Exposed to European waterfronts from an early age, Aishwarya Bhende, Director, AB Celestial, realized how they boosted tourism in those countries. Back home at the commercial capital, she saw a huge opportunity on its seaside which could add jewels to the crown of the city – Mumbai Skyline. What followed was a vision to boost Mumbai’s Tourism and Hospitality sector and move towards aiding the Indian economy.
This vision gave birth to an extensive three-year process of building India’s first floating restaurant in a revenue-sharing partnership with the Government.
Setting up AB Celestial through 108 government permissions, establishing and sourcing interiors for the four-themed layers of the restaurant to recruiting all staff for operations, Aishwarya has set the backbone for each process. The restaurant offers excellent delicacies from Indian, Continental and Asian cuisines with a fine, opulent ambience.
More than being a disruptor in the industry, AB Celestial opened up a huge scope for other people to do business in the waters and this learning that has driven Aishwarya's vision to contribute towards the industry and the country's future.
In an exclusive interview with Restaurant India, Aishwarya Bhende, Director, AB Celestial, talks about the key challenges she faced in setting up the first floatel restaurant in the country.
While setting up India’s first floating restaurant what were the interesting facts about the F&B and hospitality industry that you came across?
AB Celestial’s main aim was to help boost tourism in India and give back to Mumbai’s well-deserved coastline, add a jewel to the crown of the city.
I found out tourism in India provides 40 million jobs and AB Celestial gave me a chance not only to help increase the tourism sector but also create jobs locally
I was so proud to know that the Indian Hotel Industry holds a special place in the International world of hospitality. So we chose the boat very carefully; it was built in Florida and there are only seven such vessels in the world.
India also holds prominence in the list of the top ten counties for overall food and beverage industry at a market size of $400 billion. The tourism here has definitely helped more people in the world know about our various cultures and cuisines.
Tell us more about the revenue-sharing partnership with the Government.
Our revenue - sharing partnership is with the state government of Maharashtra. The vision behind investing in a business like Celestial was to boost the tourism sector adding to the growth of the economy. We look at growing this business to other waterfronts of the country soon. Thus, we share our revenue with the three government bodies - Maharashtra Tourism Development Corporation (MTDC), Maharashtra Maritime Board and Maharashtra State Road Development Corporation (MSRDC).
What were the key challenges you faced in setting up the floatel restaurant in India? How did you overcome them?
- Before we acquired permissions, the whole process to get Celestial in India took some time. The boat requires proper service for which it gets sent to the docks every year during monsoon.
- Further, setting up the base for the business required us to get 108 licenses. This number has given us sleepless nights. Since Celestial came under the floating restaurant category which hadn’t been explored enough in Mumbai, there were a new set of rules and regulations brimming up every now and then. We all learnt about them during the process itself.
- Secondly, setting up the interiors took longer than any other restaurant would take (somewhere between 8-9 months). It was a large space which I visioned would have a luxurious outlook but at the same time, we wanted for people to relate to space. We went back and forth on this as residential or commercial interiors are totally different than that of a boat.
We wanted people to have an exuberant nautical experience. Not everyone in India gets a chance to travel abroad and visit boats, hence, we wanted to give them a chance to dine on water and under the stars in their own beloved city.
- Patience, dedication and our will to never give up were our biggest drivers to overcome these challenges. Today, Celestial is sailing through its second season smoothly, just like how we planned it to be.
Do these challenges still exist and faced by other floatel owners?
Yes, I personally think there may be a couple of challenges faced by other floatel owners as the concept is relatively new to India. However, now it may not take three years to obtain all the licenses since our efforts were focused to pave the way for the industry to grow further with more similar businesses.
Unfortunately, there are challenges in every business at every stage but the most important part is to find a solution to overcome them and sustain the business.
What does the road to profitability for your floatel business look like?
India is expected to become the fifth largest consumer market in the world by 2025, according to a paper prepared by the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) and Grant Thornton. During January-July 2018 FEEs from tourism increased 12 per cent year-on-year to US$ 17 billion. I also think the floatel business being such a new concept in India is doing well amongst all age groups. We host all kinds of events; celebrations from weddings to intimate gatherings, corporate presentations to product launches. Our clients range from Indian conglomerates to global corporations like Porche, Google, Amazon Prime, Benz AMG and more. The road to breakeven looks steady and the business will soon become a profitable one.
What are your expansion plans?
For now, I’m focused on giving one more year to build more business for Celestial. Going ahead, I would love to give all the waterfront cities in India a floating restaurant of their own which adds to the tourism of the country.
Things to Know About Celestial Floatel in Mumbai
- Celestial houses two multi-cuisine restaurants including a club lounge equipped with a 24-hour coffee shop.
- The Celestial Cafe offers the perfect location for an evening of zen. One can drop by for a cosy cup of coffee paired with the perfect range of desserts or bring your entire family for a laid-back meal. The juxtaposition of the elegance of the setting with the Arabian Sea and the Cafe's nautical theme is surely an experience people keep wanting to revisit.
- Level 2 of AB Celestial, the Celestial Banquet with its gold and white decor is the ultimate setting for any kind of an event. The banquet can cater to a capacity of 150 guests for brunch, high tea, dinner, corporate events, weddings & private parties on booking. The Celestial Banquet creates the perfect celebratory ambience along with a delicious menu. Guests can often rent out the rooms available at additional charges in case of wedding events organized at the banquet
- The Celestial Lounge offers one to transcend from the bustling city to a serene setting. An ideal place to unwind, one can find a fine selection of scotch, malts, and wines combined with an interesting selection of international cuisine here. The resident DJ keeps one in the groove for the whole night.
- The Celestial VIP Deck is a full-service private dining section of AB Celestial. One can bask in the exclusivity of having the best view from the ship. The VIP Deck caters to 2 to 10 people at a time. It is the perfect spot for intimate gatherings, proposals, and important meetings. Space comes with private butler service.
- Celestial SKY gives the opportunity to immerse in the enthralling experience of dining under the stars. An open-air sky bar located on Level 4 of AB Celestial, SKY offers a breathtaking view of the Arabian Sea and Mumbai Coastline. Experience our range of eclectic cocktails and an extensive menu for a night you will not forget.