, it was my love for food that drew me to the hospitality industry. I have always been fond of good food and drawn to the process of how its made, how ingredients and recipes are blended together to create something new. I joined the Oberoi School of Learning and Development and subsequently, The Oberoi Group. The rest is history. Hospitality is an addictive industry. Frankly I can’t imagine doing anything else!

The Indian hospitality space has evolved significantly. We now have all the international brands setting up hotels here. This means, the Indian chains are now competing with big international chains and what is gratifying is that they are now amongst the finest in the world.

BTN: Sustainability features highly on the Oberoi priority list – what measure do you deploy to minimize your carbon footprint. And how do you see this aspect of the hospitality industry evolving?
KC: In our business its crucial to invest in sustainability. We are a zero discharge hotel. Our green initiatives range from recycling kitchen waste in an organic waste converter into useful compost to an advanced sewage treatment plant (STP) to treat waste water and use it in our forests and gardens. The hotel has rain harvesting pits to preserve and replenish ground water level. We have double glazed vacuum sealed windows which conserve energy and reduce noise levels. Our hotel has plenty of natural light in its rooms and public areas, which also means low-energy consumption. CFL lighting is used in all areas of the hotel. Nearly three of the nine acres of the property are covered by forests, gardens and water bodies, creating a green belt around the hotel. The water used in our water bodies is also recycled, cleaned and reused to avoid any wastage.

How would you describe your perfect resort of the future?
KC: The perfect resort is one which is “experiential”. A place which has a unique design and best-in-class amenities. It has to have a great location, stunning views, comfortable and convenient amenities but above all, where the staff is trained to deliver caring, personalized service. That is the key to enhance a guest’s experience.