Located in the heart of the metropolis and set in beautifully landscaped gardens, the Hotel Lanka Oberoi held the center stage in Ceylon’s hospitality industry, with beautiful and elegant interiors and discreet personalised service.
Construction of Hotel Lanka Oberoi began in 1973 as Oberoi chain’s first hotel outside India. Rai Bahadur Mohan Singh Oberoi (15 August 1898 – 3 May 2002) was an Indian hotelier, the founder and chairman of Oberoi Hotels & Resorts, India’s second-largest hotel company, with 35 hotels in India, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Egypt, Australia and Hungary. Its distinctive Atrium was designed by the Armenian Group of Skidmore, Owings and Merrill. At that time the Hyatt in Atlanta was the only other hotel featuring this concept.
Built on the land where the Bishops of the Church of Ceylon resided, till the early 1970s. It was called Steuart Place. In 1975 The Lanka Oberoi was opened.
Number of Guest Rooms includes 45 Suites, 34 Executive Suites, 9 Deluxe Suites, 2 Presidential Suites and a Penthouse Suite. Convention facilities include a maximum of 850 Theatre Style and 400 Class Room Style with Banqueting facilities of up to 600. Its modern Business Centre was equipped with latest secretarial and communication facilities.
Below is a small footage of Hotel Lanka Oberoi and surroundings taken by Paul Tasker on his visit to Sri Lanka from United Kingdom in 1994.
On 28 January 1984, a bomb exploded in the Hotel Lanka Oberoi in Colombo. One employee was killed. The explosion took place in a room in the upper floor.
By 2001, Azmi Wan Hamza, the Chairman of Asian Hotels Corporation Limited, owners of the Hotel Lanka Oberoi, Colombo’s largest five-star hotel, and part owners of Trans Asia Hotel, the only profitable five-star hotel which was operating in the city, said that his board continued to be seriously concerned about the continued under-performance of the Hotel Lanka Oberoi, their prime asset.
He added that as a result of their long drawn dispute with Oberoi Hotels of India, the managers of the Colombo property, “your board appears to have little ability to influence the profitability of the Oberoi Hotel for the time being”.
Commenting on the tussle between Asian Hotels and the Indian managers, Hamza said that Asian Hotels has successfully moved the High Court of Colombo to set aside certain parts of an arbitration award on the dispute. But the Indian company had appealed this order and a Supreme Court ruling was pending.
Although the company which has an issued share capital of Rs. 2.2 billion has posted a profit of Rs. 52.2 million for the year ended March 31, 2001, this was sharply down from the previous year’s Rs. 192.4 million.
However, this decline has been offset by improved performance of the hotel’s food and beverage departments following the refurbishing of the Long Feng Chinese Restaurant November 2000 and the opening of a Thai Restaurant in January 2001.
Meantime their subsidiary, Crescat Developments, which has constructed residential and commercial space on the grounds of the original Oberoi property, had improved performance during the year with turnover up 72% and gross operating profit up 58%. That much of the increase has been from recurrent sources of rental for the shopping mall, apartment rentals and the Delifrance Cafe.
The days of Lanka Oberoi ended on January 2003 with a payment of US$ 1.5 million by owning the company, Asian Hotels to the international hotel chain. Asian Hotels told shareholders in January that its long-standing dispute with managing company Oberoi Hotels Private Limited would be settled in consideration for the payment of US$ 1.5 million. The settlement also ended a contract giving management rights to Oberoi, due to end in March 2009.
However, Asian Hotels and the manager of the hotel, Oberoi Hotels, after discussions came to an amicable decision in the best strategic interest of both parties to terminate the agreement, which was originally scheduled to end in March 2009. Oberoi had managed the hotel since its inauguration in 1975.
As a result of this Hotel Lanka Oberoi was reborn as the Colombo Plaza in end of March 2003 with the handing over of its management by Oberoi Hotels of India to its owner Asian Hotels Corporation Ltd (AHC), the largest listed property company in the country.
Colombo Plaza was a hotel with 530 modern furnished rooms with air-conditioning, telephone, satellite-TV, minibar and all in-room facilities and amenities. Set in 12 acres was part of Crescat City, which included one of Colombo’s most modern shopping malls and a condominium building. A new spa and fitness centre and 300 additional car parking spaces were built. At the time the hotel was rated number two in occupancy and room rates.
Dining options range from casual to classic offering a diverse assortment of international favourites – western, eastern and oriental, complemented by impeccable service. London Grill served the finest of grills and roasts accompanied by a range of choice wines complimenting this elegant and sophisticated dining experience.
The Taprobane offered elegance and tranquility and servesdiverse assortment of international favourites, interspersed with eastern and oriental delicacies. It operated 24 hours a day for breakfast, lunch and dinner and the spectacular buffet arrangements increase the wide option of dining guest.
Lastly, Indian Restaurant offered a taste of India with savoury regional cuisines produced by a master chef and submitted a myriad of tempting dishes for the more exotic palates. The menu included a gourmet selection of specialties.
In 2005, John Keells Holdings, the company that owned two city hotels the Colombo Plaza and the Trans Asia, later brought a controlling stake in Asian Hotels. The group’s head of leisure businesses at that time said re-branding was part of the larger re-positioning of the leisure sector in the John Keells Group.
John Keells also extended the new brand, Cinnamon, to other properties they own including the Trans Asia, Habarana Lodge and a property in the Maldives.
Under John Keells, the Colombo Plaza was rebranded as Cinnamon Grand. Along with that they launched Cinnamon Hotels & Resorts at World Travel Market, London. Cinnamon Grand still operates as the their flagship hotel.
Credit – The Island, Sunday Observer, The Archives, Vintage Menu Mania, Paul Tasker, Swanny’s Mug