An ode to the ‘Doyen of Indian Hospitality’ - Hindustan Times

An ode to the ‘Doyen of Indian Hospitality’

Nov 21, 2023 12:35 PM IST

Prithvi Raj Singh Oberoi, Chairman Emeritus of the Oberoi Group passed away on November 14 morning, leaving a legacy that will inspire people for years to come.

Known as ‘Biki’, Oberoi was truly a legend of the hospitality world, one who led the management of luxury hotels across the globe and played an important role in the success of Oberoi Hotels and Resorts.

Among his many accolades was receiving India’s second-highest civilian honour, the Padma Vibushan, in 2008.
Among his many accolades was receiving India’s second-highest civilian honour, the Padma Vibushan, in 2008.

Prithvi Raj Singh Oberoi, Chairman Emeritus of the Oberoi Group, passed away on November 14 morning, leaving a legacy that will inspire India’s hospitality scene for years to come. Fondly known as Biki, he was a legend of the hospitality world, one who led the management of luxury hotels across the globe and played an important role in the success of Oberoi Hotels and Resorts.

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The former executive chairman of EIH Limited, The Oberoi Group flagship, Biki was a documentarian of the trade; a reporter on luxury and leisure who knew what separated great service from good and an inspiration for future thought leaders. Born in 1929, he was the son of the founder and chairman of Oberoi Hotels & Resorts, Rai Bahadur Mohan Singh Oberoi. His observant nature and attention to detail made several properties a success. For instance, at The Oberoi Rajvilas, Jaipur, people would joke that more money was spent on watering the lawns than the property earned. The establishment later became one of the most prominent stays in the country.

Among his many accolades was receiving India’s second-highest civilian honour, the Padma Vibushan, in 2008. In 2010, Hotels magazine awarded him the title of corporate Hotelier of the World. In June 2022, the International Hospitality Institute acknowledged him in the list of the 100 Most Powerful People in Global Hospitality.

Sunil Sethi, Chairman, Fashion Design Council Of India

For me, he defined luxury as a standard that so many of us can never reach. My clients often stayed at The Oberoi, and the level of luxury and service was so high that people changed their opinion about India. For a newcomer like me, who was trying to establish himself in the early ‘90s, trying to get more people to visit and source from India, this was the perfect beginning. Recently, on Teacher’s Day (September 5), I sent him a text message saying, ‘I consider you my inspiration and guru’. From his style of work, I incorporated his legendary attention to detail and valued the style tips I got from him whenever I met him.

Kapil Chopra, former President of Oberoi Group and Founder, of EazyDiner and The Postcard Hotel

Mr Oberoi’s idea to build world-class hotels in India was way ahead of its time. He believed in the Indian story as much as we do today, except he did so 30 years ago. And that is why he never compromised on what he was building. His focus on attention to detail and his dream of making the best hotels in India will continue to inspire generations and set new benchmarks of service excellence. May he rest in eternal peace.

Manish Mehrotra, Chef and Restaurateur

I have a very fond memory of Mr Oberoi coming to Indian Accent for dinner. This was one of the rarest occasions when he dined outside any Oberoi restaurant. He took a 13-course menu and thoroughly enjoyed it. He himself said that he rarely ate outside Oberoi restaurants, and this was one of those very nice experiences. I’ll cherish that day forever. His coming to Indian Accent for a meal was truly iconic and memorable for me.

Aruna Dhir, Author

It feels like a personal loss because I am an ex-Os (ex-Oberois). In 1998, I worked with the Oberoi Group and was hired personally by Mr Oberoi, so I feel very much a part of the extended Oberoi family. He may have passed away but he will always be alive in each of us whose lives he has touched. I recall an instance when filmmaker Mira Nair, who was in Delhi to shoot Monsoon Wedding (2001), wanted to shoot at the Oberoi, but the hotel arranged that only after assuring Mr Oberoi that the guest experience wouldn’t be disturbed. He was very caring towards his employees, too. I brought out the newsletters for their in-house magazine and if one was doing a good job, he would always tell you how good they were. He had his finger on the pulse of every little or big thing, he knew exactly what was happening at his hotel and who was doing what.

Nakul Anand, Executive Director, ITC LTD

Mr Oberoi’s death is a huge loss for all of us. A leader par excellence, he redefined the concept of luxury and built an institution that set global standards of brilliance. Mr Oberoi’s legacy extends beyond the magnificent hotels he built. He always led from the front and transformed some of the properties in a manner that won international acclaim. In his lifetime, he touched innumerable lives, including mine. His vision and values continue to shine across all his creations and are a testament to the dream he made come true—a dream that shall live through his family.

Vikas Khanna, Michelin Star-Awarded Chef and Restaurateur

The reason Indian hotels survived the pressure from international chains was because of the standards Mr Oberoi set for us. I worked at Soaltee Hotel, a landmark property managed by the Oberoi group in Kathmandu since 1969, and it’s the most standardised way of understanding hospitality—warm yet invisible. I spoke to him once over a video call when he congratulated me on my fourth Michelin Star. I still remember how he said, ‘We have to hold each other’s hands to rise together’.

Suvir Saran, Chef

He has shown the world the compelling heft of intuitive service when it marries the warmth of Indian hospitality with Western sensibilities and standards. A gaping crater of a hole has now been created in the corridors of hotel hospitality, a hole that will be impossible to fill. As a chef beginning my professional life in Manhattan (New York, USA) in the 1990s, it was Biki Oberoi that I looked up to as an idol. The polish and sophistication that Mr Oberoi brought to the Oberoi Hotel group is magnificent.

Tarun Sibal, Chef Entrepreneur

I trained at the Oberoi New Delhi and though I only got to meet the man once extremely briefly, it’s the ethos of the man that stuck a cord with me. Hospitality 101 is how I describe this ethos and the sheer grit to gaze and accomplish what people thought was not doable.

Anoothi Vishal, Author, Columnist, Food historian

The passing of Mr PRS Oberoi marks the end of an era of luxury hospitality. When I began writing on hospitality in circa 2000, stories about surprise checks, and Mr Oberoi’s quick eye that could catch an errant thread hanging from a tablecloth in the presence of his staff and such were already legendary. The “Oberoi style of service”, as it is known in the industry, is precise and polished, too owed its character to his personality. All these remain amongst us as benchmarks for luxury hotels in India.

Kunal Kapur, Celebrity Chef and Restaurateur

It is truly a privilege to reflect on the remarkable legacy Mr. P.R.S. Oberoi has left in the world of hospitality. Mr Oberoi’s journey has been nothing short of inspiring. His visionary leadership and commitment to delivering unparalleled guest experiences have set new benchmarks in the hospitality sector. I recall a particular instance during my 2nd stay at one of The Oberoi properties, where the staff, inspired by Mr Oberoi’s philosophy, remembered my preferences in food, room type, right to the right temperature of water and the kind of chocolates I enjoy. He once told me Uniqueness is a Gift and is what a true leader looks to sharpen in his team.

Harpal Singh Sokhi, Celebrity Chef

It is such a big loss to the industry with Mr P R S Oberois's demise. Having worked at Oberoi Bhubaneswar my first job as a trainee cook, I remember the hotel being personally designed by Mr Oberoi and he had come to visit once for two days but stayed for 14 days and we had a great pleasure serving him. His attention to detail and equipping the kitchens of Oberoi hotels with the latest equipment was a top priority.

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