In conversation with Kapil Bhatia

The Living Legend who denies himself any limelight; he prefers his intimate self, with friends and family, best enjoyed over a drink. Not frequenting the golf course any longer, at a young age of 92, he keeps an eager eye on his business, preferring always to stay ahead with the changing times. Started his career as a GSA, a general sales agent who represents an airline, he is the chairman of Interglobe Aviation which owns Indigo Airlines. His company forayed later into hotels as well, partnered with Accor Hotels and now has over 61 hotels in their portfolio. Interglobe is among the front runners in technology and runs call centres for global airliners. This month, the group announced the branding of their overseas hotels portfolio, under the brand of Miiro.

Navin Berry: Recently when I heard of your getting a lifetime achievement award from a hospitality driven event, I was left wondering. How much of you is a hotelier? I have always known you as an aviation person? How and when did you become a hotelier as well?

Kapil Bhatia: This is an interesting story. I had a friend who was then the general manager of Air France in India. His son in law one day said they were looking for a hotel partner in India. Accor was looking for a partner in India. By then, the Accor group had briefly partnered with a few people in India, but without much success.

I had an internal discussion and Rahul’s idea was that budget hotels are the thing to do. So, I also joked and said, a budget family looking for a budget hotel for a budget client. So, this is how it started.

This is how long ago?

Oh, 2004 I think.

But it’s not that you were always keen on hospitality?

No, I was always more into travel and I was handling airlines as their GSA in India.

So, would you call it just a diversification?

It is the same customer centric business as is aviation; the customer is there in hospitality, it is the customer there in tourism as well.

Indigo signs for 50 wide body aircraft, signalling a tectonic shift in the airline strategy going forward, a game changer for India’s air transport industry.

There is a synergy, also. The person who will travel on your airline. He also needs a hotel room at the other end. What has been your view on tourism, the thirst to travel?

And that is my belief, principally. I remember some years back, you had given me an award for my role in aviation, I also got an award from the travel agents’ association, but then I am not for awards, and public appearances. I remain a strictly private person, happy to spend my evenings with friends over a drink. But when it comes to the spirit of travel, I remember saying only a few lines, as my acceptance, to that gathering in China, I said “having been born in this world, it is my birthright to see the world”. But then we have introduced so may barriers to travel. We have created passports, you got visas, you got numerous restrictions. You talk of differences in language, you talk of food variations. But may I know what language did Adam use to Eve in the Garden of Eden? And the most important thing, procreation took place!

So, there were no barriers, then. And now, there are so many?

Seriously, I often sit and think, I am unfit for this industry, I still cannot understand why people differentiate between people. I have taken to hospitality because for me the smile and satisfaction I see on the face of my guests is most important. Much more important than the profits, the EBITA, the balance sheets. I am most at home to see a satisfied customer walk out of my doors with a smile.

But your journey in hospitality, how do you look back upon it in the sense that say you’ve been around for 20 years, you have set up an empire of a good 50 plus hotels?

I think there are a total 61, if I have the number right. We have 13 in Europe. We have one in Australia in Melbourne. And we are completely renovating them. Two of them will be ready in Barcelona and Paris in July this year. And this will be a different concept of hospitality.

Any specific situations that you can recall that are etched in your memory?

There is a Shangri-La in Antaliya. I used to have an office there. One day I had an engagement for dinner at 7 pm with the director general. In between I thought I had some time on hand and wondered aloud if I can go shopping somewhere around. I was told there was one, close by. I put on my muffler and was preparing to go. When I gathered it was 6 degrees outside, with a high wind blowing. I did go out but it was so cold. In five minutes, I came back and the girl at the concierge asked if I had finished with my shopping? Actually no, it was too bloody cold, no shopping, I told her. And that I would rather go to the lodge and have a drink instead. So, on my way I went to my room first, there was a knock at the door. I opened it to see this young lady standing there with a tray in her hand. “Mr. Bhatia, you feel cold? Director F&B sends you apples stew and brandy”, she said. I was so touched, and this is what I remember of their hospitality, and then their people and the country, and it is always heart-warming to remember such episodes.

I understood this incident as a chain reaction within the eco-system at the hotel. The concierge had conveyed it to someone, that someone conveyed the message to the room service, and so on. It was hospitality with a smile.

And now for these hotels that you have in Europe? You said you are renovating them?

At that time when we bought them, they were known as K and K hotels. We are now going to have a brand of our own, called Miiro Hotels. In Gusta in Switzerland, which we are opening on 17th of May, which is a boutique hotel.

On another note, just curiosity, do you keep day to day kind of dialogue going with all the hotels?

They keep me informed. I am nobody in the company. First of all, there are regular board meetings. Number two, they send me monthly updates from all departments. I ask what I want to ask, if I need to.

It’s an interesting and most important day today, because you have announced your order of A350s on the aviation side.

See, there is always the need to stay updated. If you don’t, you will be left behind. I was at a university last year for a three day course. They asked why at this age? I said there is no age when you stop learning. When it is too late to learn? And secondly, if I don’t learn, I’ll be left behind. It is simple. Maybe you are talking artificial intelligence and data disruption but if I don’t keep myself informed, there’s no use.

So how are you relating this to the A350s?

Because today, every organization needs to play catch up, there is never sitting back on your present laurels. Change is permanent, the only one at that. As an airline, for all the growth we have registered, our range is limited. And, we need to stretch our wings. Presently, on our own, we only can go up to Singapore. And even for Istanbul, we have leased wide body aircrafts from Turkish Airlines.

What impact do you see this will have on Indigo?

As is evident, this gives us the leverage on long haul sectors. We have yet to decide upon the configuration, But the road is clear and we are ready for a global play from now onwards. It will change the way forward not only for Indigo as an airline, but for Indian aviation industry as a whole, for India as a hub in the global scene.

On a personal note, what is your fitness mantra? You keep an amazing poise for your age?

It’s a God given gift.

You are now 92?

I walk daily. Since this morning, I have already done 2.5 kms. (this meeting was at 1.30 pm) Yesterday it was 4.6 kms. By and large, I keep my walk to around 5 km daily.

You easily dismissed your fitness as God given, but that is your humility, your trademark over all these years? You have not changed. Your attitude to me is the same as it was 40 years ago.

So, tell me why should it not? Why must it change at all?

No, but it doesn’t happen to normal people. No, but your humility?

I have nothing to be proud of.

Your ability, your skill at telling stories, narration is all the same, all the same? Your sense of wit

I feel very uncomfortable in a VIP atmosphere. I’m mentally very happy with my own set of people, similar values. Enjoy yourself. That atmosphere of being important gives me discomfort.

I think some of that is also true of Rahul, he doesn’t like formal occasions. He is happy being with himself.

This is very true.

InterGlobe Launches its MIIRO Branded Hotels

A New Lifetsyle hotel brand, a collection of individually designed properties in bustling European cities, a new thrust from InterGlobe.

Miiro will open five properties in the next two years, with its debut hotel launching in Paris next summer. Miiro, a new lifestyle hotel brand, has announced plans to launch a characterful collection of individually designed hotels in the heart of Europe’s most vibrant cities, with Paris and Barcelona opening their doors in summer 2024, followed by London and Vienna in 2025.

Derived from the Latin word ‘miro’, meaning ‘I wonder’ and with the double vowel symbolising reflection, Miiro encourages guests to pause, to look around, and to savour every moment. Each hotel is inspired by the surrounding neighbourhood with its own colourful personality and connection to the local community.

Upcoming openings planned include:

Le Grand Hôtel Cayré, Paris – summer 2024

Miiro’s debut hotel, Le Grand Hôtel Cayré marks the rebirth of the historic Hôtel Cayré, where Parisian artists, writers, and intellectuals once resided. With a design inspired by the old-world charm of Saint-Germain-des-Prés, the hotel draws on the creative culture of the surrounding boulevards and avenues to create a new community within the neighbourhood. Alongside its 123 rooms and suites, the hotel’s classic French brasserie and exclusive bar are set to become a favourite for guests and locals alike. What’s more, from the doorstep, a wealth of galleries, boutiques, and bistros wait to be explored.

Borneta, Barcelona – summer 2024

Next, Borneta will open its doors in the charismatic old artisan quarter of El Born, Barcelona. The hotel has 92 rooms, an atmospheric restaurant with an open-plan kitchen, cocktail bar and a rooftop terrace offering spectacular views of downtown Barcelona. Positioned in one of the most interesting areas of the city, guests are invited to discover the charms of the Ciutat Vella, from its narrow streets and squares to its Gothic churches, and authentic bars and restaurants.

Templeton Garden, London – early 2025

An oasis in the capital, Templeton Garden is a 156-room hotel with a café-meets-deli, restaurant, bar and a standout garden. Situated in the leafy area of Earl’s Court, West London, which was once home to writers Beatrix Potter and Agatha Christie, guests can avoid the hustle and bustle of central London and enjoy a short walk to the city’s most loved museums, including the V&A and Natural History Museum, as well as Kensington Palace and The Thames riverside.

Launching Miiro forms part of InterGlobe’s diversification strategy into Europe, through unique hotel assets in premier European locations.

Neena Gupta, CEO of Miiro and Executive Director, Group Strategy and International Hospitality at InterGlobe Enterprises comments: “My team and I have been developing the Miiro brand for a number of years, from the initial market research to the present day, and I’m incredibly proud of what we have created together and delighted to be announcing its launch in 2024. We can’t wait to open the doors in Paris, Barcelona and London over the next year or so, and to continue growing the Miiro brand as we target further expansion in Europe’s most interesting city centre neighbourhoods. At InterGlobe we have a proven track record of identifying market opportunities and setting new benchmarks for industries, and Miiro will be no different. We believe there is a better way to travel that is more thoughtful and personal, and through creating Brilliantly Considered Stays that bring Miiro guests closer to the local culture, we can take the hospitality experience to a new level”.

Miiro is a venture from InterGlobe Enterprises, India’s foremost aviation and hospitality conglomerate that holds leadership positions in aviation, hospitality, and travel-related services and through its various businesses, employs more than 58,000 professionals globally.


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