Heritage boutique hotel Alila Fort Bishangarh recently celebrated its first anniversary after a 10 year restoration and announced to have bagged the ‘Best Restoration’ award by Hospitality Design.
The company maintains, the name Alila, stands for “Surprise” in Sanskrit and describes the refreshing character of properties and impressions of guests when they come and stay. “To stay at any of Alila’s hotels and resorts is to embark on a destination experience,” a statement adds.
According to Doris Goh, chief marketing officer at Two Roads Hospitality Asia, the parent company, the brand has embarked on an exciting journey, to arrive with five distinct brands for its development into Asia Pacific and the West Asia. “Today, we have 14 operating properties and one Ship sailing the Flores Seas. 2017 was a busy year for brand Alila with the opening of Alila Fort Bishangarh, India, in July and Alila Yangshuo a former sugar mill in Guilin-China, in October. In that same month, we debut in California, USA with the reopening of Ventana Big Sur – An Alila Resort,” she adds.
The brand is working on new project developments in India and is introducing ‘restrained luxury’ along with its drive towards sustainable tourism and has signed two new projects in Andaman and Goa.
There are 40 new projects throughout Asia on target for next five years. “For now we are looking at opening Alila Wuzhen in China this October, Alila Villas Koh Russey Cambodia this November and Alila Koggala Sri Lanka next April. India has so many beautiful and unexplored regions and we hope to be able to chart an Alila journey through these amazing destinations,” Doris adds.
This 18th-century Bishangarh fort once designed for combat is now luxury resort. Brand Alila is managed by a skilled local and global team that recently gave a facelift to Yangshuo a former sugar mill in Guilin-China and reopened it as a luxury resort.
The history of the Shahpura royalty is reflected well in Fort Bishangarh with its mix of stark and refined features. The architecture is influenced by Mughals and the British, and the fortified seven foot thick walls still retain openings for cannons and guns. Like most military posts, the fort’s first line of defence was its location—the steep, rocky terrain leading up to it. The structure was built for battle—designed to be invincible, impregnable and uninviting.
It was no easy task to restore the abandoned fort to its modern day grandeur. As the story goes, in 2007, Atul Kapur, one of the three owners of Alila Fort Bishangarh, began a 10-year battle to resurrect an abandoned fort on the outskirts of Jaipur into the 59-suite hotel. It was Sandeep and Ritu Khandelwal of Sthapatya, a Jaipur-based architecture practice who gave it a final facelift after 10 years of craft and toil.
As Doris puts it: “It was a long-awaited opening for Alila Fort Bishangarh, a 10-year pursuit in crafting the adaptive reuse of a 230-year-old warrior fort into one of India’s most unique heritage properties. Immense challenges had to be overcome – including stabilising and strengthening the ruins, constructing a road up to the fort, finding circulation through its 3m-thick walls, and deciphering the unconventional puzzle of its organic structure, which featured not a single 90-degree wall. Its attention to ecological architecture and adaptive reuse, resulted in Alila Fort Bishangarh winning the coveted Award for ‘Best Restoration’ project at Hospitality Design’s 14th annual HD Awards in the US as the only property in India to beat a lineup of the best in the US and Europe. The gradual setup and subsequent operations of Alila Fort Bishangarh have also led to the evolution and enhancement of the village – Bishangarh, fulfilling our brand philosophy of integrating commerce, community and conservation in our business model.”
Situated on the edge of the Aravalli Hills, overlooking the quaint village of Bishangarh, the fortress mirrors its rural simplicity.
According to her, design ideas of the past were encapsulated in a way that serve today’s needs best.
“With the rise in both Indian domestic and outbound travel, we are focusing efforts on marketing it as a destination experience from rediscovering India to Indonesia, Malaysia, Oman, China and soon Cambodia and Sri Lanka in the hope of having more experiential Indian travellers as our brand advocates at home and beyond,”
For Alila Fort Bishangarh, the hospitality group hopes to grow a niche domestic clientele, that values the authentic splendour of living in a real fortress, going back in time, where less is more – and enjoys genuine hospitality in a real working village yet unmarred by the spoils of tourism.
The hospitality brand has high hopes from India.“India’s tourism and hospitality industry has a good report card, emerging as one of the key drivers of growth for the country. The first 4 months of 2018, saw tourism receipts increased 17.4 per cent year-on-year to hit $10.62 billion. However safety and security concerns are the most important factors, which can negatively impact tourism. Alila resorts in India caters largely to a discerning domestic market so we are focusing our sales and marketing initiatives on curating couple celebrations, family escapades, occasions to remember and corporate retreats and meetings. We deliver new Alila destination experiences at Bishangarh and Goa to our foreign travel partners and Alila global network of friends and fans,” she adds.
For her the brand must reflect a sense of place, and allow the guest access into the destination, its people and culture with engaging and meaningful activities for our guests’ pursuits.
“We believe that our presence in a destination should also benefit and positively impact the lives of its community. At Alila Fort Bishangarh, many of our service team are hailed from the local village and trained to deliver the Alila standards. Part of the Alila Experience is to give our guests an insight into the lives of the villagers. We bring our guests to visit them for an authentic Alila Experience,” she adds.