50 Not Out: Gentleman Hotelier doesn't Stop

Anil Bhandari had been at the forefront of the campaign to make chefs eligible for the Padma Awards. But if there's someone who deserves one for services rendered to the hospitality industry, it is he

FEW PEOPLE complete 50 years of working life without a break, fewer still have the kind of stamina, dedication and freshness of thinking that Anil Bhandari brings to his work. The recipient of the BW Hotelier Distinguished Service Award enjoys the privilege of looking back at a career studded with milestones.

Bhandari turned around two government-run hospitality companies, rescuing them from a sea of red by bringing to the table a vigour and a can-do approach you normally don’t associate with the public sector. The first was the Hotel Corporation of India (HCI), which ran the Centaur Hotels and two flight kitchens. The company was a loss-making white elephant when Bhandari joined it in 1987, but by the time he demitted charge in 1994, it had earned a profit. 

In 1992, while he was still heading HCI, Bhandari was given charge of another loss-making behemoth -- India Tourism Development Corporation (ITDC), which ran 32 hotels, 12 duty-free shops and had a travel division with 11 offices -- and had a staff of 12,000 people. Between 1992 and 1997, Bhandari more than doubled ITDC’s turnover and pumped up its profit after tax by over 17 times to reach the figure of Rs 53.6 crore in 1997. He also had the distinction of giving the government the highest-ever dividend from ITDC since its inception. On that high note, he demitted office in 1997. 

The early 1980s, though, were action-packed for Bhandari. In 1982, during the historic Asian Games, he managed the kitchens and catering operations at the Asiad Village, feeding 20,000 people every day. A year later, at the Non-Aligned Movement meeting in New Delhi, he was overseeing meals for 91 heads of state under the hawk eye of Mrs Indira Gandhi. And in 1985, he was in the United States, planning and executing the Festival of India, where 2,000 visitors had meals daily for seven days. Bhandari, no wonder, had a reputation for being the master of mega operations. 

An IHM-Pusa graduate and a former Fellow of the Institute of Hospitality, London, Bhandari has a Certificate in Hotel Administration (CHA) from the Institute of American Hotel & Motel Association, USA, and has also spent a year in Germany pursuing an advanced course in hotel management. In the pursuit of his life’s calling, the dapper and evergreen hotelier can take pride in the fact that he has opened more than 15 hotels, built 11, managed and operated 37, and designed kitchens for the 1982 Asian Games, 1985 Non-Aligned Meet and the 1985 Festival of India in the USA. 

Bhandari has worked in and/or headed hotels across the country, including The Ashok, Hyderabad House, Vigyan Bhawan and the Prime Minister’s Guest House in New Delhi, the old Kanishka and Ranjit, and other ITDC hotels in Patna, Varanasi, Khajuraho, Bhubaneswar and Bodhgaya. And he did not stop even after retirement. 

He was hired by ITC to first head its hotels and real estate division, where he established the tie-up with The Luxury Collection and opened the Sheraton at Saket, New Delhi, and then was made Managing Director, International Travel House, where he lifted the annual turnover from Rs 145.7 crore in 1998 to Rs 620 crore in 2008, with profit after tax of Rs 10.54 crore, the highest since the company’s inception. And he flagged off Travel House, the now-ubiquitous car rental service. 

From International Travel House Bhandari moved to the US-based JHM Interstate Hotels to head its India Operations, and for the last couple of years, he has been running his own management consultancy, AB Smart Concepts, in-demand like always for his wisdom on hotel turnarounds. Like Kul Bhushan Kachru, another old ITDC hand, Bhandari managed to shine (and how!) even outside the public sector entity’s comfort zone. 

Unlike most other men in suits of the industry, Bhandari has enjoyed a close bond with the men in whites the chefs, for whom he established the annual Chef Awards 16 years ago under the umbrella of the Indian Culinary Forum. Bhandari had been at the forefront of the campaign to make chefs eligible for the Padma awards. But if there’s someone who deserves one for services rendered to the hospitality industry, it is he.


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