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Stars savour suite success
- Room boom buoys hospitality sector

From future uncertain to present perfect — the horizon has changed briskly for the five ‘stars’ in town. The year started under a cloud. With the number of five-star rooms in the city almost doubling in less than six months, sceptics predicted gloom. New entrants justified their move into the city as a “long-term investment”.

Three months of booming occupancy across city hotels — old and new — has sent all the hospitality players scurrying back to the drawing board to redraw projections. Taj Bengal, Oberoi Grand, The Park and Hyatt Regency have all reported between 70 and 92 per cent occupancy from November 2002 to February 2, 2003. For ITC Sonar Bangla, two months is a little too early to tell.

“With six per cent growth in investments commissioned in the state this year, the hospitality industry is bound to benefit,” said a senior official of West Bengal Industrial Development Corporation (WBIDC).

The banquet halls have always been nearly houseful. But with two new hi-tech venues, all players still have the ‘suits’ queuing up for space.

Taj Bengal, which reported occupancy of “10 per cent above expectations” in February, has seen a flurry of guests — international and domestic — in town for conferences and on business trips. “More companies are returning to Calcutta because of low real-estate prices, room availability and major infrastructure projects,” explains general manager Sameer Khanna.

The two sectors that have provided a large chunk of the business at Taj are IT and medical marketing. “With so many hospitals coming up in the area, there are pharmaceutical representatives and medical equipment marketers coming in as well,” adds Khanna. He does not rule out future tie-ups with hospitals to attract relatives of patients who may need to stay in hotels.

Iron and steel, agro-based industries, petrochem, IT and IT-enabled services, biotech and gems and jewellery are the “thrust areas”, say government sources. Increasing revenue through food and beverage sales is also a positive sign and the upward trend is only likely to continue, officials added.

February has seen the highest number of rooms filled at Oberoi Grand. “There has been a steady growth over the past five years, but last year was a much larger jump,” says Amitabh Rai, resident manager. With a clientele of “70 per cent repeat customers”, the loyalty factor, feels the manager, prevents too sharp a dip.

The Park, however, averaging around 78 per cent occupancy, did not see the start of 2003 as boom time. “Our demand has not been affected so much in the past few years,” said a company spokesperson.

But it is the two new players who have been caught pleasantly off guard. The Hyatt Regency has enjoyed “70 to 80 per cent occupancy from end-November”. In January and February, the chic hotel “far exceeded projections”. Banquets have also done “phenomenally well. January to December 2003, they are looking at an “expected revenue of Rs 45 crore”.

The baby on the Bypass block, ITC Sonar Bangla, has been “overwhelmed” by the initial response. “We opened on January 1 and had not even activated our sales or media plans. But already, we see over 100 rooms full,” says general manager Ranvir Bhandari. And the hotel’s much-hyped khana has seen foodies waiting around for hours to get a seat.

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