Regal Splendour For Tired Travellers
A voyeuristic tour of some of the sanctuaries of indulgence and extravagance around India
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If there is one thing the Indian hospitality industry knows best, it is luxury. Our hotels are among the most opulent, with service standards that are unbeatable the world over. The year 2018 has seen a couple of very interesting openings which have helped push the envelope forward in luxury hospitality.
One of the challenging factors for luxury hospitality in India is the poor room rate which hotels here have to contend with, given the high cost of building and of course, running a top notch product. Even so, many hotels and the companies that run them, have been doing a truly commendable job and we offer a list of some of them.
The first hotel on our list, is the recently opened ITC Kohenur in Hyderabad. The latest offering of the ITC Hotels brand of Responsible Luxury hotels is a distillation of something that they have been perfecting over the years. The process reached great perfection in the ITC Grand Chola in Chennai, but the current offering – ITC Kohenur is newer and fresher.
The 271-room property sprawls over eight acres of land. The ITC Kohenur was actually inspired by the eponymous diamond that was once dug out of the Golconda mines nearby. The jewel in its crown of course, is the 5,000 plus square feet Presidential suite with double height windows and a view that is well worth the price you pay.
Chief Executive Officer of ITC Hotels, Dipak Haksar, sees an assimilation of the company’s philosophy at the Kohenur, “ITC Kohenur is a significant launch in ITC’s luxury hotel portfolio, reinstating our commitment to showcase the diverse facets of India through our hotels in each destination,” says Haksar. “Envisaged as a tribute to the traditions and distinct character of the locale, ITC Kohenur is a testament to the multifaceted rich heritage of the region echoed through ‘Rare and Priceless’ experiences curated by the hotel. A contemporary Indian ethos underscores ITC Kohenur’s architecture and design philosophy, complemented by unique, enriching Responsible Luxury experiences, with a hi-tech accent on services. In keeping with ITC’s triple bottom line approach, the ITC Kohenur is built to LEED Platinum specifications demonstrating environmental stewardship through the adaption of sustainable business practices,” exults Haksar.
The next hotel which I want to include on this list is a Vilas property from the Oberoi Group. The luxury properties that make up this selection of hotels are very special. They were the first to charge Rs 25,000 plus rates in the country. Executive Chairman P.R.S. Oberoi’s obsession with details and perfection are evident in each Vilas property. The Oberoi Sukhvilãs Resort and Spa, near 8,000 acres of forest in the Siswan Forest Range near Chandigarh, is the latest offering of the Oberoi Group. The 60-room property spread over 25 acres, carries on a tradition of luxury hospitality firmly established by the company many years ago.
“The Oberoi Sukhvilãs Resort & Spa, Siswan Forest Range, New Chandigarh harmonises traditional architecture, landscaped gardens and water features, and offers spacious, luxury accommodation equipped with all modern conveniences, fine dining and an Ayurveda spa,” says Silki Sehgal, Vice President,Corporate Communications at The Oberoi Group, emphasising that the focus of the hotel was “on wellness and healing”.
“The Spa at The Oberoi Sukhvilãs is a tranquil, light-filled space spread over 12,000 square feet, adjoining a natural forest,” says Sehgal. “Embellished with water features, it is a carefully created relaxing environment to promote a sense of well-being through Ayurveda, Eastern and Western therapies. The Oberoi Spa has been designed around ‘Sukh’ meaning good space and ‘Upavasa’ meaning to be near oneself. When there is good space within and beyond, one naturally experiences wellness and happiness, and Upavasa becomes the most beautiful space to be in. By spending time in Upavasa at The Oberoi Sukhvilãs Resort & Spa, one can attain an abundance of Sukh that will linger long after they leave the resort,” says Sehgal.
At this point, we have to talk about a hotel which will feature in global luxury hospitality lists. Built in 1903, 21 years before the Gateway of India which it incidentally overlooks, the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel in Mumbai has been a trend setter from the day it began operations. More than a hundred years later, it still sets the benchmark of what luxury hospitality stands for globally. It is a lesson on how timeless luxury is.
“Quintessentially Indian in its fabric, the Taj brand from the Indian Hotels Company Limited (IHCL), is recognised the world over for delivering a unique flavour of hospitality that offers world-class refinement while remaining deeply rooted in its local heritage,” says Rohit Khosla, EVP Operations - North & West India, IHCL. He informs BW Businessworld that the flagship of the brand, The Taj Mahal Palace, Mumbai, was established “as the greatest lasting legacy of its founder, Jamsetji Tata who envisioned a hotel, which would set the benchmark for Indian hospitality, service excellence and innovation”.
As we have said before, the hotel preceded the Gateway of India by 21 years as Mumbai’s first harbour landmark. Till date it continues to be famed world over as a landmark hotel and the preferred residence-of-choice of visiting royalty, dignitaries and celebrities. It is also the choice of generations of Indians who still consider it a “symbol of the indomitable spirit of Mumbai and the subcontinent” to quote Khosla. The Taj Mahal Palace recently became the only building in India to be trademarked for its elegant façade and Dome, joining an elite group of structures across the world that include the Empire State Building, the Chrysler Building and the Sydney Opera House.
Another hospitality enterprise that has concentrated on and excelled at giving us in India fantastic luxury products is the Leela Palaces, Hotels and Resorts. The group’s products include the Leela Palace in New Delhi and iconic hotels in both Bengaluru and Udaipur. Leela Goa, spread across 75 acres of landscaped gardens, is possibly the only hotel I can think of in India that has both a beach as well as river frontage. As far as luxury hotels are concerned, it is a property that takes all its advantages and then just adds to it with a stupendous service.
Rajiv Kaul, President, Leela Palaces, Hotels and Resorts, divulges some of the secret of the group’s recipe for perfecting luxury hospitality. “Luxury hospitality is all about personalised service, capitalising on the desire for authentic experiences and creating long-lasting memories,” says he. “It’s discovering new ways to connect travellers with local culture and destination. It’s craftsmanship. It’s having a story to tell,” says the President of the Leela Palaces, Hotels and Resorts.
Two special mentions are necessary now both ironically from the same city Mumbai. The first hotel belongs to a global giant, Marriott, who are looking very seriously at expanding their luxury portfolio in India. The first St. Regis to open in the country, though, has a very checkered past. It was constructed as a Shangri La and then became the independently run Palladium Hotel before being converted again – which is not an easy task – made especially difficult by the fact that a brand like St. Regis was involved. They have done a fantastic job and the product hits all the buttons when it comes to high-end luxury, including the hallmark butler service that St. Regis provides at all its hotels.
Anuraag Bhatnagar, Multi-Property Vice President, Mumbai & Goa, Marriott International and General Manager - The St. Regis Mumbai, gives us a little explanation. “India is at the cusp of a huge expansion in the luxury market,” he says. “The concept of luxury has evolved and brought with it an evolved luxury consumer. These new-age consumers want to ‘Live Exquisite’ in exquisite environs with exquisite experiences allowing the luxury market to be poised for explosive growth. The emergence of this ‘undeniably sophisticated’ new age consumer, the Millennials and Gen-X, with a new set of expectations has changed the landscape of luxury offerings.” Bhatnagar stresses that the hotel’s “ luxury brands have clear differentiators, in terms of design, technology, style, fit, décor and specially crafted service rituals and enhancements.” He says, “The St. Regis Hotels & Resorts, always located at the best address in the city, is all about ritualised services, butler services and brand programmes as part of the promise with service rituals that define the guest experience.”
Lastly, I want to add a hotel which really stands out for me, because of its absolutely impeccable service, which for me, is the hallmark of luxury and something that we in India tend to sometimes overdo. The Sofitel Mumbai BKC is an unashamed business hotel which brings in the right level of luxury to make it to the top table.
The secret of their service? “It may sound clichéd, but one of the definitions of luxury is when you transcend time and space and you can do what you want whenever you want,” says Biswajit Chakraborty, General Manager of the hotel. “Service today is fully customised, based on the promise you give. In our case, luxury, again is adjusted for our target audience. The Sofitel is in a business district. There is limited time we have with our guests. We are busy through the week. It’s all about their time. Service has got to be unobtrusive, yet work where and when it’s needed. Delivering more than what is needed can be obtrusive and may not really delight the guest, in my opinion,” says Chakraborty.
Two hotels which are yet to open, but will also really make their mark in the luxury hospitality scene in the country and should also be mentioned here, are the icnonic Taj Connamara in Chennai which will open after extensive refurbishments in October this year and the Four Seasons Hotel, Bengaluru at Embassy ONE, which is scheduled to open by January 2019.
The big brands are getting bullish about India, not only because of the customer potential, but also because of the great potential that exists to train manpower to suit brand standards and not have to import them. It’s something that will help luxury hospitality expand and grow, maybe not at the same pace as mid-scale, but definitely at a very healthy rate.