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Indian Real Estate News : Delhi NCR
Aman New Delhi hotel renamed The Lodhi
Source: ET Bureau Feb 01, 2013
At midnight on Thursday, the elitist Aman New Delhi hotel in the western fringes of Lutyen's Delhi, was renamed The Lodhi, a throwback to its former name (Lodhi Hotel) when it was owned by the government.

The renaming follows the hotel's owner, real estate firm DLF's decision to sell back Amanresorts the luxury hotel chain to its original owner Adrian Zecha for $300 million. DLF will retain the marquee Delhi property, but will give up the Aman brand name, since retaining the brand would have meant paying a massive fee.

Once a red brick-colored government hotel with a socialist hue all over it, the 1965 property metamorphosed into a popular melting pot for the cream of Delhi during its four-year romance with Amanresorts. Its patrons include Rahul Gandhi and Robert Vadra, who are often seen at its health club, bars and restaurants.

The hotel also has a luxury apartment block in its compound, where some of India's richest businessmen and executives, including DLF promoter Rajiv Singh, stay. Despite its aura, the hotel has not been the best of performers, though it made profits in 2011-12 after losses of .`101 crore in 2010-11. The perception of it being an expensive hotel with rooms starting at $650 (over Rs 35,000) for a night and meals that can set you back by Rs 10,000 made it somewhat inaccessible and high brow.

Robyn Bickford, a sprightly Kiwi who is joint general manager of the property with her husband Manav Garewal, agrees. "It was seen as a very remote, very elitist hotel. The perception is that it is very expensive," she says. With the renaming, she adds, all that will change. The hotel, of course, will face its set of challenges, now that the Aman tag is lost and 'Amanjunkies' people who swear by the resort chain seek other places to stay. "That, and the fact that selling a standalone property in Delhi, without a strong pull factor, will be difficult," says a hospitality consultant who did not wish to be named.

Bickford and her team, though, are not perturbed. They are keen to change the mystery around Aman, and have been at it for the past one year "since the decision to retain this property while selling the other Aman hotels was taken by DLF". The dark-alley restaurants have become more bright with the use of natural light and corridors now have a dash of artwork and installations.

Traditionally, the pricing has been high for the property, and that, says Bickford, will stay for now. "We have decided to hold the rates till March 2014 to see how it does and then we will take a call." What has changed over the past year since they took a call to start changing the property slowly is the mix of foreign and Indian guests. Now, 30-40% of the guests are Indians.

The rates for Indian residents have been kept 40% lower than the rack rates and this summer, it might drop even further, attracting more Indians, maybe some business travellers as well. Bickford recalls that with Aman, there were a lot of restrictions no pricing flexibility, very high management fees and marketing was handled out of Singapore.

The hotel has also decided to open itself up to the younger lot in the city and has turned trendy. For one, it will use the social media Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest to attract the mid-to-late-20s crowd, making it a hub for young people. It has been working with artists and fashion designers, doing trunk shows, putting up art around the hotel that is mostly on sale. "You can have a meal for two for Rs 3,000 with a drink or two," she says.

"The challenge for us is to sell this new hotel as a 'not really expensive hotel' and appeal to the younger set as well." The 40-room hotel, with 28 apartments is spread over 7 acres and was rebuilt with Aman specifications when DLF bought the chain for $400 million in 2007. It spent Rs 400 crore to rebuild it. But once it was decided that the Aman tag will go, irrespective of who buys the chain, DLF went about refurbishing the property.

When DLF bought the chain in 2007, the Indian economy was riding high and the company had big plans in the hospitality space. It had tied up with Hilton to build 100 hotels. When the downturn set in, the plans were put on the backburner as their core real estate business was suffering and needed all the attention that they could give to get it back on track. By 2009-10, the company made its intentions clear to sell non-core assets to reduce its mounting debt.

"The Aman brand would have given them a much better marketing presence because of its global network," says Aashiesh Agarwaal, real estate analyst at Edelweiss Securities.

Tag: real estate of india, delhii real estate, Robert Vadra
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