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April 26, 2013

Priya Paul – The Lady Behind Boutique Hotels in India

A legendary figure in the hospitality industry of India and abroad, Priya Paul is a wife, a mother, and above all a spirited, frank and straightforward entrepreneur. She is also referred to as “the First Lady of Boutique in India”. Today, she owns a glamour chain of six hotels present nationwide in major cities including Kolkata, New Delhi, Vishakhapatnam, Bangalore, Chennai and Hyderabad.

The early days

Born in a privileged business family in Kolkata on 30th April 1967, Priya Paul always knew at heart that she would eventually join the family business, the Apeejay Surrendra Group. Call it fate or coincidence, Priya was born the same year in which her father launched the first The Park hotel in Kolkata.

After she completed her graduation in Economics from Wellesley College in the United States, she headed towards the Financial Services Division at Park Hotel, Delhi. However, her father had a different plan chalked out for her. He suggested her to join the Marketing Division instead. She joined the legacy of Apeejay Surrendra Park Hotels as a Marketing Manager at The Park, New Delhi in 1988. Perhaps, he saw something in his daughter that convinced him that she would shine in marketing.

Priya remembers her early days at The Park, trying to understand the nitty-gritty of the business. She had to initially report to her father, Surrendra Paul. Within merely 2 years, she became the Acting General Manager of The Park, New Delhi.

Challenging Times

The year 1990 brought in misfortune and testing times for the Paul family and the Apeejay Group. The company lost its Chairperson in 1990.  The ULFA militant gunned down Mr. Surrendra Paul. The impact of this shock was more pronounced because the family had lost their young son, Priya Paul’s brother Anand, in a car accident in 1989. These deaths not only left a vacuum in their hearts, but also a major gap to be filled in the organization.

At a very young age of 23, with just 2 years of experience, Priya Paul was faced with the challenge of filing a huge vacuum in their business. It was a challenge she took up with pride and has honoured it ever since. From managing a 220 room hotel, she was now handed over the three hotel chain of The Park.

In her earlier days, when she joined the industry, her father had told her that nothing stays forever, neither recession nor boom. At that time, the occupancy rate at The Park, New Delhi was a mere 10 percent. The hotels needed a major renovation. This is where Surrendra Paul’s judgment about his daughter paid up. What Priya Paul was about to bring to the Hospitality Industry was nothing less than a revolution. She single-handedly brought in the concept boutique hotels in India.

Her passion to travel around the world gave her this idea of launching sophisticated and contemporary luxury boutique hotels. She soon recognized the gap in the hospitality industry. “We make sure that the hotels designed by us are not just another place for travelers to lay their heads, but becomes an active congregation of corporate meetings in the city that they are in. We create an environment such that our guests feel as if they are engaged in a local hub”, says Priya Paul. These factors in mind encouraged her to add more happening elements to the hotel industry. She made more changes in her hotels by adding amusing corners for guests to hang out such as bars, lounges and in-vogue restaurants that were more experimental in their menu. They also organized hi-end fashion events and cool music.

Her initiatives helped her hotel chain tackle the recession of early 1990s. She realised that people who visited the county had money but very few suitable places to stay. The newly modified and reinvented Park Hotels, with their contemporary design combined with five-star services, had just the thing to offer. Today, all the six hotels of the chain stand as epitomes of luxury, panache and contemporary design, but at the same time, they are edgy, fun and warm.

A Woman of Many Layers

Priya Paul is a blend of many shades. This busy business woman stretches her 24 hour day to as long as 36 hours with back to back meetings and press conferences. Yet, she seems unruffled at all times and exudes confidence born out of years of hard work and experience. She credits meditation as the tool that helps her stay aloof from the chaos and calmness to meditation.

She used to learn yoga and meditation from her teacher – Tripta Bhanot until the day she realized that spirituality was something more intense, something that cannot be achieved superficially, it comes from within. She unwinds herself with art and literature. The Life of Noor Inayat Khan by Shrabani Basu, and Ian McEwan are some of Priya Paul’s personal favourites. She prefers non fictions and real stories which are more close to the world. She loves cooking, and is a complete foodie. So if she is not designing and collecting art, attending meetings or running around the world, she is in the kitchen trying out new recipes.

However, art has been a recent addiction for her. She has a special preference to Indian Art. Her home is decorated in varied Indian art pieces and Chettinad pillars in the living room. She has brought in the same warmth in the hotels. She says "It brings a human touch to the hotels; it’s not so sterile, not so commercial".

The Journey Made Complete

In 2004, Priya married Sethu Vaidyanathan, a Chennai-based leather businessman. They met in Chennai while she was working on The Park, Chennai. Today, they are blessed with a son Surya Vir. This accounts for her frequent travels between Chennai and New Delhi. She loves spending time with her family and tries to take weekends off.

Glorified by Awards

Priya Paul’s contributions to Indian hospitality industry have been recognized time and again. Additionally, she juggles her numerous roles as Chairperson of Park Hotel, founder member of World Travel and Tourism Council – India Initiative, member of the board of trustees South Asia Women’s Fund, member of the National Tourism Advisory Council and member of the Advisory Board of Directors with great élan. Her latest honour has been the Padma Sri in January 2012. She has been awarded “India Today Woman in Business Award” and PHD Chamber’s “Distinguished Women Entrepreneur Award” for 2009-2010. She was also introduced in FHRAI Hall of Fame in 2010.

She is a superwoman of the 20th Century with numerous achievements. Priya Paul, despite all her achievements, is not even half way there. She has a lot more mountains to scale and landmarks to create.  

Tags : Priya Paul, success story of Priya Paul, Appejay Group of hotels, Apeejay Surrendra Group

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