Grand Mercure Vadodara Surya Palace Unveiled

Grand Mercure flag flies on Vadodara's landmark hotel, even as Jean-Michel Casse Declares AccorHotels will have 55 hotels with 10K rooms by 2017-end


(L to R) Rajesh Gopalakrishnan, General Manager, Grand Mercure Vadodara Surya Palace; Piyush Shah, Managing Director, Jindal Hotels Ltd; and Jean-Michel Cassé, Chief Operating Officer, India & South Asia, AccorHotels at the function announcing the launch of the hotel in Vadodara.

ONE OF Vadodara's oldest and most popular hotels, Surya Palace, formally became the Grand Mercure Vadodara Surya Palace on June 20 after its long-time owner, and one of the city's well-known personalities, Piyush Shah, joined Jean Michel Casse, Chief Operating Officer, India and South Asia, Accor Hotels, to make the announcement at a media conference in the property.

Explaining the genesis of the Surya Palace, a 146-room hotel he had opened on February 28, 1987, on the land his great-grandfather had bought in 1916, Shah said his two children, Satvik Agrawal, Managing Director, Global Gourmet, and leading exporter of food products, and Shagun Mehra, an oenophile and food stylist, had not shown much interest in running the hotel, although both had studied hospitality management at Les Roches, Switzerland, and then went to Paris for advanced studies. He had therefore to "prepare for the vacuum that might come up," Shah said in a short but heartfelt speech.

Describing himself as "a born hotelier who's passion-driven about his work and treats each guest as God", Shah, Managing Director, Jindal Hotels Ltd, recalled that he had started his search for a partner about a year and half ago with the renowned hospitality consultant, the late Homi Aibara, and had settled on Accor because the international hotel company was more like an "organic partner" -- it had "the right people who value human values".

Shah said this was important for him because the hotel's "foundation is very strong" and so is its culture. He was particular in emphasising that the hotel's 256 employees formed "a very well-bonded family". At least 25 employees had spent more than 25 years in the service of the hotel, Shah pointed out, sending out a message to Accor to safeguard their interests.

Casse rose to the occasion by responding to Shah with the assurance that "we respect what has been created and the values the hotel had stood for". He said the past year and half had seen the hotel undergoing a major renovation, but it gave him the time to get to know the family better. "We are here to respect what has been achieved," Casse said, adding in a lighter vein that he would have to re-designate the general manager as "museum caretaker" because of the treasure contemporary art in the hotel.

Grand Mercure Vadodara Surya Palace is like a tribute to the Baroda School of Art, which has flourished for decades at the M.S. University (MSU). It has granite sculptures by Nagji Patel at the entrance, ceramic works by P.R. Daroz in the banquet hall, the lobby has some of the most colourful works of art by the late K.G. Subramanium, who was a professor at MSU and then made Vadodara his home till he breathed his last, and Jyoti Bhatt's canvases adorn the all-day dining restaurant, Azure. Shah has converted a colonial house next door into an art gallery, which has become the city's art hub.

Celebrating the first conversion of an existing hotel to a Grand Mercure in India, Casse said the brand lent itself to being customised according to the country where it was present -- presently, the brand's flag flies atop 41 hotels across Asia-Pacific. He said in the 11 years that had lapsed since Accor formally arrived in India with the Novotel in Hyderabad, its footprint had grown to 48 hotels across ten brands. By the end of this year, he promised, India will have 55 AccorHotels with 10,000 rooms.

A chef-turned-general manager, and an Accor hand since 2005, IHM-Chennai alumnus Rajesh Gopalakrishnan, GM, Grand Mercure Vadodara Surya Palace, highlighted the fact that with 146 rooms the hotel had the highest inventory in the city, making it an ideal MICE destination. "F&B is a big driver of business in the city and we are adding an art cafe to the hotel's offerings," said Gopalakrishnan, who started his career at the Taj Coromandel, Chennai, and has attended the International Hospitality Management Programme at the Accor Academy Asia in 2010.

"International brands bring in certain standards. And we are going into the future with the promise to deliver lots more improvements," Gopalakrishnan added. Given Vadodara's reputation as a city of well-heeled, well-travelled and enlightened people, that would be the least of the expectations from the Grand Mercure Vadodara Surya Palace.

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