The Telegraph
| Sunday, October 27, 2013 |

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Straight Talk

Published on 26 October 2013

Luxe whiz

  • T Markland Blaiklock, senior vice-president, Sofitel Asia Pacific

Talk of the Accor hotel chain and most Indians will probably think of mid-market and economy or budget hotels like its Ibis and Novotel brands. But the French hotel group isn't ignoring the luxury hotel space either. Last year, Accor's Sofitel Luxury Hotels opened its first outpost in India at Mumbai's Bandra-Kurla Complex. Now, the 120-hotel chain has two more hotels under development in the city -- and it's looking for more opportunities across India too.

T. Markland Blaiklock, senior vice-president, Sofitel Asia Pacific, was in Mumbai recently. He spoke about the luxury hotel brand's expansion plans and its unique French luxury offering.

Q: What is the Sofitel experience all about and what makes the hotel stand out from other luxury hotels in India and abroad?

T. Markland Blaiklock (TMB): In India, you have, of course, the very highly respected Indian luxury hotel brands, which have a very strong presence. Then, there's some penetration by the international brands, which are more on the Anglo-Saxon side. Our point of difference is that we're French and that we have a model that's very specific to a destination.

Sofitel is the symbol of French elegance in luxury hotels. That means it's a blend of the French art de vivre based on the three pillars of design and innovation, gastronomy and wines, and culture and events -- with the local cultural refinement. So, each hotel is different and unique.

Q: Can you tell us a bit about Sofitel's expansion plans and also about the rebranding you have done in recent years?

TMB: We repositioned Sofitel in 2007-08. Today, we're one brand with two labels. Sofitel Luxury Hotels is the core brand, which has two brand extensions. The Sofitel Legend includes our legendary heritage or palace hotels and the first of these was the Metropole Hanoi, which we re-launched in 2009. And in 2011, we launched our Sofitel So label of designer boutique lifestyle hotels.

We have a signature for each Sofitel So hotel. So far, these have been from the fashion world like Kenzo Takada created the signature design for the first Sofitel So Mauritius and Christian Lacroix in the Sofitel So Bangkok. In Mumbai, we're thinking of a broader Bollywood signature.

We have 120 hotels in around 40 countries today and our target is 150 hotels by 2015. Some of our new projects include the Sofitel So Singapore, opening next year, and Sofitel Bali Nusa Dua Beach Resort, which we just opened to host the APAC conference but which we will formally open in December.

Q: Are you hoping to attract Indian outbound travellers to your new hotels in Asia?

TMB: Yes, especially since -- I understand -- weddings are a big market for Indians.

Q: Can you share details on your expansions in India?

TMB: We have two hotels coming up in Mulund in Mumbai, which should open by 2016 or 2017. It's an ambitious project with a Sofitel luxury hotel located below and a Sofitel So, with around 200 rooms, comprising a rectangular block on top.

We would like to open more hotels in India in cities like Delhi, Bangalore and Goa. But so far nothing has been finalised.

Q: Who is the developer in Mumbai, and at what stage are these hotels?

TMB: The developer is Nirmal Lifestyle. Mulund was really an opportunity to work on an exciting project and it came from the belief that the suburb would develop in such a way as to support this development.

The project still has a long way to go. We're talking about suspending structures in space here with the Sofitel So hotel almost floating on top of the Sofitel luxury hotel below. They've mostly created the support structures, which are massive. The prefabrication of the actual structure will be done offsite and it will then be assembled and mounted on site. So, it won't be a typical project since a lot of things are happening offsite.

Q: How have you fared in your existing hotel in the Bandra-Kurla Complex? Also who is your target audience?

TMB: We've got a good response in our hotel with a growth in revpar (revenue per available room) even. This one is positioned as a business hotel. But in Mulund, it will be different. Typically, the Sofitel So properties tend to be more mixed so it will probably have a higher leisure element than business.