The next time you plan a trip to Calcutta, make sure you have a room booked well in advance. For, a star hotel is more likely to flash the house-full sign than a multiplex screening a Bachchan starrer till the first quarter of 2006.
If the MICE factor doesn't get you, the FIT surely will ' that's the hospitality jargon justifying the 'sorry, no rooms please' smile at the front desk.
MICE means 'meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions', while FIT refers to the 'frequent individual traveller' passing through town 'on leisure purpose'.
'Hotels in the city are a barometer of its health and if you go by our occupancy rates, Calcutta is absolutely healthy. Year 2005 was a turning point for Calcutta. The business activities have increased manifold and the city has emerged as the capital of the east,' says Ranvir Bhandari, general manager, ITC Sonar Bangla.
And the 2005 boom shows no signs of going bust in early 2006. If Hyatt Regency and ITC on EM Bypass are 'totally sold out for the first quarter', even Golden Park and Hotel Hindusthan International have an average occupancy of 99 per cent and 102 per cent.
'There are various companies investing in Calcutta and their representatives keep on visiting the city. Besides, in the past few months, there have been various business events, like Infocom 2005, NAPCON, PEDICON and the CII meet. They took care of a bulk of our rooms,' says Sunita Joseph of Hyatt Regency.
With demand outstripping supply, room rates are going through the roof (read: the five-figure mark).
'Hotels are even revising their rack rates offered for corporate tie-ups,' says Modhurima Sinha of Taj Bengal.
The scramble for rooms began in August-September 2005, but this is no sporadic spurt, says the trade. 'This time, the trend is going to sustain itself because the business situation is only going to improve,' feels Salmoli Mukerji of The Park.
Wanted: more star hotel rooms. That's the writing on the city's hospitality wing wall after its longest boom period in recent times. 'If the growth continues at this rate, Calcutta would require at least two more five-star hotels with a combined room strength of 600 in the next three years,' says Amitabh Rai, general manager, The Oberoi Grand.
Calcutta currently has 1,250 rooms in the five-star category (see box).
With the upper crust gobbled up, small and niche players like the now-revived Old Kenilworth are coming to the party.
'During a recent conference in the city, we had people coming and staying here because they could not get rooms in the bigger-budget hotels,' smiled David Purdy.