The timeline may have looked choppy in the first love letter, but that is how it goes with reminiscences, even when the archival material is immaculate. To give an overview of the Xandari story in a manner that conveys my deep debt of gratitude, but also keep it reasonably short (two decades condensed to 12 posts), I am going to jump around starting with the image above.
* blurry text on the right of the image is reprinted at the end below
On the left of that image is the cover of a special edition–India’s Stunning Boutique Hotels–published by Conde Nast Traveller in October 2014; to the right of the cover was the story about the property we had just opened for our client MLHS, led by George M George. This publication arrived at exactly the moment we were opening the hotel, then named Spice Harbour, soon to be rechristened Xandari Harbour. And Raxa Collective, the code name for our assignment with MLHS, would eventually (July 1, 2016, thus these dozen love letters starting yesterday) revert to our company’s proper name, La Paz Group.
The soft opening of Xandari Harbour had been chosen for an auspicious date seven months before the formal opening. That soft opening was the biggest event to date in our work to realize the vision of George M George. He had taken a risk in 2010, inviting me to present La Paz Group to the board of directors of his parent company, Muthoot Group, a family company that dated back to the 1880s.
And now his risk was showing the promise of having been a worthy one to take: we had achieved what everyone in Kerala had said was impossible, in terms of completing construction on a timely basis (the most generous local assumption was that we would require three years, and March 31, 2014 represented the 18 months that we had been scheduled for). I remember being in the board room around that time for a review of progress and received a standing ovation. That felt about as good as any of La Paz Group’s accomplishments that I could remember.
Between April 1 and October 18 that year, we doubled down on our 24/7 work getting the construction complete; now we had the “snagging” (Indian equivalent of what we had always called punch list elsewhere), i.e. getting the snags out of the system. A hotel, even a 16 room property like this, is a complex machine with lots of moving parts. A love letter is not the place to bore you with those details, nor about the process of recruitment, training, trial service runs, etc. etc. that come with getting ready to open formally. But we finally arrived at the date!
One of the reasons why George M George and I made a good team was that our vision was shared on all the important points related to the engagement we started in 2010. A good, if small example was related to the formal opening event for Xandari Harbour.
Instead of a traditional hotel-opening party we planned a fund-raiser for our important neighbor in the community, the Kochi-Muziris Bienale.
At that moment they were short on funds for their soon to open second biennale and it made sense to George and me to use our party for their benefit. And what a party it was.
George served as the host at the moment when it was time to request all of Kerala’s well-heeled to make contributions to benefit the three-month event that was to begin in less than two months.
It is not so much the money that was raised as it was an awareness-raising about how important the Biennale is for Fort Kochi, for Kerala, for India. And George understood that to be of greater importance than the strictly short term benefits that an opening party may bring. Nonetheless, the event was good for business.
When we saw the press for the event in the coming week we were impressed by how tastefully the stories communicated the purpose of the party, which everyone had been concerned about. In a country with as many challenges as India we did not want either the Biennale nor our hotel, to come across as a frivolity. We believed then, and continue to believe, that the role of the arts in Kerala’s development is incredibly important. And needless to say if you have been reading these pages in the last five years you know we take our own mission-driven hotel work to be a net contributor to our local communities.
The fact that George and I saw eye to eye on those issues meant alot to me in my continued efforts on behalf of getting his vision realized. I think that also explains how, the very same month we opened Xandari Harbour, Conde Nast Traveler saw fit to include us in with some of India’s most well-regarded properties.
*Conde Nast Traveler’s text in this special edition reads:
Spice Harbour sits in the heart of Fort Kochi’s spice trading district. The restored waterfront property is one of Kochi’s most visually stunning, set on Bazar Road, where art galleries and cafes are popping up alongside pepper, cinnamon and cardamom warehouses. From most guestrooms you will see the water, but the view from the Harbour Suite is without compare. Rooms pay homage to Kochi’s rich spice trading history but also point forward with their stylish and contemporary décor.
Enjoy Malabar Soul Food and spectacular views at Spice Harbour’s two-storey eatery, called 51. The farm-to-table food program at 51 complements excellent fresh seafood from local shermen.
Here you can also lounge around playing backgammon or chess (or watch a spot of TV). A harbour-front swimming pool and outdoor seating area occupy the space between the accommodation and dining areas. The hotel has an a nity for contemporary Indian art, which is showcased in its public areas and guestrooms, and which guests can choose to buy if they so wish.
With such a location you’d be forgiven for staying indoors, but the hotel is conveniently located close to important cultural sites such as the Dutch Palace, Paradesi Synagogue and the Chinese Fishing Nets, each within walking distance.
Spice Harbour is part of Raxa Collective, which also o ers a beach hideaway at Marari, a nature retreat at the Periyar Tiger Reserve, the nest houseboats in Kerala’s backwaters and two full-
service waterfront private villas, also in the backwaters.