Aman Nath and Francis Wacziarge bought Neemrana in 1986 and converted it into a hotel and opened in 1991. Today, this 77-suite hotel spreads over a mountainous region with a swimming pool, spa, hanging gardens, outdoor theater, hairdressers, restaurants, attic gardens and auditoria.
Built in 1464 and abandoned until 1947, the ancient fortress of Neemrana had been sold for 40 years. However, no one is “crazy enough” to spend 700,000 rupees (11,000 USD) on a pile of rubble bricks. In 1986, the historian with a great passion for the historical works, Aman Nath, and his friend Francis Wacziarge was actually crazy enough to do it.
Having only 15 rooms when first welcoming guests in 1991, the hotel quickly won the Intach-Satte award of the National Art and Cultural Heritage Foundation of India (INTACH) for tourism and embellishment in 2000. Neemrana is a typical example of appreciating ancient architecture with historical value. In 2004, the hotel was also nominated for the Aga Khan Award, a prestigious architectural award exclusively for Muslim countries.
In addition to restoring a desert historical architecture, the Neemrana hotel chain also provided jobs for many local laborers.
The success of Neemrana hotels is linked to the vision of its founders who wanted to make India a real experience and not just raise the bar towards excessive luxury Across properties, its 500 hotel staff are locally hired and trained with a purpose of instilling a sense of pride in their cuisine and culture. A conversation about a local tradition with the person who is serving you or eating a dish typical of that region is a far more real and memorable experience than having been to a cigar bar, feels Nath.
“Neemrana hotels,” says a regular Indian guest “wows you with their sheer authenticity, there are no pretensions.”
Nath says he never tried to strategize, always relied on his instincts and focused on what he would like himself. He adds, “Hotels are today made by executives using other people’s money, imagining what rich people would want and keep escalating standards to five, six and seven-star. We are not wooing luxury. Conspicuous luxury is in bad taste.”
Neemrana hotels are not plush, but different and don’t fit into any one category either luxury or mid-market, say industry experts.
Room rents vary hugely. You could pay as little as 2,500 rupees (39 USD) a night for a room in one of their properties in the Shekhavati region in the western Indian state of Rajasthan, while a room in the port city of Kochi can go up to 31,200 rupees (490 USD) a night during season time. Plus the average room rates at the flagship Neemrana Fort-Palace are higher than most 5-star hotels in Delhi.
Sonavi Kaicker, CEO of the hotel chain shared: “While we are committed to restoring Indian heritage and hiring locally, our properties have to be viable. We are a debt-free and profitable company,”
Uttam Dave, an expert in the hotel industry for 30 years, commented: “It is hard to put a label on them, they have built a brand but are not a serious player in the hotel business, they haven’t been driven by profit, the profits have been a result of a job well done.”
Although encouraged to expand business abroad, Nath still continues to restore the ancient heritage sites of his homeland and turn them into an attractive destination for tourists with authentic Indian cultural values.