By N.K.A. Ballal, Retd. Sr. Vice-President, ITDC
A recent news “Lalitha Mahal Palace Hotel to be privatised: Cabinet meeting called to decide this decision” was music to my ears. With elections coming up next year, I really do not know if the Government would bite the bullet and do take the bold step to privatise this prized crown jewel, long overdue.
When the property was handed over to the State Government, there was an unwritten understanding that the property would be privatised in a short span of time. Hence, the Jungle Lodges and Resorts (JLR), who have nil experience in managing any heritage properties was given the responsibility of managing this.
Managing a heritage property requires special skill set and even professional hoteliers without that extra training cannot do that. One has to love that job and have a liking for conservation. Expecting the staff of JLR to manage the property was just too much. The property is going down badly in maintenance and would be another travel lodge if it is not privatised at the earliest.
Just to give an example of the shoddy ad hoc work done by the JLR — Lalitha Mahal Palace Hotel always had a problem of hot water delivery to the rooms. The jlr management in its wisdom instead of repairing or installing a new hot water system, quietly buried the existing system and installed geysers in all the rooms. A running hot water is a perquisite for any top-notch hotel and how can one expect the guest to switch on the geyser and wait for the hot water to flow in?
The hotel at present is run by contract workers and whenever a vvip arrives, the jlr management calls in their experienced staff from other travel lodges and manages the show. One cannot run an organisation of this magnitude like this. Jlr is an excellent well-run company managing travel lodges all over Karnataka profitably. But asking them to run a heritage hotel was right for a short period of time. Time to move on.
This hotel at present condition requires a complete overhaul and this can only be done by another professional organisation with deep pockets. My estimate is that this hotel requires a minimum of Rs. 50 crore to completely overhaul the rooms as well as the gardens which are in shambles. The terrace gardens or step garden is a speciality of this hotel and has to be revived to make it look regal. The existing fountains have to be revived and new ones added.
Just visit any Royal Heritage Hotel in Jaipur and see the way the gardens are done up. But for this to happen, one requires water supply which is a major issue of this hotel. When the hotel was commissioned in 1974, itdc had spent a princely amount of Rs. 3.5 lakh to lay a special pipe for exclusive water supply for the hotel, but with the mushrooming of colonies in and around the hotel, all the water meant for the hotel has been diverted. The State Government has to sort out this issue since borewells have been a failure in this area.
The swimming pool area too requires complete re-haul and a brand new spa and health club with gym has to be built. The new building can be made in such a way that it merges with the existing architecture.
At present the average room revenue of Lalitha Mahal Palace must be in the range of Rs. 3,000 to Rs. 4,000. But if all the renovations are made, this hotel can command an average room revenue of Rs. 15,000 and above.
Yesterday, I just rang up to the heritage hotel Savoy, Ooty, for a room and was told that only deluxe rooms were available at a cost of Rs. 40,000 per day! [Just to give you an idea how much heritage hotels can demand and get].
Hundreds of people come to Lalitha Mahal Palace to visit paying a price of Rs.100 per person. In comparison, a Taj Falaknuma Hotel at Hyderabad charges Rs. 4,000 for any visitor to go around. Lalitha Mahal Palace Hotel has to be made exclusive and a snob property, a jewel in the crown of Mysuru.
To conclude, I do hope wisdom prevails and the Cabinet decides to handover the property to Taj Hotels or any other chain with deep pockets as soon as possible. Another few years of this current management, we can very well see another Devaraja Market in the making!