|By Hannah Sampson, The Miami
HeraldMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News
Aug. 16, 2011--Vikram Chatwal's boutique hotels can be found in New York City, Thailand, India -- and now Miami Beach.
Chatwal was in town last month for the grand opening of Dream South Beach at 1111 Collins Ave., a 108-room hotel made up of the former Palmer House and Tudor Hotel, the historic buildings connected by a central courtyard.
Born in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, Chatwal also lived in Montreal before moving to New York. His father, Sant Singh Chatwal, founded Hampshire Hotels & Resorts in 1986; after starting out as an analyst at Morgan Stanley, the younger Chatwal joined the family business. He created Vikram Chatwal Hotels, a division of his father's company that includes properties such as The Time, Stay, Night and Dream, when he was 28.
Earlier this year, Wyndham Hotel Group announced it had entered into an agreement to franchise and manage Dream and Night hotel brands across the globe, which means the Dream in South Beach won't be the last hotel to open bearing that name.
Chatwal's reputation extends beyond the hospitality business. He's worked as a Bollywood actor and he has made headlines for his social life. Of late, though, he said he's been partying less and concentrating more on work.
QUESTION First, The New York Times recently wrote that you have embraced sobriety after a couple of trips to rehab and that you are focusing on professional success rather than partying. Can you talk about the decision to shift your focus and how it's playing out in your life so far?
ANSWER: As you get older, you start to realize what you really want to start doing for a living or every day as a profession, and I just chose to own and design hotels and do films because those are the industries that I love to work in and that I have a passion for.
Q: South Beach is known as a party destination; on your recent visit to open your new hotel here, did you find it a welcoming atmosphere for someone who is more interested in business than decadence?
A: I found it very welcoming -- South Beach is like a family. All the other hotels and restaurants were very inviting and they helped us out by coming to the opening and telling us about the local community. Even though it is a big and exciting city, it's still very much a small networking town where people are very open, very friendly and has a great energy.
Q: When you go on vacation, what do you do?
A: I like to visit different beaches and different islands, and I built a yacht so I go boating. Currently I am in Ibiza -- so I am here and I plan to go to the south of Italy and to Croatia as well.
Q: What is your favorite hotel in the world and why?
A: I'd have to say my favorite hotel would probably be the Amanjiwo, which is in Borobudur, Indonesia because it's perfectly round, circular, just has a beautiful view and beautiful rooms.
Q: Dream South Beach excluded, what is your favorite place to stay in South Florida?
A: I like the W and the Setai South Beach
Q: What's the best thing you can reach in a five-minute walk from the Dream South Beach?
A: You can go to The Webster, on 12th and Collins. It's housed in an old hotel and the clothes are fantastic.
Q: Your other hotels are in New York, Thailand and India. Why expand to Miami Beach?
A: Miami is a very funky city and I respect Art Deco. I think it's the American Riviera really -- with the beaches and the boating -- so I just wanted to have a place there because I go there a lot and it's a good market for hotels.
Q: What room would you recommend to your best friend?
A: I would recommend the Sun Suite, which is the presidential suite. It's two floors and two bedrooms with a big living room and its own private deck -- nice place!
Q: How do you convey the concept of 'Dream' throughout a hotel?
A: We have something that is surreal and thought provoking. It creates more of a surreal vibe so people can imagine whatever they see in the design.
Q: With Wyndham's agreement to franchise Dream and Night hotels, do you envision a Dream or Night in every big city? What do you expect the future to hold for the brands and how much involvement will you have in that?
A: Well, I design the Dream and Night, so I am going to work with a big designer to come up with a format or a basic foundation of what we want the product to look like, and I'll be deciding where to do the hotels and also choosing which cities and which properties. We want to be in most metropolitan cities, in most growing urban areas and in trendy places that have a lot of industries and people.
Q: BlackBerry: blessing or curse?
A: Addiction. [laughs]
Q: Thinking back to the financial meltdown that hit the globe in 2008, was there a moment when you saw the ripple effects in your business?
A: Yes, there was a moment and we just had to go through it and be very tight with our operations. This happened to us a few times and luckily we were able to deal with it and now it's on the upside so we are looking forward to the upstream.
Q: You can have a conference call with any three living people. Who do you choose?
A: Vladimir Putin, Steven Hawking, Madonna.
Q: What's the worst bit of business or career advice you ever heard?
A: The worst advice I've heard is that the more you spend the bigger or greater you become -- which is not true.
Q: And the best?
A. With hard work and persistence, luck comes into play.
Q: What class should every college student be required to take?
A: Technology Etiquette
Q: What was your first job?
A: My first jobs were being a waiter and later, a stockbroker.
Q: Worst job you ever had?
A: The worst job I ever had was being a maid, because I went through training school.
Q: When's the last time you were fired?
A: In 1995 from Morgan Stanley. I wasn't exactly fired, I was let go very politely.
Q: What is the worst thing employees say about you behind your back?
A: That I don't work hard enough.
Q: How much of your day is spent in meetings?
A: About 30 percent.
Q: What's the first thing you read in the morning?
A: International Herald Tribune.
Q: What's the last novel you read?
A: 'Angels & Demons'
Q: You can put your face on the cover any publication. What's your pick?
Q: Tell us something about yourself that would surprise your coworkers.
A: That I think humor is one of the greatest virtues.
Q: How would you write your own biography in six words?
A: Live life for every single moment.
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