Monday, October 29, 2012
ITC Grand Chola – A Review.
As a socially responsible blogger, I often get invited for Social Media Reviews and launch parties of products and services. This is a review of the newest hotel launch in Chennai- the ITC Grand Chola at Guindy, Mount Road. Read on to find out with me, if the Grand Chola is really grand. Or not.
The History Behind
Native residents of Madras will remember a long-time landmark in Guindy called the Campa Cola factory premises, a defunct factory for long years now. It had also been showcased in a lot of Tamil films which required climax scenes with large scale blowing up scenes involving cars and bombs. And then came the news that the factory site had been bought over, razed to the ground and a new hotel project conceived to be built by the ITC group, who own and run the popular ITC Chola Sheraton. The Grand Chola hotel which has been under construction for a long time (by Chennai's standards) was completed recently and I was fortunate enough to be invited over for a launch party as part of a group of social media reviewers. When I first got the invitation I jumped at the chance immediately, cleared all my Saturday evening commitments and turned up on time for the launch party, to check first-hand if the stories I had been hearing (over the city's social circuits) were true, that a new landmark has come up which might rival the old landmark which had been razed.
The Hotel location wise occupies prime real estate just beyond the junction of the Guindy/Velachery/Adyar trifurcation point, on the left hand side as you drive up Mount Road and if you can’t place it still, it’s just next to the Dr.MGR medical university building. The proximity to the airport and the IT corridor means that occupancy rates should not be a problem, as business class travelers might opt for it in preference to other nearby places. The hotel looks an imposing edifice as you enter it from mount road and the security guards at the entrance have no nonsense attitude and go about their duty with a gravitas disproportionate to their jobs. And then comes the surprise; (unpleasant to me) as you are not allowed to drive straight up to the foyer to enter the hotel proper but are directed off to an entrance behind the main building. When I enquired later I was offered the explanation that it is to demarcate (for security reasons) between houseguests who are allowed to use the main foyer and visitors who are supposed to enter via the back. An explanation which does not wash with me as I think its counterproductive to have someone who arrives for maybe just a five minute meeting to go round and round in search of a entrance through which he will be allowed inside. ITC please take note.
Verdict : 3.5/5.
Although I am not an architecture enthusiast per se, I do have more than a passing familiarity (and interest) with design and esthetics considering that my profession involves working on the most difficult canvas possible, the human face. As I stood there on Mount road gazing up at the hotel and trying to take all of it in with a single glance, I felt that the hotel had been conceptualized based on a Discovery Channel version of Chola Architecture, all towers and pagodas, borrowing design elements mainly from the single most famous Chola landmark, the Brihadeeswara Temple, Tanjore. It’s kind of contrived but it still works because of the sheer scale of the construction overwhelms you with its massive size. I felt and still feel that this is one of the largest hotel spaces (built-up area wise) in the south comparable in grandeur to the Lalith Mahal at Mysore.
Verdict : 4/5
When you have a massive edifice to play around with you expect the same level of grandeur inside. But unfortunately I was disappointed to find it was not so. The level of opulence you come to expect as standard, from any ITC hotel (like the one at Agra where I had stayed over last time I was there) is definitely there, but if you expect them to exceed their usual standards and go overboard with luxury, they have not. Or at least not yet, as the hotel is still undergoing its fitment and this was just a soft launch. I couldn’t help crackling over with laughter when the overenthusiastic salesperson who took me around for the grand tour pointed out a marble design on the floor and said this is special design based on the Chola culture of Kolam. I felt inclined to, but refrained from pointing out (out of politeness) that if she cared to visit my house, I would show her better versions of the same Kolam design adorning the floors at home and not all Kolam designs have a Chola origin but some are of more mundane provenance too. The only eye catching feature I appreciated was the grand staircase which sweeps up both sides and seamlessly divides both wings of the hotel in a non-obvious way. On the plus side, the hotel seems to have adequate numbers of lifts and escalators which makes wandering inside a cinch.
Verdict : 3/5
As you can expect from a hotel of this size, they have massive, massive number of rooms to fit any and all crowds. But as this was just a soft launch I was given a sneak preview of just a single sample room- an average business class room. The room was what you would expect of any decent business class hotel but with a twist, they are designed to be electronically controlled via an i-pad which is provided per room. Nothing revolutionary but still a nice little touch of technological progress. There were, to my satisfaction, ample number of power points provided (but hidden behind false fronts for esthetic's) as I always travel around with a variety of electronic gadgets with me and I prefer to charge all of them at once instead of plugging/re-plugging/charging one by one. Seriously, returning to a hotel room at the end of a busy, hard day and then finding out that you have to decide between charging your mobile/s or your camera due to lack of power-points leads to negative points in my book. I also got a look at the conference rooms, all of them named Kaveri, like Kaveri1,2,3, depending on capacity. The one which I saw was a 25-seater, sound-proofed, future-proofed room with concealed mikes capable of direction finding signal pickups and 360° cameras for video-conferencing – as per the spiel I was given.
Verdict : 3.5/5
F & B – Food and Beverages
As I said this was just a soft launch and none of the major restaurants, like the ITC branded Peshawari are open yet. The ones which I were taken to and shown were, surprisingly for such a large building, quite small and cozy and not what you would expect at all from the outside. Most of them look to have minimum seating capacity and have not been designed for large capacity crowds. The in house Italian restaurant I was shown around had an open pasta bar and a private dining are which has a single table to seat just a dozen people. The mocktail bar which I was shown had an even more limited bar area and the wine lounge and cigar bar could comfortably seat groups of around ten to twelve only. All of which leads me to believe that they are designed for the use of the in-house crowd, the guests resident with them and not for outside visitors, who would definitely have to make prior reservations if they want to get a table on time and not go back disappointed. And the most surprising of all was that they dont have, at least not yet, a functioning night spot to let down hair and unwind after a long day negotiating business deals. An oversight which might cost them good clients to say the least.
As of now the hotel is just running with skeleton staff and you have to make allowances for them. I had a tough time trying to control yawning as the lady from the sales team who took me around described in a high falsetto, about the Cholas and their ways. Seriously ITC, we get it. We get that you love and respect the Cholas. You dont have to belabor it beyond a point where it gets so repetitive and boring. Plus add the fact that the staffs are all of north indian origin which makes them pronounce the Chola dynasty like Chole Bhature. Heads-up ITC. Get some Local recruits if you wish to avoid hurting local sentiments. Or get language classes (for proper accent/pronounciation) for your existing staff rotated from other cities.
Chennai is not a leisure or tourism destination. It’s more of a business and convention based center. As such any addition to the hotel industry offering decent business class facilities is always welcome. And a location halfway between the airport and the regular convention venue- Chennai Trade Center should mean that occupancy rates will never fall below 50% at least. But. And this is a qualified but. If I were organizing a large scale convention or conference would I recommend the ITC Grand Chola without reservations? Maybe not yet. I would still go with my first Choice LRM- Le Royal Meridien, which has the same location advantage, good functioning restaurants, a rocking nightspot/discotheque at Flames and comparable rates to the Grand Chola. Plus add free wifi. I mean seriously what was ITC thinking when they decided to charge for wi-fi when even any small self respecting coffee shop nowadays offers free wifi. These little things sometimes have disproportionate effects on decision making. It hits the spot if you go with no expectations but just looking for a normal business class experience, but beyond that there is nothing much to recommend it over and above other comparable city hotels.
Final verdict : 3/5.
My Verdict : The ITC Grand Chola is a work in progress. Filled with Grandeur still not yet Grand. But hopefully will be soon. And turn into a landmark which will make the city proud. Whether that happens or not only time will tell. Over to you ITC.