(Jayachandran/Mint)
(Jayachandran/Mint)

Kapil Chopra: Seeking new vistas

  • The hotelier-turned-entrepreneur and founder of The Postcard Hotel talks to Mint about luxury travel, changing trends, and the minibar that no one uses
  • The definition of luxury has changed and people didn’t realize that.... I need to stop asking questions but anticipate and curate for you

One of Kapil Chopra’s mottos in life is “whatever it takes", from the John Imlay book Jungle Rules: How To Be A Tiger In Business, which changed his life. Never mind that it’s a tag line shared with a television news channel, the phrase describes much of his career philosophy.

The other thing that’s changing the hospitality veteran’s life is his new venture: The Postcard Hotels and Resorts. Launched in December with three properties in Goa, The Postcard hopes to align with the changing definition of luxury travel in the country, a subject Chopra has expertise in.

He has many ideas on how the sector should evolve. For instance, he wants to do away with strict check-in and check-out times, welcome guests with a cocktail rather than a sugary fruit juice, and let them have an à la carte breakfast when they want—even if it’s at one in the afternoon, which tends to happen on holidays. Chopra wants people to have experiential holidays, not worry about their children sneaking into the minibar, to be able to reconnect with family, switch off cellphones and slow time down—this is what qualifies as luxury in the modern age.

Aiming to open 50 properties within five years, in places as varied as Uttarakhand, Kanha, Mangaluru, Sri Lanka and France, the founder and chief executive officer of The Postcard is a man in a hurry.

That becomes obvious when Chopra, 46, rushes into this meeting at the all-day dining and lounge bar O22 at the Trident, Bandra-Kurla Complex, in Mumbai. The Delhi resident is on a day-long whirlwind trip and has already been to meetings with bankers. He is just a few minutes late.

The former president of Oberoi Hotels and Resorts, which also runs the Trident brand, is on home turf here—there are many people who want to meet him, staff who come over for a hug, and instant attention even if he turns around for a moment. Food, in large numbers, appears magically at the table without being ordered—even though it’s only teatime—till we protest firmly. There is an assortment of cakes, some chaat and cheese toast, besides warm beverages.

Dressed in a dark suit with a striking blue tie for which a former colleague compliments him, Chopra enjoys the attention and the service, telling me that it comes from the heart. He is no longer employed here, so he is not entitled to any special treatment—but he has clearly left an impression.

When he quit the Oberoi group in 2017, after serving for over a dozen years in his second stint at the chain, he was asked the expected “why" question by friends and family. As president, EIH Ltd, he had achieved significant growth for the brand and had won a clutch of awards as well, both for himself and his employers.

“I told my mother in April 2017 that I knew I had to do something else. As a child, when I watched Discovery (channel), I would will an animal not to move ahead because it would get killed," he says, laughing. “But it is the nature of the animal. I also have to challenge the status quo."

The answer to why he moved on lies in his restlessness and ambition. As the son of a doctor, he could well have chosen medicine as a career, but the moment he walked into a catering college in Bengaluru, he knew his calling. At his parents’ behest, he graduated in commerce—because hotel management was not a valid degree back then—and followed it up with a long-distance MBA.

As a management trainee at the Oberoi in the mid-1990s, he realized that growth within any company came with experience, not necessarily due to competence—and that didn’t suit him. He moved to the Grand Hyatt for two years in 1999 and then the Taj for another two, his growth opportunities coming at an early age. He found himself back at the Oberoi in the early 2000s in what turned out to be his last “job".

Chopra had seen—first as a non-executive member and recently as chairman of the board—the way EazyDiner Pvt. Ltd, a dining booking service, had grown and managed to digitize data. The growth of the international hospitality disrupter Airbnb had also made him question the formula of resorts. People have had the same problems for years: check-in timings, minibars that 99% of the guests barely use, and buffet breakfasts ending at 10.30am.

“If EazyDiner could be such a fulcrum," he says, “then we could have the audacity to bring a new brand that’s nimble, high-end, able to open faster than any other, one that is experiential and has customer-centricity at its core. Why should I check out at noon even if I checked in at midnight? Why is your check-in at 3pm? If your processes are poor, why should I pay for it?"

After Chopra had formed the concept, finding the right name was the toughest part. After considering Untitled—which later became the name of the parent company—and rejecting it for the explanations it would entail, the others that came close were Marmalade (“because you only have it when on holiday") and Foam (“the foam in your bed, pillow and cappuccino").

Funding for The Postcard comes from a Mauritius-based real estate investment trust which will buy the assets and hand them to the operating company, Untitled Hotels and Resorts Pvt. Ltd, which he controls. They will also raise venture money from a foreign-based fund, Small Ventures. His company currently has assets worth 600 crore under management.

“EazyDiner taught me that there are no limits, growth is not linear but exponential, and that you can triple (revenue) in a month and don’t have to wait 10 years for it," says Chopra.

He takes out his laptop from the briefcase and shows me a presentation on the luxury hotel market, vacation trends and answers that The Postcard will provide. India is holidaying like never before, he reads out from a slide, the hotel market is worth $13 billion (around 89,700 crore) and $4 billion is the online value. Travel in India now consists of shorter holidays, more frequently taken, with solo travel, particularly among women, on the rise. Once Airbnb postulated that travel has to be experiential and became the most valuable hospitality company in the world, worth over $30 billion, the concept of travel changed, he adds.

“In India, experiential means different things to different people," says Chopra, looking away from his screen. “What is assured outside India, like water, electricity, safety, cannot be assured here. Suppose I take you near Mangaluru, on the beach, staying zero metres from the sea where at 3am you go into the ocean to watch the sunrise that touches your soul. That’s Postcard. That’s why we will never be in Delhi or Mumbai, because it can’t be transformative."

He continues, “The most expensive hotel (in Goa), if you analyse monthly across the board, is us. How can a two-month old brand be the most expensive? Why? We are looking at travel in a different way. We are operating profit level from the month we started. That’s a call you take."

At their Moira, Goa, property, the rate for the duplex suite for the weekend after Holi (21 March )was 28,000 a night and 22,000 for The Postcard Velha. Mid-week in mid-July, off-season for Goa, the prices at the Cuelim property range from 15,000-20,000 a night.

“The definition of luxury has changed and people didn’t realize that," he says, sipping his French Press coffee. “A lot of luxury hotels have not evolved over the years—they have missed the boat—because they don’t understand. It’s changed to more private and personalized time. I need to look at your time as a value commodity. I need to stop asking questions but anticipate and curate for you."

A former columnist for Kolkata’s The Telegraph, he says it’s a misconception, among colleagues that he is always working. He gets enough down time, which currently involves watching the Amazon Prime show Made In Heaven and dealing with four-year-old son Reyansh and spending time with his older child Drsika. “I must have taken exams for five years of my life—more than anyone else. When I see my daughter take exams, it gives me nightmares," he says, laughing.

Drsika, who went off on a 12-day Yamuna Yatra after finishing her class X exams recently, was, in fact, important for The Postcard—when she was impressed by Velha (one of their properties in Goa), he felt he had arrived.

Since one of his children is a teen and the other much younger, Chopra says he can have varied interactions with them. His other motivation is food—“I can travel anywhere for it".

“Someone once introduced me aptly on a panel," he says. “‘This is Kapil Chopra. He does everything he loves’."

Business mantra

If you want to enjoy life, look for three things in a job: the pie (passion, intensity and enthusiasm).

Turning point

I bought my first property in Mangaluru in April 2017. That was the sign—it was an asset that could become a hotel.

Favourite travel destination

Tokyo. All the hotels and food are amazing. I could die for that food.

Last book read

‘The Hard Thing About Hard Things’ by Ben Horowitz. Please read the book—I read half of it without taking a toilet break.

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