Hyderabad, capital of Andhra Pradesh, South India, offers a convention centre and hotels to compare with the most modern in the world – as well as the chaotic streets and visitor attractions of an ancient cityHyderabad is not merely a city of contrasts. It’s two different worlds in two different eras. We were driven into the old city to visit the must-see Chowmahalla Palace. It has to be one of the memorable attractions of India, with two vast courtyards and a total of five palace buildings with a backcloth of fountains and gardens.
But the main memory of that excursion has to be the streets of the old city. They are broad highways with about four or five lanes of traffic. It is difficult to tell, since few drivers stay in lane. It is a frantic mix of trucks, taxis, 3-wheel tuk-tuks, motor-cycles and push bikes.
Suddenly the traffic divides in order to let a motor cyclist come through as he drives on the wrong side of the road against the traffic. Then it divides again – this time to avoid a cow that has walked happily through the hubbub to graze on a tuft of grass on the opposite side of the road. There is a constant noise of horns and hooters, but it soon becomes apparent that they are not sounded in anger. Each beep-beep indicates that some driver is trying to come past, or is changing lane or is moving against the traffic. And all the other drivers generously adjust their direction to co-operate.
It is the worst traffic I could possibly imagine in a feverish nightmare, but accidents seem rare, there is no road rage and people eventually get to where they are going. This courtesy is apparent everywhere to a Western visitor. The Chowmahalla Palace grounds were crammed with crowds of visitors from all over India with very few foreigners evident. We were greeted as very special guests, with all kinds of groups clamouring to be photographed with us. Everyone was courteous and respectful, but very friendly.
To add to the seeming chaos, the monsoon rains kept sweeping in. Within seconds they changed the dusty roads into raging slurries of red mud. Anywhere else they would have brought frustration and frayed tempers, but the pedestrians, the women laden with shopping and babies, the motor cyclists precariously balancing their wife and kids on pillions and handlebars and the tuk-tuk drivers and trishaw cyclists all just accepted it as a natural occurrence and ploughed on regardless, still with a cheerful smile and a happy wave of the hand when they caught sight of Western visitors.
So that is one vision of Hyderabad we have brought back to the UK. Another could hardly be a greater contrast. The objective of the ITCM visit was to inspect the extensive Hyderabad International Convention Centre, HICC, India’s first purpose-built facility. It is attached to the Novotel Hotel and managed by Accor.
It is reached from the airport along wide avenues bordered by flowering shrubs, without a motorbike or tuk-tuk in sight. The landscape is littered with huge red boulders that must make clearing building land a problem, but which eventually come to be decorative landmarks.
The HICC is part of huge new developments that have added the most modern of satellite towns to the city of Hyderabad. The new area is called Mindspace and it is nothing if not futuristic. A 30-minute drive around the area takes in massive new office blocks and laboratories employing around 8,000 highly skilled technological staff, with the buildings sporting the names of the world’s top multi-national enterprises. Our eyebrows raised higher and higher and our mouths gaped wider and wider as in that short drive we listed the Indian HQs of over 25 businesses, including IBM, Accenture, Thomson Reuters, Infosys, Google, Facebook, Bank of America, Honeywell, Deloitte, Cognizant, Omnitech, Otis, Toyota, Vodafone, Dow, Qualcomm, Polaris, Motorola, Novartis and so on. Microsoft has a cluster of 15-storey buildings, forming a major IT community of its own.
The modern side of Hyderabad is obviously a major attraction for upmarket academic establishments, such as the Engineering Staff College of India, the Indian School of Business and the National Academy of Construction, which could not be better placed. It is also well served by new hospitals, schools and shopping malls and has a quality golf course called Boulder Hills.
ITCM had been invited to see Hyderabad with our own eyes by Gary Khan, CEO of the Hyderabad Convention & Visitors Bureau. (For a profile, visit www.incentivetravel.co.uk/gary-khan-ceo-hyderabad-convention-a-visitors-bureau)
Hyderabad International Convention Centre – one of Asia’s top convention facilities
Hyderabad is proud of its conference facilities and has been extolling them at the global MICE exhibitions and association congresses. But in spite of what we had heard prior to our visit to the city, we were still not prepared for what we were able to see during our site inspection.
A visit to the HICC is worth anyone’s time because it has to be experienced to appreciate the level and extent of its facilities and services.
A walk of a few paces from the Novotel Hotel and you are in the HICC foyer that measures 6,000 sqm. It is of a stunning modern design that takes your breath away. You are therefore somewhat prepared for what comes next when you step into the main hall that is totally pillar-free and can accommodate 8,000 delegates in tiered seating that can be moved automatically into position. Or this huge space can be rapidly divided into a total of six smaller spaces.
Lessons have been learned from the world’s best facilities. Above the 12.5m high ceiling there are catwalks to enable staff to prepare for all kinds of event requirements. Exhibits and equipment weighing up to 150 tons can be suspended with ease. Built into the floor of the hall, every 6 metres, are pits that offer electric power, water and internet services on tap.
Walking round, the statistics become more and more impressive. There are 37 independent break-out rooms, where syndicates can brainstorm in privacy or where event offices can be established. A self-contained VIP lounge, protected by armoured glass, has its own washroom and kitchen facilities. Keynote speakers can be pampered in comfort. There are boardrooms in a range of sizes. There is a specially equipped video-conferencing room where the lighting is designed to complement the screens. Everything can be signed on plasma screens around the whole facility.
The whole centre is designed with space in mind, so that large numbers of delegates can move freely and with areas that are conducive to casual networking.
Then we are shown into an office suite that houses an independent service company called Highbrow, where we meet highly experienced specialists in event production. They are on the spot to provide the most advanced and lavish effects that an organiser can desire. Divided into ten specialist divisions, Highbrow’s work ranges over sound, light, projection, video-production, creative staging and décor for all kinds of events from a meeting of world leaders to motor shows, sports tournaments, exhibitions and television programmes – and in many languages.
It is claimed there is no other facility in South Asia to equal the HICC and after our site inspection, ITCM is quite ready to believe it.
But Hyderabad is full of goodies. Another member of the Hyderabad Convention & Visitors Bureau is the 50-acre HITEX Exhibition Centre, a valuable facility that boasts three halls of 3,500sqm with a further 10,000sqm on the way.
Hotel Novotel Hyderabad Convention Centre
The name of the adjoining hotel is Novotel Hyderabad Convention Centre. It couldn’t have been more convenient for us, with immediate access to the Centre and located in Hi Tech City, with attractive and quiet surroundings.
This 5-star Novotel has 287 rooms, all non-smoking and designed to provide every essential amenity for business guests - in comfort. Special attention has been given to Wi-Fi connections and the latest telecommunications facilities. There are large personal safes, mini bars and cable tv. There is a Premier Floor, where all the rooms are 26sqm and where there is an Executive Lounge for express check-in and buffet breakfast.
The Novotel offers a choice of four f&b outlets, from fine dining to casual and bar snacks. The hotel also provides guests with access to the 18-hole Boulder Hills Golf & Country Club, one of India’s most renowned courses. There are f&b options at the club, too.
The Westin Hyderabad Mindspace
The main hotels in Hyderabad are members of the Hyderabad Convention & Visitors Bureau and work closely together. Amongst them are the Ista Hyderabad, with 157 rooms and 9 suites set in acres of beautiful landscape, with a 10,000sqft spa; and the Hyderabad Marriott Hotel & Convention Centre. This property has 282 rooms and 11 suites and overlooks Hussain Sagar Lake.
ITCM was invited to stay at two of their hotels, so, as well as the Novotel, we were hosted by The Westin Hyderabad Mindspace, five minutes away in the Raheja Mindspace IT Park. The GM of the Westin is Ko Van Den Hil from the Netherlands and he met us on our arrival, where, before being ushered into the hotel’s incredibly impressive atrium, we first had to have a red dot on our foreheads as a sign of welcome and protection. The broad atrium is 25 floors high and a memorable feature. The top floor is dedicated to the Executive Lounge and the Presidential Suite. All the 427 rooms and suites are spacious, richly carpeted and have patented Heavenly Beds. The bathrooms are luxurious and so designed that at the touch of a remote control they can be either part of the whole room or separated by a screen.
We were taken on a guided tour of the extensive hotel kitchens, where Rakesh explained it was quiet, as they were only preparing a banquet for 200 people. He also showed how every course was created and prepared from basic, mainly local, produce.
In order for us to appreciate the range of his creativity, he provided us with not only three courses for each dinner, but with two or three versions of each course, so our evening meals were nothing less than 9-course banquets.
We have a lasting memory of totally new and exciting tastes and an admiration for the true extent of Indian cuisine.
‘Kangan’ means ‘bangle’ and at the restaurant an artisan fashions a colourful clay bangle as a gift for every female diner.