BHN talks to Arun Kumar, the general manager at the newly opened Lalit London on Tooley Street, the first property outside of India for The Lalit Hotels. The 70-room Grade II listed property has been meticulously restored and now features an intriguing mixture of British architecture and Indian interior design.
• What is your background in hotels and where did you work before coming to The Lalit London?
“I have 19 years of operational and management experience at a wide range of four- and five-star luxury establishments. Prior to Lalit I was working with Hilton, and have also worked for InterContintal.”
• How did you first become aware of/involved with The Lalit London?
“Lalit’s search for the perfect candidate was going on for more than two years, as the role requires a very unique skill set. And I was approached by the group in late 2015 – after several meetings we started working together.”
• Can you give us an overview of the building’s history and how Lalit Hotels came to own it?
“The building has a history and tradition attached to it. It was constructed by Edward Mountford for St. Olave’s Grammar School, which occupied the site until 1968. From 1969 onwards it was occupied by Lambeth College, until 2004. Subsequently it was lying vacant. The owners of The Lalit were looking for a property in London and the moment they looked at it they knew this was the property they wanted. It is one of the few surviving heritage building in this area.”
• How long did the renovations take and what were the biggest challenges you faced?
“The renovations took almost five years to restore the building to its original glory. The biggest challenges came in terms of restoring the original wooden flooring, wooden panelling, the great hall, the grand staircase and restoring original plaster of Paris work. Even the exterior of the building was restored to its original state. Since it is a Grade II listed heritage building the process of restoration was very meticulous.”
• Can you tell us about the very personal involvement of the Lalit’s owners in this particular project?
The owners have been personally involved in the entire restoration process. All the interiors have been brought from India and demonstrate the mix of Indian culture with British architecture. From blue handmade chandeliers, tapestry, furniture, mother of pearl inlay ceilings – all have the imprint of our owners. Moreover this hotel is a tribute to our founder chairman.”
• Which element of the building are you personally most proud of?
“It is very hard to choose as every part of the building is unique and special to me.”
• What has been the reaction to the property from guests and the hotel industry, and what is your guest demographic?
“Both guests and fellow hospitality professionals are in love with this property. The interiors and the service go hand in hand and I am very proud of what we have achieved here. In relation to demographics, the current split is around 25 per cent from the UK, 15 per cent from Europe, 20 per cent from India, 20 per cent from the US, 10 per cent from the Middle East and 10 per cent from Russia.”
• Do you think the guest profile will change as the hotel becomes better known and the surrounding area is transformed?
“Considering the recent growth and development in this area for the market as a whole, I would say yes. For Lalit London there will be some minor shift in the mix.”
• Does Lalit Hotels have plans for any further UK or European hotels, and if so where?
“We have a long term strategy for our European expansion but for the moment we would like to concentrate on this property and establish our name with our serviced and hospitality.”