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Lalit Suri - Hotelier with a drive
Ruchi Ahuja | November 19, 2005
I will now become the only hotelier in the country having hotels from Kashmir to Kanyakumari and from Ahmedabad to Kolkata.
This is the war cry of Lalit Suri, who began his career as an automobile engineer but blossomed in the hotel business. His frequent refrain is, "Tourism is the future, and we must never forget that."
Suri, who turns 59, initially undertook a two-year specialisation in automobile engineering with Vauxhall Motors, England, and joined family-run Delhi Automobile Ltd in 1971.
When the Suri group diversified into hotels in 1982, with Bharat Hotels, Lalit Suri became its joint managing director.
In 1987, he became the company's chairman and managing director after buying the family's stake in it when the family members decided to opt out.
"I do not call it family settlement. It was just that the family wanted to get out of the hotel business and I wanted to continue. I bought my family's stake in Bharat Hotels. Apart from that, we are all together," says Suri.
In October 1988, the first property of Lalit Suri's company — The Grand Intercontinental Hotel — was commissioned in New Delhi. Detractors say Suri's proximity to the Nehru-Gandhi family — he was Sanjay Gandhi's buddy — got him the prime property near Connaught Place for the hotel.
However, Suri vehemently denies this, "The property came to us as part of a tender in 1975 and because of a court case. it took years for us to get control over the property. The Gandhi family had nothing to do with it."
Suri bid for 10 properties of Indian Tourism Development Corporation when the government wanted to divest.
"I could lay hands on three - Hotel Ashok in Bangalore and Khajuraho, and Hotel Laxmi Vilas in Udaipur. I should have got more," he says.
Today, Bharat Hotels has seven properties, one each in Srinagar, Goa, Khajuraho, Udaipur, Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore. And Suri is not off his expansion path. He has just won the bid for Kolkata's Great Eastern Hotel and plans to invest about Rs 1,000 crore in four other properties in Ahmedabad, Hyderabad, Noida and Jaipur.
Suri bid Rs 52 crore for Great Eastern Hotel, much higher than the next bid of Rs 40 crore and the reserve price of Rs 30 crore. "It still is a good deal. We have an upgrade plan of Rs 120 crore towards this property, which will emerge a five-star luxury one," he says.
Besides, Suri is busy with his first overseas operation, a luxury property in Dubai, a 20,000 sq ft property in Palm Island.
"Plans are underway, and we may invest about $100 million but have not finalised a deadline for this project," he says.
Suri has also been planning a hotel in London, but that will have to wait.
"Property prices there are skyrocketing. We will have to wait and see," he says.
When not wearing the hotelier cap, Suri dons a politician's cap. He is into his second term as an independent Rajya Sabha member of Parliament. "I am not a Bharatiya Janata Party MP. Never was. I have always been an independent member," he says.
Amid all this, cars remain the one-time auto engineer's first love. Suri dotes on his Lamborghini.
"My craze is very much alive and I do drive it off and on, at times for a ride on weekends. But it is difficult otherwise. Where are the roads? I may have to go to Texas to drive it every day."