The story of Palm Holdings is a true underdog-to-success journey that spans three continents and three generations. Amar Nath Taneja — the entrepreneur who started it all — ran away from an orphanage in India at age 12. He worked various jobs and eventually moved to Nairobi, Kenya. As a young adult, he opened a small restaurant and gradually purchased the apartment units above his restaurant until he owned the whole building. In 1950, the building became the Taneja family’s first hotel — The Amar Hotel — and his two sons started working in the business.
Fast-forward to today and Taneja’s three grandsons, Anil, Anish and Rajan operate the business, with their father, Ashok, as chairman. The company, which became known as
Palm Holdings in 2007, owns and operates 12 hotels in Canada and four in the U.S., working with leading brands such as Marriott, Holiday Inn and Radisson. The portfolio also includes five properties in Edinburg, Scotland and London, U.K. under The Edinburgh Collection banner.
Though Palm Holdings went from humble beginnings to a market leader, its key to success is deeply rooted in the past. “Our company vision is grass-rooted from our grandfather: ‘to make our hotels feel like a home away from home,’” says Anil Taneja, managing director of Palm Holdings. “Through growth, we always make sure our vision is never compromised. Today, as a family, we are fortunate to work together. We make decisions together and trust each other’s judgment. We subscribe to the Three-Musketeers’ philosophy of ‘all for one and one for all.’”
Following those early days in India, the next major development for the company came in the 1970s. After the Amar Hotel was expropriated by the Kenyan government, the family moved to London, U.K. and restarted the business by acquiring an 82-room hotel in London. The company later bought a money-losing hotel-booking agency, named First Option, which focused on booking last-minute hotel rooms. Amar passed away at this time and his sons took over the business. They turned the bookings company around and, as it grew, used the cash flow to acquire hotels throughout the U.K.
In 1997, Ashok and his family moved to Canada, settling in Toronto. “My parents believed there’s no better place in the world to raise children [than Canada],” says Taneja.
The company acquired Inn on the Lake, which underwent an $8-million renovation, adding 80 rooms and a new conference floor, and rebranded as the Four Points by Sheraton, Toronto Lakeshore.
After several other purchases across Canada, Anil, Rajan and Anish expanded the company into the U.S. in 2013 with the acquisition of the Paradise Coast Hotel in Naples, Fla., which the company transformed into the Holiday Inn Express and Suites Fifth Avenue. In 2016, Palm Holdings acquired the largest hotel in its portfolio to date: the 444-room Holiday Inn Orlando, Celebration.
Around that time, the company formalized a new organizational structure with three divisions. Palm Hospitality serves as the operating division of the company, offering hotel-management services for major master brands including Marriott and IHG. Palm Construction, the hotel-development division, provides expertise in building, retrofitting, managing capital improvements and new-hotel developments. Palm Ventures buys and sells real estate. “We focus on new acquisitions and dispositions in this division, taking over hotels and rolling them into our longer-term portfolio or exiting them,” says Taneja.
In the past, Taneja says his father would keep a stable asset base and then buy, fix up and sell a few hotels as his way of growing the family’s equity. “The business model never shifted, it’s just been scaled,” he says. “As each part of the business has its own team and processes, we created three divisions to ensure each individual team is drumming to the same beat, yet still recognizes the organization as a whole.”
It’s this diversified business model that sets Palm Holdings apart. “What makes us different is our vertical integration,” says Taneja. “We’re able to do our own construction, we’re able to do our own management and we’re able to be owners. So, we’ve got every facet of the business in house.”
The formula of acquiring hotels and creating value through renovations and operations is in full swing today. In June, Palm Holdings announced plans to restore and reposition the Quality Suites in Laval, Que. The renovations will include a new lobby extension, a contemporary design throughout the hotel and upgraded amenities.
Earlier this year, Palm Holdings announced plans to develop a new 150-room hotel in Naples, Fla. after acquiring a waterfront property that includes a marina and a restaurant. The company is still exploring options for development of the property, including the chance to build a 150-room hotel and a full-service restaurant.
In the U.K. this year, The Edinburgh Collection acquired the luxury apartment-hotel Princess Street Suites in Edinburgh. While the suites were recently refurbished with fully equipped kitchens and spacious living areas, The Edinburgh Collection plans to expand the reception area with a 24-hour bar and coffee lounge, as well as improve the meeting spaces.
New projects in development in Canada include the Residence Inn by Marriott, opening in Montreal in 2020; the Courtyard by Marriott in the Kitchener/Cambridge, Ont. area, opening in 2021; and a Hampton Inn and Suites by Hilton, slated to open in Montreal in 2022.
Although Palm Holdings is growing, it hasn’t lost sight of its focus on being a family business. In fact, for Taneja, the most important highlight for 2019 was building a personality for the brand, which he describes as “united, bold and authentic.”
“We’ve reinvested in the team coming closer as a family. It gets tougher as you grow and we needed to go back and revisit it,” he says. “It used to be we were able to know every employee and high-five them going down the hall. As the company grows, you lose that ability, but we still want to maintain the intimacy of the organization and the fact that we call ourselves a family business.”
And that family isn’t just the Taneja family, he explains. All employees — whether they’re in housekeeping, maintenance or managerial roles — are considered part of the family. “We’ve got all these new people joining the company that we’re not able to interact with the way we used to,” he says. “We have properties in Alberta and Nova Scotia and we’re not there as regularly as we were, so we want to ensure our personality is reflected through the brand.”
To do so, Palm Holdings launched daily inspiration emails, created an annual conference for its general managers and developed an app for internal communications. The app, which Taneja calls “our own version of Facebook,” allows employees across its properties — from Edmonton to Halifax to Naples — to celebrate each other, have fun and keep apprised of what’s going on at the company.
“More than anything, it gives us personality,” says Taneja. “As we grow, we don’t want to have the feel of a big company, where people can’t be themselves. We’re embracing our individual personality and the personality of the organization is the personality of the people.”
Palm Holdings also places a priority on giving back to the community. In 2017, the company launched a philanthropic arm called the Palm Holdings Family Foundation. “All our hotels are involved — we’ve been a key donor in our local communities and involve our staff in where we allocate funds,” says Taneja. Among the Foundation’s beneficiaries are Toronto Rehab, Toronto Humane Society, Multiple Sclerosis Society of Canada and London Health Sciences Foundation. Palm Holdings also supports the Clean the World soap-recycling program.
“It’s important we give back to the communities we’re part of because they give so much to us,” says Taneja. “When we’re able to benefit from those communities, we have a civic responsibility to give back to them.”
Written by Rebecca Harris