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‘Nothing to beat London’

Vikrant Chougule, Director, Indage Group, waxes eloquent about his favourite destination to Achal Dhruva

Which destinations, international and domestic, feature predominantly on your travel itinerary?
London is the prime destination and my favourite. The city is our primary export market and also the hub of our European operations. I travel to London once every month, sometimes even twice. Since I grew up in London, the business trips also double up as opportunities to catch up and chill out with friends. We have collaborations with France, Germany, Australia and Chile. Since I am in charge of France and Germany, I travel often to Paris, Frankfurt, Hamburg and Stuttgart. Recently I have been travelling to New York, Miami and Los Angeles quite often while exploring possibilities of expanding our restaurant chain. Domestically, the main business destinations are Bangalore, Delhi and Goa, the major wine markets. We are opening our restaurant Athena in both the cities in the near future.

How long are your business trips and what are the factors which influence your choice of hotels?
A typical business trip lasts not more than four to five days, though trips to London can run into a couple of weeks. I try not to travel more than 20 days at a stretch. As far as choice of hotels go, I prefer ones with a lot of style, mostly boutique hotels. They sport an individual and contemporary look and cater to individual needs much better. In a way they reflect your personality. I am a big fan of W Chain and make it a point to stay there when I am in New York or at the Mondrian owned by Cindy Crawford while in Los Angeles. I have a house in London but always make it a point to visit Ian Schrager’s Sanderson Hotel. In India I would rate the Leelas in Bangalore as the best and of course the Oberoi and Taj chain.

Your favourite carriers, international and domestic, and why?
As I travel to London very often, my favourite airlines on that sector are British Airways (BA) and Emirates though I prefer BA since it has a direct flight. Both have great business class, good service and are punctual. Emirates scores over BA and its ‘stiff upper lip’ since the former’s style of service is much better. I look for a bit of flair in service and during flights one likes to be pampered. Among the domestic carriers there is not much to choose though Jet Airways has a slight edge with its punctuality and service.

How do you cope with the stress and hectic pace of travel? Which are your favourite destinations for a holiday?
A hectic schedule does not permit me the luxury of a leisure holiday and the honeymoon has been the only exclusive leisure trip. Generally, I fit in a couple of days on my business trips for sightseeing and relaxation. Miami and Florida are my favourite cities as they both have a plethora of attractions. Also when I am in New York I love to unwind in Central Park for the sheer pleasure of watching others rushing for appointments while I am chilling out under the shade with a beer. I also visit Las Vegas at least once in three years. It’s a fascinating and vibrant place, just one main street but yet so alive. I never had a problem with jet lag and I work out in a gym wherever I am to keep in shape.

What kind of cuisine appeals to your taste buds?
Mediterranean and South East Asian would be on top of my list. My favourite restaurants in London are Ivy and Hackisor. Both have a new contemporary design and excellent South East Asian cuisine. In New York it’s Tao. In Mumbai obviously it’s Athena but I also like Olive and Indigo. I-Talia, the Italian restaurant at Park Hotel Bangalore is yet another favourite.

Which city has the best night life?
London wins hands down as it has got something for everybody, right from plays/musicals, great pubs, hip night clubs etc. Los Angeles also has some great bars and clubs but they are all spread out.

Any tips for business travellers visiting your frequent destinations?
In London for leisure it’s best to find local help and visit the less touristy spots. The other trick which works, especially in an unfamiliar city, is to ask the salesperson of the local designer store. They know the best pubs and hippest clubs. Did that in Prague and Oslo and had a whale of a time.