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Wednesday, 19 June, 2019, 16 : 12 PM [IST]

A journey ‘Against All Odds’

On completing 50 years of his tryst with the hospitality industry in India, the octogenarian hotelier and tourism think tank, Sunder G Advani, Chairman & Managing Director, Advani Hotels has penned down his memoirs in the form of an autobiography – Even Against All Odds. The autobiography got released early this year giving a true account of travails of a hotelier and how he managed to build his own small empire “with less money and less contacts”. During his recent visit to Delhi to felicitate travel trade partners of his Caravela Beach Resort in Goa, Advani spoke briefly to P Krishna Kumar on his book and also on the reasons to severe relations with Ramada for his Goa resort.

The book is basically about my 80 years on this planet and 50 years of my journey with the hotel industry in India,” Advani said when asked about the content his book – Even Against All Odds – which got published early this year. Why that name …..Against All Odds? Straight came the reply, ‘When I came back to India in 1969, I only had USD 5,000 with me. You can imagine how difficult it was to build hotels in India with less money and less contacts. The journey was unusual but, I was lucky to some extent.”

The book is all about his journey of five decades in the hospitality business in India. After completing his MBA at Wharton, Advani worked for 10 years as a Management Consultant and in senior positions in marketing with corporations in the USA. On returning to Bombay in 1969, he obtained a franchise from the Memphis based Holiday Inns Inc., to develop the Holiday Inn at Juhu beach in Bombay. Advani was later the Representative in India for Holiday Inns (USA) and also served as a Representative for South Asia for Ramada International Hotels (USA). He has been Chairman of Advani Hotels & Resorts (India) Limited since March 01, 2008 and also serves as Chairman of Advani Pleasure Cruise Company Private Limited.

Advani played a pioneering role in introducing international hospitality in India and to the sub-continent. He developed 11 hotels in the region, which includes highly successful hi-end hospitality addresses in the country including Holiday Inn Juhu, Caravela Beach Resort, Goa, India’s first slotmachine casino and also first live-gaming casino, among others.

He fell out with his partner at Juhu beach property and set up 5-Star deluxe resort property, Ramada Renaissance in 1990. “Ramada had 10% equity in the Goa property, ”When Renaissance was bought over by Marriott; he briefly became a partner with Marriott International.

However, he went back to Ramada once again as a franchise partner in 2013.

But having sensed the Ramada branding was not adding value to his 5-star deluxe property, Advani decided to go alone a year ago, severing almost two-decade-long partnership. The rebranded Caravela Beach Resort has been able to grow the occupancies by more than 20% and the revenues by 25% since it becomes a standalone beach resort brand. “The hotel has always been a 5-star deluxe beach hotel. But the Ramada branding was not helping us at all,” he said. Especially, the highly productive segments like destination weddings, meetings, incentives, etc. were not hooked due to the brand. “For a city hotel it helps, but not for a beach resort like ours,” he informed. They even had challenges of getting the right talent for the hotel because of wrong branding, he admits.

Advani is not in agreement with the analysis of leading hospitality consultants on the industry trends in Goa. Yes, there has been a slump in the inbound tourist business to Goa, he agrees. But the domestic market is more than making it up for hoteliers. “Domestic tourists are paying more now. The inbound market is still in the grip of Brexit and sanctions, etc.,” he states. Destinations Weddings market is really turning out to be a major draw with Goan resorts, he remarked.

Having worked through and learned the tricks of the trade “in a hard way”, Advani has his piece of advice to fellow hoteliers, which he tried to communicate through his autobiography as well: “Be careful of partnerships. I learned the hard way. Don’t go beyond a certain level, so that when you have overrun of 30% you have to sell your company as a result. Better stay within your limit.”
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