Trying to be unordinary

Chitra Narayanan | Updated on March 10, 2018

Priya Paul

As it turns 50, hotel brand The Park which blazed a new trail once, tries hard to prove it is anything but ordinary

Ask old-timers about The Park and the first thing they will tell you are the cool parties at Someplace Else, the pub. The hotel, named after the fashionable Park Street where it is located, was, at one time, as ad man Swapan Seth puts it “a haven of hipness” where Kolkata came to sing, dance and chill!

On November 1, The Park recreated that old magic with an electrifying all-night-long bash. The pubs, nightclubs and bars at the hotel – Someplace Else, Tantra, Roxy – erupted in a frenzy of pulsating music and dance even as the chefs laid out a smorgasbord of cheese, fruit, exotic cuts of meat, and sushi – and an elaborate dinner. The party continued the next day, with curated heritage walks, tram tours and river cruises. As one guest said, “Entertainment and food is what The Park is best known for – and that was at its peak display here on Wednesday.”

Indeed, The Park, born in 1967, the year the Beatles visited India, was wearing her true old colours of a vibrant energetic brand once more. “When we started we were disruptors. We were doing hotels in a different way. When there was no social media, we were reaching out to customers directly through our events and fun parties,” says Priya Paul, chairperson, Apeejay Surrendra Park Hotels, looking back on the hotel’s journey.

The Park was also a trendsetter in the creative use of spaces. It made art and design the talking point. “We were very design-focused. Not just space design, but communication design,” points out Paul. It was one of the first to talk about immersive experiences.

But it was an easy job in the 1990s and early 2000s for The Park to stand out from the clutter and be noticed. There were only a few great hotel brands then, the foreign chains were still not in. So everything The Park did stood out as new, contemporary, and refreshing. Today, there are a hundred brands jostling in the Indian market. Many of them in the same “boutique hotels” niche space that The Park straddled.

So the question is can The Park stay relevant? If you look at hospitality consultancy HVS’ latest report, The Park group does not feature within the top 20 when it comes to inventory, whereas younger brands such as Lemon Tree have whizzed ahead.

“When viewed purely from a size and scale point of view, The Park Group hasn’t grown at the same pace as some of the other domestic and international hotel chains in India,” agrees Achin Khanna, MD, HVS South Asia. “However, he says, “long before global hotel companies discovered the merits of lifestyle branding, Park Hotels were always design-led and have continued to offer a differentiated guest experience in that sense.”

Arjun Sharma, chairman of Le Passage to India, and Select Group, says, “The whole energy that Priya creates in the hotels is fabulous. There is a market for that in the global traveller who loves that,” he says. It also embodies the aspirations of Indian travellers, he says.

Meanwhile, The Park, which till now has stayed away from the frenzy and aggression of expansion, and perhaps lost out on visibility due to that, is also changing strategy. It launched a new brand called The Zone some years ago to cater to a new audience. “We saw a new kind of traveller, who is about people and passion, and created a new kind of hotel,” explains Priya Paul

It’s also gone the asset-light route now, expanding through management of properties rather than building them. Today, the group has 15 properties of which eight are The Park and the rest are The Zone.

Vijay Dewan, the chain’s managing director, points out that the chain is expanding, though they are in no race. “You have to be careful when expanding that the brand values are not lost,” he says. Priya Paul points out that in its fifty-year-journey the Park has seen five-and-a-half brand refreshes, a couple of them done by her father. It started out as Park. Then it became The Park. Then The Park Hotels, and so on. Right now it is proclaiming itself as THE Park in black-and-white tones with the emphasis on THE. And with the tagline “Anything but ordinary.”

“Turning 50 is exciting, it’s overwhelming. But fifty years is also four generations. So just as every family changes in every generation, I would like to think that THE Park has changed.”

Yet, she says, the brand has also remained consistent. The culture code at The Park is to be creative, daringly different, spontaneously joyous at work. She hopes these will translate into appearing so to the customer as well.

The fifty-year celebrations will span a full year. The first Park came up in Kolkata in November 1967. The next came up in Vizag a year later.

Hence the year-long partying. But amidst the celebrations, there is serious work to do as well to keep the brand in the game.

Published on November 02, 2017

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