Shriji Arvind Singh Mewar of Udaipur
Shriji Arvind Singh Mewar of Udaipur

 The hospitality industry was the natural choice for many keepers of heritage properties. Hotel companies have the bandwidth to preserve heritage and make a profit while at it. 

 

In everything, from cosmetics to construction, health and wellness, and food and fashion, people are turning to the past. Holidays, too, are becoming increasingly about exploring and revelling in a time gone by, about fairytale weddings and honeymoons amidst real-life history and heritage. A few years ago, heritage hotels might have attracted only inbound guests seeking exotica, but today the domestic guest — increasingly proud of his history and heritage — is keener on holidaying in heritage hotels. There is plenty of revenue to be earned from this category of hotels. 

The most successful heritage hotels rely on simple rules of thumb as recipes for success. For instance: “Don’t let heritage be an excuse for bad service,” says Shriji Arvind Singh Mewar, CMD of HRH Group of Hotels. He is credited with putting Udaipur on the luxury lists of international travellers, and has just won the HIFI Lifetime Achievement Award for his contribution to heritage hotels and Indian hospitality. A lack of hot water and air-conditioning, or sub-standard sewage, cannot be blamed on heritage. You cannot put in a four-inch mattress and blame it on heritage either, saying that you cannot implement brand standards here. In fact, in the early days of heritage hotels, some players did use heritage as an excuse to cut corners, giving a bad name to it. We took it in our stride to repair the reputation of living heritage.”

Shriji lives by this one rule, which mitigates one of the biggest obstacles in the growth of heritage hotels as an accommodation segment. Restoration eats into operational costs and also takes time, which in turn adds up to less revenue as the opening date is later.

For instance, the Devi Garth Palace in Udaipur, now a famous design hotel, is an eighteenth-century castle that took a full five years of renovation before it was finally ready to welcome guests.

An international example is Villa Borromeo in Milan, a fourteenth-century villa turned into a five-star hotel. After being neglected for over 20 years, readying it demanded not only the fullscale installation of central heating and air conditioning but also restoration of furniture from privately owned collections from a number of countries and antique dealers. They made extensive drawings of all the furniture, just in case something needed to be restored at a later time.

While air-conditioning was not an issue for Umaid Bhawan when it was turned into a hotel — it was constructed to maintain a temperature of 23C regardless of the heat outside — restoration is still required occasionally. It too, features items used by its royal residents: mementos of hunting trips, family photographs, old silver, Belgian mirrors, art deco furniture and lamps.

According to Manav Thadani, chairman of the HVS consultancy, spend on restoration and the operational costs of these ancient structures mean that heritage hotels are viable in the five-star segment. “Since the operating costs are high, you cannot really have a budget heritage property.”