The room with a view
Both seaside Accor properties – Novotel Visakhapatnam Varun Beach and The Bheemili Resort – get a cruise ship experience for the guests
The sudden commotion followed by a loud noise that engulfed my room on the sixth floor at Novotel Visakhapatnam Varun Beach (NVVB) took me by shock as well as surprise. What on earth was it - an earthquake or a tsunami? As it is not possible to predict both, I dreaded being caught unawares in an alien land where I had landed the same morning for a friend’s marriage the next evening. I peeped outside the door to find if everything was in order, only to find a few tall and strong men walking down the corridor. I shut the door quickly and reached for the large sea-facing window to check if something was wrong out there. Life seemed normal and as calm as the Bay of Bengal spread out in front of me as it merged with the horizon at that hour of dusk. I then called the reception and it was then that I got to know the noise was all due to the Pushpa lead actor Allu Arjun being on the same floor as mine.
South India’s biggest present-day star had come for the launch of his cousin’s music video on the beach, bang opposite the hotel. And these ‘tall and hefty men’ were a part of his entourage. As word about him being at NVVB spread, thousands of fans swooped down to the hotel. Heavy security deployment made it impossible for them to get into the hotel but they did manage to block the road outside. Soon, I heard chants of Allu, Allu… The commotion, which must have gone on for over two hours, ended later in the night after the superstar made a quiet exit from the hotel’s rear gate, much to the disappointment of his fans.
After the marriage rituals of my friend got over the next day, I decided to have a look around the hotel which I was informed by Ravi Rai, Cluster General Manager, Novotel Visakhapatnam Varun Beach as well as The Bheemili Resort managed by Accor and Novotel Vijayawada Varun, is the brainchild of chairman of Varun Group, V Prabhu Kishore. “His love for the ocean knows no bounds. Living in a city like Visakhapatnam which glows with scenic beauty, it was only obvious that he would combine this love for infinite waters with the unique architectural brilliance of NVVB,” he said.
The foundation, informed Rai, of this hotel was laid in 2008 with the tie-up with global hospitality giant Accor for brand Novotel getting signed a year later, only to get inaugurated in 2011. A unique feature of the hotel is its sea facing rooms, activity areas, F&B outlets and the large convention facility. “When he conceived the idea, many people were sceptical about the viability of such a large-scale project in a moderate Tier III city like Vizag but to everyone’s surprise, NVVB has changed the face of hospitality in Visakhapatnam by attracting national and international events, in addition to the big, fat Indian destination weddings,” added Rai.
He also shared that when the doors of NVVB were opened for guests in 2011, the proposed revenue was Rs 28 crore. “In the first year, we did a revenue of Rs 32 crore and followed it up with Rs 40 crore next year. In 2014, Cyclone Hudhud struck so the revenue got to Rs 30 crore. However, ever since, we have seen an upward trend. In fact, this property has changed the dynamics of the city with larger conferences coming here besides tourists along with events and functions,” he said.
Today, NVVB offers 160 Superior Rooms, 55 Premier Rooms, nine Executive Suites and one Presidential Suite. With special focus on F&B, the hotel has The Square, a 152-cover all-day dining multi-cuisine restaurant, which is rated among the top five in Visakhapatnam. Set against a contemporary décor, it offers a la carte spread of national and international delicacies as part of the all-day dining menu with live cooking stations. One can also choose to be at the Indian speciality restaurant, Zaffran where you can enjoy exotic vegetarian and non-vegetarian thali to succulent kebabs and biryani at the poolside while you cherish the cosy ambience and watch the enigmatic view of the Bay of Bengal. “Harbour Vue, the high energy bar, is quite popular and has 72 covers with packed weekends,” said Rai for whom this is the second innings with NVVB. He was the property’s General Manager from 2016 to 2018 and returned around 10 days after the lockdown was imposed. This time, as the Cluster General Manager for three properties – at Vizag, Bheemili and Vijayawada.
Another interesting place to spend a happening evening at the hotel is Infinity, the rooftop bar and restaurant, ideal to unwind while sipping your favourite drink along with exotic kebabs, grills, sizzlers and seafood spreads. It offers both, indoor and outdoor seating options. However, the most interesting concept at the hotel is the rooftop jogging track where guests choose to spend early mornings for a jog before breakfast and late evenings for a walk after dinner.
A large convention hall, 13,000 sq ft with 8,000 sq ft of pre-function area, pulls in a lot of MICE conferences from Delhi, Raipur, Kolkata, Raipur and Bhubaneswar, informed Rai. “We get a lot of destination weddings due to the extraordinary views the property offers. It is picture perfect,” he said, adding that there are 11 small and large banquet spaces which make it a great place for a bigger MICE with breakaway rooms. “We have 8,000 sq ft space near the pool where we can do a lot of events and functions. The 15000 sq ft lawns on the terrace are popular for cocktail dinners,” he added.
Talking about the business at NVVB, Rai shared that the property closed the first quarter of 2022 at 70 per cent average occupancy. “We had an ADR of 7,500 which is better than 2019 which we closed at 6,400. Our RevPAR is 6,000 and we feel that the year has been off to a great and we are looking at a bright future,” he said.
On contribution of revenue from F&B on one side and rooms on the other over the last three years and how he sees it panning in future, he said, “Historically, it has been 50:50. In F&B, it has been 50 per cent of restaurant contribution and 50 per cent of banquets. As there were some restrictions on group functions and group bookings due to the pandemic as also on corporate MICE, the only revenue in banquets came in from weddings. The ratio has now slightly shifted with 60 per cent coming from rooms and 40 from F&B; 60 per cent of this 40 per cent comes from restaurant and remaining from banquet. However, the trend has started changing with corporate MICE beginning to take off again. We see it getting back to 50:50.”
Rai feels the city will reach the next level when the international airport comes up in the next three-four years. “It will help in increased connectivity, a challenge which Vizag faces today,” he said.
During our conversation Rai mentioned about The Bheemili Resort, the only pet-friendly hotel in and around Visakhapatnam. Well, not Visakhapatnam exactly but around 40 km away, a beach front property that serves an ideal getaway for both leisure and business travellers. “It is located near INS Kalinga, the naval base in Visakhapatnam. The large sea-facing rooms with balconies would certainly bring in a cruise-ship experience for you. Add to it the rising of the sun on the east coast over the ocean. I insist you visit it for a couple of days,” Rai suggested. I decided to give it a shot. But before I left NVVB, Rai told me that Bheemili Resort was a project where V Prabhu Kishore wanted to contribute his bit for the fishermen of the town. “He wanted the land value to go up so he decided to start a boutique resort property. Initially, he had thought of owning a house here but then changed the idea so that locals get employment and are involved in the project directly or indirectly,” Rai shared.
Interestingly, the coastal town of Bheemili or Bheemunipatnam was named after the mighty Pandava in Mahabharata. And it was one among the major Dutch settlements of the Dutch Coromandel Coast in the 17th century. Remnants of the Dutch East India Company can still be found here as can be one of the oldest Christian cemeteries in the country. Not this alone, Buddhist remains dating back to 3rd century BCE were excavated here along with relic caskets, indicating the presence of Buddhist culture. The lighthouse, dated 1868, built during the Dutch settlement on Bheemili Beach still stands tall here.
As suggested by Rai, I landed at The Bheemli Resort after a scenic drive along the sea. Must have taken me around an hour. The resort has 28 sea-facing Deluxe Rooms. However, unlike NVVB where the rooms have no balconies and one needs to get up to the rooftop or a walk down to the beach a few 100 metres away to enjoy the sea breeze, the sea is just a few metres away from your room at Bheemili. One can spend hours sitting in the balcony, watching the sea and the sky change its hues as the sun travels from the east to the west.
Bheemili may be away from the city but is equally popular for holding smaller conferences and meetings as well as banquets. While the Ocean Hall here can accommodate up to 60 guests, the two conference rooms can seat 12 persons each. The property also boasts of one-of-its-kind Japanese restaurant, Teppyanaki, which is immensely popular among guests and serves exotic delicacies.
The beauty of the swimming pools, both at Visakhapatnam and Bheemili, is them being infinity pools. While the former is at ground level, the latter is on the rooftop. Not to miss at Bheemili Resort is The Ayurbay. The holistic spa offers a wide range of beauty, hair and massage services, including body scrubs, facials, salon, pedicure and manicure. The property also boasts of a 28-seater theatre designed by INOX Multiplex. There is a jogging track, a cricket field and a volleyball court too. The Square at Bheemili too is an all-day dining where we were served breakfast, lunch and dinner and then there is a Water Bar which has a wide selection of beverages and a lounge-like seating arrangement.
When in Bheemili, don’t forget to visit the Lord Narasimha Temple. Legend has it that it is one of the oldest Hindu temples in the country, built in the 14th century as also Pavurallakonda where you can find the ruins of Buddhist stupas to numerous rock-cut steps and cisterns. Another must-visit place is where Gosthani River merges with the Bay of Bengal. It is an experience of a lifetime with the calm waters of the river becoming one with the noisy sea.
While the two properties may be different in many respects, the one similarity is the extremely hospitable and friendly staff: With you. For you. And most importantly, always smiling.
This article was published in BW hotelier issue dated '' with cover story titled 'MARCH-APRIL 2022 F&B SPECIAL'
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