Delhi Aerocity finally takes off; welcomed by industry

New Delhi, Oct 22 (IANS) Delhi Aerocity, a 43-acre hospitality and commerical district near the Indira Gandhi International Airport, is finally - after clearing a lot of hurdles - seeing the light of the day and is expected to usher in volumes and growth for both the aviation and hospitality industries.

Expected to ultimately house 16 luxury hotels and commercial spaces, it was conceived and approved as a part of the Delhi Airport master plan five years ago.

"The hospitality district of the aerocity offers quick access to the airport, besides being centrally located between the business areas of Delhi and Gurgaon," Rajiv Chib, associate director, PricewaterhouseCoopers, told IANS. "It is thus a logical extension of any major international airport and needs to be made functional at the earliest."

Chib's views were corroborated by national carrier Air India, which made the IGI airport as its hub way back in 2010.

According to the airline, Aerocity provides convenience to passengers. "Worldwide, frequent travellers prefer to stay in places like an Aerocity to conduct their business as fast as possible and then depart, avoiding traffic or any other hindrances.

"Aerocity thus adds another incentive for business and for long distance passengers to travel. It provides choices for stay nearby the city not only for travellers but for aircrew as well," said a senior Air India official based in Delhi.

Sectoral experts say the hospitality sector will benefit out of added room space in the area.

One of the properties slated to start full-fledged operations next month said it expected to capture a large chunk of business travel and meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions (MICE) market.

"We firmly believe that the hotel will become the most sought-after venue for the business and MICE segment in New Delhi," Balan Paravantavida, general manager, JW Marriott Hotel New Delhi Aerocity, which had a soft launch last Friday, told IANS.

Hotel industry sources say Lemon Tree Premier and Red Fox are in line to start operations soon. Four of the 16 hotels are ready and construction on others are in full swing, generating keen interest among airlines and passengers.

"Aerocity is ideally suited for the corporate and small and medium (SME) travellers due to a vast range of hotels and convenience, especially for those travellers who are either on a short business trip or are on an overnight stay catching connecting flight," said Sharat Dhall, president, Yatra.com.

"The added hotel room inventory from Aerocity will bring a correction in room prices in the region. This might in turn lead to cheaper fares, thus promoting travel to Delhi."

The Aerocity project was slated to be completed before the 2010 Commonwealth Games providing 5,100 rooms and to generate 10,000 direct employment opportunities and 30,000 indirect employment.

The land was leased out by Delhi International Airport (P) Ltd (DIAL), and is intended to be on a par with facilities in and around airports like Singapore's Changi airport.

But security agencies including Delhi Police, Bureau of Civil Aviation Security (BCAS) and others had raised concerns over the proximity of the hotels to the runway. At 300 metres from the runway overlooking the VIP section of the airport was considered a threat and a slew of measures like bulletproof windows to intruder detection systems were recommended by an expert group which had gone on study tours to Amsterdam and Dallas.

After a lot of representations, the Cabinet Committee on Investment, which was formed to fast-track stuck projects like the Aerocity, in July opted for a glass wall to be erected around hotels with the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) providing the specifications.

Apart from an expected long-term growth in the Indian aviation sector, the hospitality district hotels are also betting on the fact that Delhi airport will possibly cater to two airlines as a hub. Recently, Indian industrial conglomerate Tata Sons and Singapore Airlines applied to the Foreign Investment Promotion Board (FIPB) for starting a full service carrier which will be based out of New Delhi.

"Delhi having two airlines as a hub is good for passengers as there is infrastructure here and tremendous potential for growth," Ankur Bhatia, executive director, Bird Group, whose company is developing the Dusit D2 hotel brand, told IANS.

(Rohit Vaid can be contacted at rohit.v@ians.in)