All You Need Is Love
Binod Chaudhary is Nepal’s first — and only — billionaire, with stakes in dozens of iconic hotels. The secret to success, he says, is creating a place that people love.
“An important thing I have learned in life is that you do not necessarily need to create something big,” says Binod Chaudhary, billionaire owner of Chaudhary Group, which counts around a quarter of its revenue from its hospitality vertical.
“If you want to make a mark, you should create something that the world loves. This realisation has helped me establish myself in the hospitality business in a very short time.”
Chaudhary’s first foray into the global hospitality industry was to persuade the Taj Group, a century-old family-run hotel group, to sign a 50 percent joint venture with him. Taj was looking for collaboration on a Nepal hotel, and Chaudhary, at the time in 2000, was a “fledgling at business” and a newcomer to hospitality. He seized the opportunity. Outside of its domestic market, most of the Taj properties were in a sad state of neglect, he recalls, little more than lodges charging US$80 a night, if they were lucky. Chaudhary told the CEO: “Nobody knows your hotel is a global brand. I have been to the Maldives and I could see that both Taj Hotels there are in bad shape. The [Taj] Lagoon has tarnished your image. But I am ready to rescue the projects.” Taken aback by his pluck, they agreed to a 50 percent joint venture.
The key was turning the hotels into icons. More than holidays, here was where the wealthy wanted to see and be seen. “Let’s reconstruct the hotels in such a way that a room that now fetches only US$80 a night could fetch US$500,” he said to the owners of the Maldives Taj Hotels. He called a Californian interior designer and asked him to come up with a plan to effect the transformation. Today, Taj Hotels in the Maldives charges up to US$900 a night.
From these early ventures Chaudhary’s hospitality conglomerate CG Hotels & Resorts now encompasses its own eight-year-old brand Zinc Hospitality, along with business hoteliers Fern and GLOW, and has plans to have 200 hotels within CG by 2020. As well as this it has full and part ownership of some world’s most iconic properties, of which Chaudhary says he is “so proud”. These include The Farm at San Benito, Philippines; Taj Exotica and Taj Vivanta in the Maldives; and Alila Uluwatu in Bali.
“I always wanted to be associated with dream properties, the sort of places where people might go only once but remember for the rest of their lives,” he says.
So what does it take to build a dream? Well the starting point is surprisingly simple, says Rahul Chaudhary, the middle son who runs the hospitality vertical on behalf of 61-year-old Binod. “My father always told me to keep in mind the five main brand pillars: a good shower; a good bed; free Wifi; free breakfast; and a free gym. That’s what everyone wants, most comments from travellers revolve around this.”
Once you have those five things perfect, then begins “the story”, says Rahul. “We are not a brand where one city property looks identical to all the others. We work with developers to bring about a feeling of local culture.” For example, at Zinc Arro Khampa, a 17-room boutique hotel in the quaint old Yunnan town of Shangri-La, the design aesthetic is borrowed from the Nashi people, an ethnic group that lives in the foothills of the Himalayas. Colourful Tibetan Thankas (Buddhist deity paintings) decorate the walls, ceilings are high, brick is exposed and a fireplace usually focuses the centre of the room. “We’ve also used a lot of heavy wooden timber as it gets so cold up there,” adds Rahul.
Meanwhile, in Sri Lanka, where four boutique hotels are underway, the aesthetic is inspired by the Ceylon Tea Trail days. The Zinc Journey Mandira & Sigiriya have opened first, to be followed by the refurbishing of rest houses in Weligama, Ella and Dambulla. “We’ve taken original elements of old heritage bungalows that were the homes of tea planters. You’ve got a sense of a plantation in the functional heavy chairs, and of the aristocracy in the plush loungers and lamps,” describes Rahul. “These are hotels that tell a story.”
For Binod, with a net worth of US$1.2 billion, he must take staying in the world’s top hotels for granted. He insists that’s not the case. “I may be a billionaire but the person inside me has not changed.” He recalls the moment he saw the Taj Hotel in Mumbai for the first time as a boy. Dazzled, he sat down on the road to watch the well-heeled guests going in and out. Every time Binod stays there, he looks out to where he once sat outside looking in.
“I am the same boy who once squatted on the pavement to behold the splendour of the hotel, the son of an ordinary businessman who dreamt about the hotel and went on to live that dream. Yes I am the same boy, retracing his footsteps from that pavement to this suite.”