Priya Paul started her career under her father, the late Surrendra Paul, as the Marketing Manager of The Park in New Delhi. She repositioned The Park Hotels as India’s first and only collection of contemporary luxury boutique hotels. Under her direction, The Park Hotels have emerged as stylish, edgy, fun and warm – a true reflection of her personality and her passion for contemporary art and design.
Priya Paul is Executive Committee Member and Ex-President of the Hotel Association of India. She is a founding member of the World Travel and Tourism Council – India Initiative, and a Trustee of the India Foundation for the Arts (IFA) and Chairperson, South Asia Women’s Fund and a member of Harvard Business Schools’ India Advisory Board.
A four-time nominee as Business Woman of the year by The Economic Times, Priya Paul received the FHRAI (Federation of Hotel andRestaurant Association of India) Entrepreneur of the Year Award in 2000, was recognized by Forbes online as one of India’s 100 most powerful business women in 2006, and took home the Zee Astitva Award in the Business category in 2008. She has also been awarded the ‘Spa Personality of the Year’ for the year, India Today Woman in Business Award and PHD Chamber-Distinguished Women Entrepreneur Award for 2009-2010 and has been inducted into the FHRAI Hall of Fame in 2010.
Recently she was awarded for “Excellence in Design Innovation 2011” by Conde Nast Traveller India, at a glittering event in New Delhi. She was honored for seamlessly combining her passion for boutique hotels and her love of contemporary art and high-function design. “Designomist 2011” at VGC Designomics 2011 was bestowed to Ms. Paul for creating unique experiences for the guests across the world with a visual feast of design aesthetics and originality in each of the exquisitely designed boutique hotels.
Ms. Priya Paul was also just awarded the Aatithya Ratna Award by Hotel Investment Forum India, 2011. This award was established by HIFI to honor an individual who exemplifies the extraordinary spirit of hospitality. ‘Hall of Fame 2011’ was bestowed to her by Hotelier India. The acknowledgement was for her contribution to the hotel industry for last 25 years.
Priya Paul has a BA in Economics from Wellesley College. She also completed the Owner President Management Program at Harvard Business School.
In the 1990s, hotels were still formal places, and Paul says she tried to make them hip by opening lounge bars, discos (Someplace Else, the club-pub-disco at The Park, New Delhi and Kolkata, tried to be just that), innovative restaurants (some of which did not succeed and had to be closed down) and by sponsoring fashion and art shows, which companies did not really do in those days. Many of the top designers today—such as Manish Arora and Rina Dhaka— had some of their earliest shows at The Park.
Paul’s decision to rope in UK-based designer Terence Conran to redesign the Bangalore hotel was key. It opened in 2001, and its unusual design was a novelty for India at the time: “As the city itself was going through a transition, it was easy for us to break new ground there and then move on”.
Long-time friend and Coimbatore-based industrialist Rajshree Pathy speaks of the “zing factor” that sets Paul apart. “What I most admire is how she constantly challenges herself and succeeds each time. She’s driven and determined and her eclectic sensibilities have created these great hotels—each one is so different from the other. The Park, Chennai, for instance, has changed the face of that conservative city.”
What of the future? “There’s a whole new breed of Indian designers now who can give us the same kind of results that I would have earlier got only from the likes of Conran,” says Paul. The hotels division has raised $55 million (approx. Rs215 crore) for its expansion plan, both in India and abroad, through a recent private equity deal with Credit Suisse.
On the personal front, Paul has managed to strike the perfect balance in her marriage to Sethu Vaidyanathan, a Chennai-based businessman whom she met when she was working on The Park, Chennai. They married in 2004 (“life decisions taken later than usual help put things in a balanced perspective”) and have a son, Surya Vir. The couple travel between Chennai and New Delhi, and try not to work on weekends. “I have so much family support in both cities, it makes my demanding job that much easier,” she says. They holiday often in Goa, where Paul’s mother has a house, and in Kerala.
Paul’s office, on a quiet road off the busy Parliament Street, where we met again for a quick wrap up, is no testament to the kind of design her hotels are known for. It is a warm and cluttered room, full of books on design, Post-its and scribble pads. Here, she is more wife and mother than successful hotelier, cancelling a dinner engagement and poring over the next day’s itinerary so she can spend the evening with her family