Enough Space to MICE All You Want

The magnificent ITC Grand Chola in Chennai -- with about 1,00,000 square feet of banquet space, 522 rooms and 78 serviced apartments -- is a giant among it's competitors. But there's more to just size when it comes to the MICE business. Here's why they are leaders in the MICE segment.


THE APPROACH, as you drive towards the ITC Grand Chola in Chennai gives you a peek at the scale of the property. It is more like a small city, rather than a hotel, with multiple porches and entrances, separate reception areas for different wings, you could say that it’s confusing even a little bit intimidating to reach a structure as magnificent and grand as this hotel, but that is quickly dealt with the signature hospitality of ITC Hotels as you’re welcomed into the facility.
The inspiration for the building is the Chola Dynasty, one of the dominant dynasties to rule over South India with an empire which spread to Indonesia and Malaysia. The hotel architecture is inspired from the Brihadeeswara temple in Tanjore and the Dharasuram Temple near Kumbakonam. Apparently, 63 types of marbles were imported from Italy, of the total 72 varieties used to construct the hotel. 
One of the design motifs which one can see throughout the hotel are lovely stylised wheels which symbolise the wheel of life.
The total property is built in absolutely palatial terms, like a modern palace, and reminded me of being in the likes of an Umaid Bhavan. It is built on over eight acres of land and has a total built up area, spread over ten floors, of 15,00,000 square feet. There are 522 rooms and 78 serviced apartments within this mammoth palace and if you’re feeling peckish, you can choose from nine restaurants that the hotel has to offer. 
If you’re looking for the MICE and banqueting facilities that the hotel has to offer, which I was, since this was one of the landmark hotels in Chennai which changed the face of the city, if not the region, and how it did MICE business. 
The Rajendra ballroom in the hotel, named Rajendra after a Chola king, is 33,000 square feet including the pre-function area (26,500 square feet on its own). The total amount of banqueting space which the hotel has to offer for banqueting is around 1,00,000 square feet. The hotel also have parking for 950 cars inside the hotel premises, which can be stretched to around 2,000 when you take the periphery space available into account.
If you stand at one end of the hall, because of it’s curved shape, you can’t see the other end. In some of the larger functions when there are 2,000 people sitting theatre style, two or three relay screens need to be used so that everyone can see what is going on in the main stage. 
The hotel also has four meeting rooms Kaveri 1-4, with 15 seats each, a larger board room called Tanjore which seats 24 guests, all located on the same floor as Rajendra. The property also has five smaller board rooms at the lobby level--there’s never a shortage of breakaway spaces, an important requirement for very large conferences.
The MICE team at the hotel sell both banquet space as well as rooms. The total MICE business for the hotel is about 34 percent, this revenue surpasses the total income of many hotels in the country because of the sheer amount of space available and the expanse of the property. The hotel competes not just with other cities in the country for its MICE business, but with locations in South East Asia as well as the Middle East.
I also got to speak to the General Manager of the hotel, Anil Chadha who also happens to be the Area General Manager for the entire Southern region for ITC Hotels about his jewel in the southern crown, the ITC Grand Chola and how it does MICE business. 
“In the last one-and-a-half years, a few very large MICE events have happened in this hotel, included the World Bridge Federation, which came to India for the first time and took over the entire banqueting space for 18 days. They also took about 350 rooms every night. All the participating teams stayed with us and we had about a 1,000 attendees at the event every day,” he told me when I asked for an example of a large function they have hosted. Chadha also went on to stress that it was actually because the hotel pitched for the business that they managed to put ITC Grand Chola on the world map.
One of the USPs of the hotel is the luxury of space, he went on to say. “This is our biggest USP. You can get anything done in the manner you want to do it. You’re not going to change your plans because space is limited. Large space, different styles of seating, different halls, different menus and set ups for meals, it’s all very possible,” he said. MICE events had their own dedicated lobby to check in with a separate entrance to the property all together, he added. 
So what makes the hotel such a success, I asked? “We always believe you either compete on price or on quality in the MICE business, we have taken the position that we will compete on quality and not on price. Price comes to us a little later. We first pitch the business and want to understand whether the client really wants qualitative conferencing facilities or not. If you don’t want that or are unwilling to pay the price, we won’t pitch for your business,” he told me.
The competition for the hotel is with destinations in India, as well as abroad. “Hyderabad is a big MICE Centre. Kerala is coming up. If you want everyone to come under one roof. The top ten multinational companies want to do an event with 500 of their top employees where will they go?” he asked, hinting it was his hotel. There is also strong competition from Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia and Dubai, because all those locations have something other than just the hotel to offer. 
“Our domestic share is larger than our international business, it’s around 70:30. Domestic share includes business from across the country, not just South India. Doctors conferences and medical association conferences are very popular, we have already done five or six very large events (2000 to 2500 participants)”, he went on to say. 
Large events are also a burgeoning market. “If you want to do a wedding with 2000 to 3000 attendees in an air-conditioned environment, this is the only place to have it in Chennai. The strength in ITC cuisines is also is a very big USP,” he said. 
Chadha also reasoned that a lot of MICE people would eventually give way to transient business. “If you attend a conference here, there are chances you will come back. On official work, or even for a short break if you find the destination attractive. The lobby of this hotel is among the top 10 most photographed lobbies in the world,” he said, explaining the iconic status of ITC Grand Chola.
There is also a very unique way that the MICE business is handled. “Once the contract is signed and sealed, it is handed over to an account manager. From then on, till the time you check out, there is one person who is completely attached to you. He or she coordinates with the rest of the hotel. He has the flexibility to reach out to anyone in the team. There are no hierarchies. He is attached to client completely,” Chadha explained. 
This ease of doing business has meant that organisers of conferences are happy with the hotel, one of the key ways to keep business flowing. Organiser feedback shows that the level of detailing that the hotel account manager and the rest of the team go into, means that the client feels relaxed during the run up to and the duration of the conference. “They prefer to come to ITC Grand Chola, because their job is stress free”, he told me.
In terms of repeat business, the hotel gets a lot from the incentive business with annual day meets and sales meet happening regularly. The property is becoming THE location for annual events and global sales meets.
Another very important aspect of any event that takes place at the ITC Grand Chola is its Green angle. This is because of the Responsible Luxury ethos which the group follows. The building itself is certified LEED Platinum and Griha 5 certified building in the new construction capacity. The property also has a power exchange with a windmill capacity of 12.6 MW which can cater to the entire electricity need of the hotel. 
Green banqueting is also a part of responsible luxury initiative. As a part of this initiative, the hotel takes certain steps when doing events—whether it be linen free tables, use of natural light, or HVAC technology. Guests are also requested to take small steps towards a greener event, which could range from sending out e-invites (in case of large conferences for instance), TO using buses to bring in guests from identified points in the city. Events are also encouraged to use online information sheets instead of hard copies and to have an RSVP to reduce wastage.  Finally, when it comes to the absolutely amazing ITC brand of cuisine, there too, there is a concept of alert meets, where the food is designed to be organic with a strong emphasis on healthy food, things that will keep you awake and alert during your meeting. Of course, the food is sourced responsibly and only the finest ingredients are chosen.

This article was published in BW hotelier issue dated '' with cover story titled 'MICE issue'

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