It was a walk down memory lane for Priya Paul, the chairperson of Apeejay Surrendra Park Hotels, at an interactive session, organised by the FICCI Ladies Organisation at The Park on Tuesday afternoon.
Priya has managed to change her “collection of hotels” from being “boring boxes” to “creative and fun” places, something that obviously didn’t happen overnight. She was firm about joining her family business when she was just 10 years old. But to hone her entrepreneurial skills, she started as the marketing manager of The Park (Calcutta) under the watchful eyes of her father, the late Surrendra Paul.
“My parents never put up barriers and they always encouraged me to do my best. At the age of 10, I decided that I would join the family business. When I started in 1988, I didn’t know anything about the hospitality sector. I learnt by asking a lot of questions,” said Priya.
The Padma Shri awardee (2012) spoke about how her role in the family business changed dramatically after her father was killed in Assam in 1990. “Overnight, I was responsible for three hotels instead of one. Besides dealing with personal tragedy, I faced the challenge of taking my learning from one hotel and applying it to three.”
With focus on renovating, repositioning and revitalising her hotels in Calcutta, New Delhi and Visakhapatnam, she also wanted them to “stand out and be different”. “I was 24 years old and I wanted my hotels to reflect the energy of a 24/25-year-old… they had to be entertaining, fun places and not boring boxes. Having seen what Ian Schrager had done in a couple of hotels in New York in 1984-85, I started making changes.”
Priya then came up with new designs, unconventional ways of marketing and other changes for (The Park) Calcutta. “My eureka moment was the remaking of Zen (the Oriental cuisine restaurant) at the end of 1992, when we gave it a fresh black-and-white Oriental design. Designs were used to differentiate our products and services. We came up with fun events to shake up the city and make the hotel its focal point.”
She extended her creativity to the existing hotels before venturing into new ones (1999 onwards) in Bangalore, Chennai, Navi Mumbai and Hyderabad. “The most exciting hotel for me in the past few years has been the one in Hyderabad. We used 24 different designers for it. I wanted to do it up like a modern palace and showcase Indian designs. The idea revolved around the jewels of Hyderabad,” smiled Priya.
At present there are 12 hotels under The Park brand and it includes the smaller ones in Goa and on Vembanad Lake, Kerala. Expect a new four-star from the group in a couple of months.
So, what keeps her going even after 25 years? “I enjoy running the company and it’s a very creative process. I like to keep it small and intimate so that I can devote time and energy to every project.”
After the interactive session, Priya launched a privilege card exclusively for FLO and YFLO members, allowing additional benefits to women visiting The Park.