Falling in love, all over again
Courtyard by Marriott Agra offers five star comfort with spacious rooms, resort-style amenities, plush pillow-top bedding, spa, pool and a fitness centre
Agra can be a challenging city to visit during the summer months: extremely hot and humid. But when work takes you to a destination, the idea shouldn’t be to frown or complain. Instead one should make the most of whatever is available around after checking into a ‘cool’ hotel. Once done with the work for the day, get down to exploring the city, its heritage and food. I have been following this regimen on most of my official trips and have fallen in love with each of the cities I have visited.
So this time when I landed in the City of Love, Agra, for work this mid-May, I checked into a ‘cool’ five star hotel which offered comfort with spacious rooms, resort-style amenities, plush pillow-top bedding, spa, fitness centre and high speed wi-fi. Of course, there were mouth-watering delicacies minus blaring music or hordes of people. Here was a perfect example of merging business with pleasure or how it is being termed lately, bleisure.
I found all this and more at Courtyard by Marriott Agra. Located on Fatehabad Road, Courtyard Agra is 12 km from Kheria Airport and 8 km from Agra Cantt Railway Station. In fact, the UNESCO World Heritage Sites of the Taj Mahal and Agra Fort are just a 10 minute drive away from here. You can also choose to visit lesser-known monuments like the Tomb of I’timad-ud-Daulah, often called Baby Taj as it is regarded as a draft of the Taj. Or get to Mehtab Bagh, the last of the 11 gardens built by the Mughals along River Yamuna, opposite the Taj. It is from here that you get a different perspective of the monument of love. The hotel will be too willing to organise a visit and arrange a knowledgeable and experienced guide to help you know the history of the place, up close and personal. I visited both these monuments before the heat started taking its toll and I chose to return. Make sure to leave around dawn to avoid the harsh sun, should you be there during the summer months.
However early you may leave, you are likely to return as exhausted as I did, courtesy the heat. So I decided to pamper my tired body with a visit to the Tattva Spa for a relaxing massage. One can experience ultimate wellbeing with a combination of Indian healing techniques and proven international practices here. If you happen to be a fitness freak, you can head to the Fitness Centre. The facility is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. A quick bath after an hour-long massage that comforted me to a large extent, I landed at Momo Café, the all-day dining restaurant for a bite. On offer were delectable international and desi a la carte and buffet dishes.
I helped myself to a couple of mini vadas and sambar along with dal kachori and aloo sabzi, prepared to perfection by the Executive Chef Sanjay Rawat and his team of talented chefs. “We offer healthy options for conscious palates and have an open live kitchen that enables guests to directly interact with the chef and share their preferences,” shared Rawat. He also informed that Grills By The Pool is where they serve live grills along with crafted cocktails and drinks to the guests.
It is here that I met my namesake, Saurabh (Khanna), General Manager of Courtyard by Marriott Agra. A suave and polite gentleman, Khanna shared that the property, with its diverse dining facilities, a sparkling pool and cutting-edge fitness centre, is an ideal destination for vacations, weekend getaways, conferences, events and weddings. “The hotel has 189 spacious rooms – 96 Deluxe, 71 Premier and four Terrace Rooms along with seven Junior Suites and 11 Executive Suites – with guestroom features like 40 inch LED television, top opening digital safe, mini bar, iron and ironing board, tea-coffee maker, high-speed internet and anti-mist mirror in the bathroom. At the hotel, we offer facilities like a business centre, fitness centre, spa including four therapy rooms, express laundry and dry-cleaning services, concierge, 24 hour At You Service assistance and express check-in/ check-out,” he informs. Courtyard Agra also has an elegant lounge bar, Onyx, in the heart of the lobby offering a sophisticated yet contemporary setting with an easy going ambience. Perfect place to catch up with friends or colleagues.
We got talking and I found that Khanna’s journey in the hospitality industry started with the Taj Hotels, Resorts and Palaces (IHCL) in the Sales & Marketing department. “I spent three-and-a-half years with the company, transitioning through various roles and responsibilities and was recognised with the Taj Award for Business Excellence for Best Commercial Sales in 2008. From there, I moved to Hilton Worldwide and worked in various capacities in the Sales & Marketing vertical, again both on-property and above property,” he shared, adding it was in 2012 that his “love affair” with Marriott International began. Little wonder then that they transported him to the City of Love after a stint in the Global Sales Organisation and then Operations in the capacity as Director of Hotel Openings.
To keep pace with the fast changing demands of guests and the ever-changing hospitality landscape, especially during and post-pandemic, Khanna said there has been a paradigm shift in business segments with underlying expectations on cleanliness, safety and hygiene. “Guest services pretty much remain the same across all business segments. We relooked at all the spaces within the hotel to monetise all the possible avenues of revenue, successfully explored to tweak our cuisines to suit the palate of our customers and added more in-house experiences to keep our multi-generational guests engaged. Now, as things normalise, we are slowly moving towards a hybrid model to provide our customers the best of both worlds in a safe environment,” he said.
Hoping the worst is behind us and we are all making steady progress towards a more stable and familiar future, Khanna shared that business travel has bounced back, so has corporate MICE. “For a location like Agra, it’s heartening to see inbound tourists flock to the regular tourist spots. So, there is optimism in the environment and overall business sentiment is also conducive. The pandemic has taught us to be more nimble and lean as an industry and also to think on our feet and adapt quickly to the changing segment and corresponding needs of every segment,” added Khanna.
But a not-to-forget experience was what Khanna laid out for the evening at Anise, the fine-dining Indian restaurant, offering a delectable selection of locally inspired signature kebabs, curries and pilafs. It was a sight to behold with a dramatic design comprising all natural elements: fire in the mashals at the entrance, soothing water fixtures, lush greenery, an open sky… A warm and welcoming soul, Khanna, a Delhi boy, decided to give me company for dinner. In fact, he even made arrangements of a mist fan lest we feel warm under the starlit sky as also to keep the mosquitoes away. We were treated to some soul-rendering ghazals as we enjoyed our drinks while we were served some mouth-watering starters: Gilafi Seekh Kebab, Anise Ki Khas Galawat and Subz Mewe Ki Seekh. This was followed by Mirch Aur Palak Ka Shorba and soon thereafter arrived Dum Ka Murgh, Methi Machchi Masala in the non-vegetarian spread and Paneer Firdoshi, Anise Ki Khas Dal Makhni and Subz Nargisi Kofta from the vegetarian section along with Vegetable Biryani and Warki Paranthas and Bhakarkhani.
While we were at Anise amid Nature, Khanna shared the sustainability initiatives at the property. “We are open to exploring various green initiatives to help conserve the environment and recently implemented glass bottles for water consumption across all our dining outlets as well as using paper straws in the property. We are now moving towards establishing an electric vehicle charging station within the premises of the hotel for the betterment of the planet,” he said, adding that sustainable initiatives rank the highest in their endeavour as a hotel to give back to the planet and community. “We have activated practices like installing compost machines for biodegradable materials and moving on towards growing organic micro greens in our garden space and making it a part of our daily offerings. With an increased focus on promoting vegan offerings and reducing carbon footprint, we have successfully launched the Mood Diet 2.0 from a food offering perspective as well,” informed Khanna.
After a hearty meal and an informative conversation topped with Besan Shrikhand Tart as the dessert, I dragged myself back to the room. I had to pack for I was heading home the next morning.
This article was published in BW hotelier issue dated '' with cover story titled 'BW HOTELIER MAY-JUNE 2022'
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