Raffles Hotels and Resorts out?

GOH refurbishment and management deal abruptly shelved

by Suresh Perera

Ambitious plans to use global expertise to refurbish and manage Grand Oriental Hotel (GOH) – an iconic heritage property in the metropolis – under a multi-million dollar deal have been abruptly shelved, officials said last week.

Eight bidders were short-listed, including the world famous Raffles Hotels & Resorts, for the specialized job but the whole process seems to have suddenly lost its sense of direction, they asserted. "Everything is now in a state of flux".

Some potential investors from Singapore and India had inspected the colonial hotel — once the mansion of a Dutch Governor and later used by the British as military barracks — but there has been no headway in awarding the contract, they pointed out.Raffles was expected to be awarded the job taking into account its experience and exposure in many parts of the globe, a senior official said on condition of anonymity. "However, orders filtered down to halt the process".

Perhaps, they want to look afresh at the whole gamut of issues, he said. "Nobody knows why Raffles was not awarded the bid at the eleventh hour".

There could be other interested parties also as this prime commercial location in the heart of Colombo is a money spinner, if adequately refurbished, developed and promoted, officials suggested. "It is the big bucks that attracted so many bids despite a hefty investment".

Wholly owned by the Bank of Ceylon, GOH, earlier known as Tabrobane, was converted into a hotel during British domination in 1870. With 80-rooms, the colonial landmark is now described as a "location where comfort blends with affordability for the most discerning traveler".

It is no secret that GOH is badly in need of urgent repairs as leaks have sprung and the second floor and some other sections of the hotel become a mess during a downpour, they said. "Some of the water tanks are also leaking".

What’s worse is that 20 plus rooms on the second floor remain closed after the contractors hired for repairs pulled out over a dispute with the former management, they said. "With the wall plaster stripped, the rooms are no longer usable".

"This issue has been taken up but the go ahead to hire a new contractor to complete the job has still not been forthcoming", the senior official conceded. "Keeping more than 20 rooms shut is a big loss".

If at least the basic repairs were done to make the property pleasant and presentable, a better bid offer could be expected. The officials said. "In this parlous state, they tend to ‘condemn’ the property and submit offers below our expectations".

What is important is to ensure that this century plus heritage property doesn’t fall into the hands of people with vested interests, they cautioned. "Elbowing out companies with global expertise could mean there are parties down the line with the right connections".

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