LAHORE: Lahore is fondly called the cultural capital of Pakistan, and is famous for the heart-warming hospitality of its inhabitants.
Capitalising on these strengths, an entrepreneur wishes to open up a six-star luxury resort in the provincial capital soon. The hotel will cater to the local elite, and also has eyes on the prospects for the hospitality industry arising from an expansion in trade between India and Pakistan.
The idea is the brainchild of the Mainland Group of Companies, which established and manages the Royal Palm Golf and Country Club. The club is a recreational destination of choice for the country’s elite and corporate giants, and a popular venue for national and international conferences.
“Lahore badly needs a super luxury resort with new security codes. All existing hotels are operating with old security codes, as a result of which many foreign businessmen avoid visiting the city,” Mainland Group of Companies Chairman Sheikh Ramzan tells The Express Tribune.
The project was initially planned along with the golf course. The golf course was completed as per the schedule, but work on the hotel was suspended due to several reasons. A major factor was the barrage of criticism faced by the company management for using railways land for the resort, which was followed by inquiries from different committees and departments that were investigating the transparency of the deal. The second reason was a shrine within the premises of the golf course, which railways authorities had failed to shift. The third was the economic crisis which hit the country. Other reasons included the terrorist attacks on Marriot hotel and other venues.
Most obstacles, however, have almost been cleared now. The Railways board, after reviewing the deal, has allowed the management to shift the construction site of the hotel to the right of the golf club, near the tennis courts. In accordance with requirements, a revised agreement has also been prepared under the watch of the National Accountability Bureau.
However, Sheikh feels that time is already running short. “Different business delegations from India and other countries often feel insecure while staying in local hotels. We are just waiting for the honourable Supreme Court to dispose the petition [against the Royal Palm land], after which we will move forward in the execution of Phase Two of the project [the hotel],” he says. Once the petition is disposed off, it will take 24 to 30 months to complete the hotel, he adds.
The Mainland Group, through Abraaj Capital, has already inked an agreement with Jumeriah International for the construction of the building. The company has built around 300 hotels worldwide – most prominently the Burjul Arab in Dubai.
The Mainland Group will invest $20 million in the project, which will create around 1,000 jobs.
“Two Indian hospitality brands – the Taj Mahal and Grand hotels – have also expressed an interest in constructing the hotel for us,” Sheikh tells The Express Tribune. “This is only due to the huge potential in the hospitality industry, especially in the context of Indo-Pak trade,” he adds.
In the Musharraf era, while economic activities were at a peak, eight 5-star hotels were planned for the city. These included the Hyatt Agency near the airport; the Grand Hyatt on Ferozepur road; JW Marriot on Jail Road; the Fairmont hotel on the Mall Road; the Pearl Continental Towers in the Pearl Continental Hotel; the Flatties hotel on Egerton Road; and the Royal Palm Resort.
However, subsequent economic crises and the deteriorating law and order situation led to the shelving of these projects. Currently, work on the Hyatt Agency is ongoing, but at snail’s pace. The Flatties hotel merely overhauled an old structure, while the Pearl Continental has added some new rooms to its existing capacity. The Nishat Group has recently purchased a chunk of land near the Lahore Expo Centre from the Lahore Development Authority, and has reserved it for a hotel.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 29th, 2012.
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