Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh
The era of kings and queens, of nawaabs and rajas, of wildlife safaris and tiger hunts may long have ended, but their once regal abodes yet stand witness to the eras past. The keepers of that heritage have wisely turned hoteliers, and are able to restore the high-maintenance properties to their old glory opening the doors to the traveler wanting to relive the experience of eras past and soak in the whispered lore and history. We connected with Mr Faiz Rashid, Director at Jehan Numa Group of Hotels, a direct descendent of the royals of Bhopal. Second generation since the family entered into the hospitality business, he along with his brother Aly Rashid, are better equipped with the essential training and knowhow, and have added alluring getaways for the traveler.
Neelima Agrawal – When Jehan Numa Palace Hotel opened in 1983, it was the first hospitality venture by your family (as I understand). In the past decade there is an exponential growth with new properties and a new energy in the Group. What and who would you attribute this to?
Faiz Rashid – Jehan Numa is a regal 19th Century palace built by General Obaidullah Khan. His grandchildren, Mr Nader Rashid and late Mr Yavar Rashid decided to convert his Palace into a luxury hotel in 1983. Jehan Numa Palace is an amalgamation of British colonial, Italian Renaissance and classic Greek architecture. Today the palace has ninety eight rooms including six suites, various F&B options and a luxurious Spa. Last few years have seen many new additions to the brand portfolio, namely Reni Pani Jungle Lodge. Jahan Numa Retreat. and the latest addition, the Bori Safari Lodge. The hotels are built on a solid foundation of values that were non-negotiable. The next Generation has grown the business in a phased manner so that they can understand their guests better. The hotels have been built with passion and love and every small detail is looked into personally.
How much has the two pandemic years impacted your business?
The two pandemics have had a direct impact on the industry. During the lockdowns we spent a lot of our time ensuring we create a safe environment for our guests, to come and experience the Jehan Numa Hospitality. In all our hotels we have ensured that our guests get to relax and unwind in tranquil settings, which are in the lap of nature. All our experiences are curated in large open spaces and guests are naturally social distance from each other. We also took special care of our staff and ensured we paid them full salaries during these difficult times. We created a special bond within the Jahan Numa family. And in short, we overcame this crisis together.
Did the Jehan Numa Retreat and Reni Pani Jungle Lodge see a boost in visitor flow in 2020 and 2021, in view that people flocked to such venues with all the lockdown and pandemic fear?
All of our leisure properties, namely the Palace, the Retreat. Reni Pani, and Borii Safari Lodge saw good numbers as many of our guests looked for remote getaways during the two lockdowns. The first lockdown in 2020 taught us a lot of lessons and we implemented our learning in the 2021 lockdown. During the lockdown we went back to the drawing board, to ensure that when we reopened the safety and well-being of our guests is of paramount importance, to us. We actively reinvented our processes so no stone was left unturned for the safety of our guests.
You have recently added the Bori Safari Lodge. Do you see a trend in rise in tourism to eco-resorts in general and the beautiful forests around Bhopal in particular?
There is definitely a growing trend for eco-lodges and jungle-lodges. We have seen an increase in demand for people opting for wildlife lodges and sustainable holidays. Bori. Safari Lodge is a small format lodge so we can offer personalized wildlife experiences to all our guests. This was one of the main reasons why we decided to open a wildlife lodge in the Satpura Tiger Reserve.
Bhopal has always been a beautiful city, culturally rich, with its laidback people. The pace seems to be shifting in the past few years. Do you see Jehan Numa Palace Hotel expanding to accommodate the increased tourist traffic?
We are not really looking at expanding the property, but instead expanding our experiences to offer something unique in the city. The Jahan Numa Palace is already a 100-room hotel and we want to keep it at that scale, but want to offer something very different, very unique, which other hotels are unable to offer in the city
You bear the legacy of a rich past, as a direct descendent of powerful women rulers, the Begums of Bhopal. Although born in a modern India, how much of that has impacted you?
We have grown up away from all this, since we were sent to a boarding school at a very young age. Having said that, we do understand where we come from, and try and take our legacy forward.
Seeing your impressive resume with a degree in hotel management from the famous Gilon Hotel School in Switzerland and an MBA from Macquarie Graduate School of Management in Sydney, were you groomed early on for your role in the family hospitality business?
We grew up seeing the hotel expand in front of us and the amount of hard work the family had put in. I was keen to take this legacy forward and decided to pursue my career in hospitality.
Until a decade ago, Jehan Numa was one of the few Star hotels in Bhopal. Now the big brands are arriving, with the recent opening of the Taj Lake Front. How does this impact you?
We truly believe competition is healthy and helps us improve our product. We are always being innovative and working on improving our experiences and offering something different from the large-format hotels. This is what makes us unique and helps create a name for us in the city.
You have worked with the Taj and the Oberoi hotels prior to your MBA. What was the best practice that inspired you for your own venture in Jehan Numa?
Working with two of India’s best hotels taught me a lot. But one thing that stands out is the attention to detail.
What do you do for fun? (since forest retreats are your work place)
Spending time with the family and going for wildlife holidays to different parts of the world
What would Faiz Rashid like to be if not a hotelier?
I would definitely do something related to hospitality. It could be hotels, lodges restaurants, Etc. But something related to the hotel industry or Hospitality in general.
The Noor-us Sabah Hotel is also by another branch of your family. Is there any collaboration or conflict?
Noor-us Sabah was also a family property that was built by the begums and was sold to a local businessman who decided to convert it into a heritage hotel. The Jahan Numa Palace, and the Noor-us Sabah are two Heritage hotels that are operational in Bhopal and cater to leisure guests coming into the city.