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India’s image in US is fantastic: Chatwal

By Arun Kumar, IANS,

New York : Upbeat about India’s “fantastic” growth prospects, Indian American hotelier Sant Singh Chatwal wants to expand his hotel empire in a big way into the land of his birth, but has no plans for diversification.

“India has the maximum potential,” he says, noting his native land has come a long way since the 1980s when it had a bad image in the US. “But now, India is a great economy with a 7 to 9 percent growth rate.”

“Look, today India can afford to give $10-12 billion orders to America. India’s image is fantastic,” Chatwal said in an interview with IANS in his Manhattan office.

“Our aim now is only one business – hospitality. When you specialise, sky is the limit,” he said, outlining plans to set up 50 to 100 lifestyle hotels in India in partnership with Wyndham Hotels Group, the world’s largest hotel chain with 7,200 hotels worldwide.

“We want to be the largest ‘lifestyle’ hotel chain with Dream and Night brands all over the world, which we can do because we are on the right path.”

The Chatwal Hotels & Resorts group currently owns and manages 14 hotels in four countries, including 10 in the US and two in India. “But my passion is for India where I would like to have at least 50 hotels,” Chatwal said.

There will be more of “Night” brand hotels positioned as ‘affordably chic’ hotels in primary and secondary markets and may be 10-12 “Dream” like hotels, positioned as full-service, lifestyle brand for gateway cities and resort destinations.

Starting with a 200-room flagship hotel in Jaipur, where he bought land four years ago, Chatwal plans to set up hotels in Mumbai, Delhi, Bangalore and Chennai, besides smaller cities like Ahmedabad, Chandigarh, Ludhiana, Jalandhar, Lucknow, Kanpur, Varanasi and Thiruvananthapuram.

While the Chatwals have no immediate plans for diversification, “we may look at a little bit of travel, but more of a consultation” kind of tie-ups with travel and hotel booking agencies offering packages for travellers between India and America.

With just 100,000 rooms as against one million in China, India has the maximum potential, Chatwal said. “India is a virgin market. The more three- and four-star hotels come up, there will be more tourism.”

“Today there are either five-star or no star hotels in India,” he said. “In India you can’t get a decent room for $60-100. In New York, you can get it.”

“That’s what we are looking at with our brands. Not very expensive, a nice restaurant and an inexpensive coffee shop.”

Apart from India, Chatwal said he was very much interested in London and going to Europe. “But we are more keen on other US cities like Washington, Boston, Los Angeles, Chicago and Atlanta.”

Canada, the Middle East and South America, particularly Brazil and Argentina – those are the other markets Chatwal would like to explore with lifestyle boutique hotels as he sets out to put up a hotel in each major city in the world.

Starting with the Bombay Palace restaurant chain in New York 30 years ago, the Chatwals have become the largest hotel chain in the city with 10 hotels, one in practically each street between the 44th and 55th street in Manhattan.

“Bombay Palace is already the largest chain of Indian restaurants in the world. Now I want to be largest lifestyle chain with ‘Dream’ and ‘Night’ in five to ten years,” said Chatwal.

(Arun Kumar can be contacted at [email protected])