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Amritsar hits a high with hotels

By Jaideep Sarin, IANS,

Amritsar : Good hotels and rooms were a rarity in this Punjab city that is home to the Golden Temple, the holiest of Sikh shrines. But big names, both national and international, have now come up with projects here in the last couple of years.

The entry of new hotels, especially upscale ones like Hotel Ista and Radisson, is not only changing the city’s skyline but they are also lapping up business from older cousins.

“Amritsar, as a key religious destination for millions in India and abroad, has tremendous potential for upscale and five-star hotels,” said Vandana Kilam, head of corporate communications at IHHR Hospitality, the company that owns Ista Hotel.

“Statistics prove that on any given day, the Golden Temple in Amritsar attracts more footfalls than the Taj Mahal (in Agra),” she told IANS.

“In the past, visitors to the city had to return to Delhi the same day or settle for something less for want of quality hotel options here. This was especially the case with the more affluent traveller,” Kilam said.

“NRIs, foreigners and many Indians wish to travel to the city and prefer to stay in five-star comfort. Besides individual travellers, very few international tour itineraries of India included a trip to Amritsar for the same reason.”

Opened in March 2009 with 248 rooms, Ista was the first and till date the only five-star deluxe hotel in the Sikh holy city.

“Several in the industry considered the setting up of a (five-star) hotel as an extremely bold decision,” she pointed out.

Celebrities like Katrina Kaif, Dharmendra and his sons, Sunny and Bobby Deol, Akshay Kumar, tycoon Vijay Mallya, singers Rahat Fateh Ali Khan, Mika and Sunidhi Chauhan and boxer Vijender Singh have stayed at the Ista hotel.

Politicians like Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit, Punjab Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Singh Badal, Amritsar MP Navjot Singh Sidhu, Priyanka Gandhi and Robert Vadra have also been guests at the luxury hotel.

International hotel chain Radisson will shortly have its own hotel on the international airport road here.

Besides the Golden Temple, which remains the city’s main attraction, other places of interest for visitors include the Jallianwala Bagh and Attari-Wagah border with the ‘Retreat’ ceremony 30 km away.

While Amritsar’s old war horses, Mohan International and Ritz, continue to attract visitors, several newer hotels have come up in the city’s upscale Ranjit Avenue locality.

Hotel M.K. International at Ranjit Avenue has hosted the likes of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama, actor Shah Rukh Khan and many others.

“A lot of new hotels have come up in the city in the last two to three years. Most of them are doing good business, especially in the winter months when a lot of NRIs come here,” businessman Raja Singh told IANS.

The hotels are realising that Amritsar offers good business opportunities.

“The presence of the international airport also provides the hotels good business. But the biggest attraction remains the Darbar Sahib (Golden Temple),” Raja Singh said.

Hotel industry sources say over two dozen hotels, big and small, have opened in the city in the last nearly two years.

(Jaideep Sarin can be contacted at [email protected])