About 40 guests were allowed to check in at the newly reopened luxury Oberoi hotel in Mumbai, one of three hotels attacked by Islamist militants in November 2008. Between $35 million and $40 million was spent on its renovation.
AFP - One of three luxury hotels in Mumbai attacked by Islamist militants nearly 18 months ago on Saturday welcomed back guests for the first time, with a low-key reopening and promises of a fresh start.
About 40 guests checked in at The Oberoi, a spokeswoman said, as the five-star seafront hotel in the south of India's financial capital begins to put the horrors of November 2008 behind it.
A small reopening ceremony was held in the vast atrium of the hotel, but otherwise it was business-as-usual, as bellhops in white, starched uniforms and other staff bustled around the polished marble lobby.
Outside, checks on vehicles, luggage scanning and body searches were evidence of tighter security now in place at all luxury hotels and landmarks in the city.
"For the last 18 months we've got quite used to the extra security," said Pravina Mecklai, an art gallery owner having lunch with her family at the lavish Fenix restaurant at the hotel.
"It irritated you initially, getting patted down or having your handbag searched. But it's better safe than sorry."
The Oberoi, popular with business travellers and VIPs and part of the everyday social scene for Mumbai's elite, was reduced to a shell in the deadly three-day siege, with its rooms severely damaged by fire, smoke and water.
Between 35 million and 40 million dollars has been spent on its renovation.
Mecklai and her family, who were not directly caught up in the attacks but knew some of the 166 people who died, said they were impressed with the revamp and had been eagerly anticipating the reopening.
"When I came in today I found myself choked," said Jamal Mecklai, who runs a financial risk management company and used to come to The Oberoi regularly before the attacks.
"Nothing happened to me but it's beautiful, lovely to be back."
His daughter, Priyanka Rai, who works for British bank Barclays, described the reopening as "like a birthday party and Christmas" rolled into one.
"I'm so glad it's open. It's fantastic," she told AFP.
The adjoining Trident hotel and nearby Taj Mahal Palace and Tower, which were also stormed by heavily armed gunmen, both reopened within a month of the deadly attacks.
Thirty-five people were killed in all in a hail of bullets and grenades at the Trident and Oberoi.
But unlike the Taj, which has a visible permanent memorial to its fallen staff and guests, or the Trident, where there is a more subtle plaque to the victims, The Oberoi has no permanent tribute to those who died.
The "completely fresh beginning" that hotel management have promised also includes three of the hotel's four restaurants being renamed.
The head of Oberoi Resorts and Hotels, Liam Lambert, said this week that demand is expected to pick up slowly as the annual monsoon rains approach in June, which is low season for tourists in India.
Before the attacks, The Oberoi pulled in revenue of about 36 million dollars a year, he added.
Both the East India Hotels Company, which runs the Trident and The Oberoi, plus the Indian Hotels Company Ltd, a unit of the giant Tata Group that operates the Taj, both saw profits plunge after the attacks.
To recoup losses, The Oberoi, which has played host to dignitaries including former US president Bill Clinton and pop star Michael Jackson, has cut the number of rooms by 50 to 287 but added more suites.
Room rates start at 500 dollars a night and go up to 6,750 dollars a night for the top executive suite.
Date created : 2010-04-24