The infallible grandeur of Taj

Established in 1901, Taj Hotels Resorts and Palaces is one of Asia's largest and finest group of hotels, comprising 131 hotels in 65 locations across India and with a global presence in Maldives, Malaysia, UK, USA, Bhutan, Sri Lanka, Africa and the Middle East. From world-renowned landmarks to modern business hotels, idyllic beach resorts to authentic Grand Palaces, each Taj hotel offers an unrivalled fusion of warm Indian hospitality, world-class service and modern luxury.  For over a century, The Taj Mahal Palace, Mumbai, the iconic flagship has set a benchmark for fine living with exquisite refinement, inventiveness and warmth. Taj Hotels Resorts and Palaces is part of the Tata Group, India’s premier business house.

An icon of Indian hospitality, Taj will complete 112 years of its landmark hotel, The Taj Mahal Palace, Mumbai, on December 16, 2015.

Ms. Rakhee Lalvani, Director Public Relations, Taj Hotels Resorts and Palaces, opines that Taj’s legacy is synonymous with integrity and trust offering its valued guests an unforgettable experience. 

In a tête-à-tête with Kashmir Observer Managing Editor, M Farooq Shah, Ms Lalwani says The Taj Mahal Palace, Mumbai has featured on the T+L USA Top 100 World's Best Hotels List in 2014 and ranked 8th in the list of Top 30 City Hotels in Asia. The hotel, she says, was also earned ‘the Best Overseas Business Hotel’ on the Conde Nast Traveller UK Readers' Travel Awards in 2014 and stands a firm favourite every year at the TripAdvisor Traveller’s Choice Awards.

Excerpts of the interview. 

 FAROOQ SHAH: The Taj Group of Hotels is an international brand known for its grace and grandeur. What sets Taj apart from the rest and what do you think makes the Taj memorable and unforgettable?

RAKHEE LALVANI: The Taj is a legendary symbol of hospitality and is renowned world over for its warm and personalized service.Our roots go back a century. Nurtured under the visionary leadership of the Tata Group, ours is a legacy synonymous with integrity and trust. Each hotel has been privileged by a multitude of dignitaries who have made it their home, and made us what we are today – a hospitality group that is both loved and admired. 

Our unique portfolio of authentic grand palaces, safari lodges, iconic city hotels and exotic resorts offer distinctive experiences that embody the spirit of the Taj. Our multi-brand structure, sharply defined, is ever evolving to stay current and relevant. Whether it is luxury, business, adventure or pleasure, the Taj offers you unforgettable experiences and is a place where you feel a deep connection and a place you want to keep coming back to.

FS: The Taj is Mumbai's first harbour landmark built 21 years before the Gateway of India and this heritage attracts visitors from across the world more than anything else. How do you cherish this distinction?

RL: One of the original grand hotels of the world, The Taj Mahal Palace, Mumbai has grown to become an integral part of the city’s heritage, and indeed, its heart.From the day it first opened its doors to guests on 16thDecember 1903, the Taj was acknowledged as India’s finest hotel. The Taj Mahal Palace, defines the Mumbai skyline and stands as a landmark for over a century now.  The iconic hotel has set a benchmark for fine living with exquisite refinement, inventiveness and warmth that pays a tribute to the bespoke Taj hospitality. We take immense pride in the fact that The Taj Mahal Palace is India’s first luxury hotel and from history and art to cuisine, Taj celebrates the spirited Indian culture. 

A trendsetter at the turn of the previous century, it is a hotel that has ‘may firsts’ to its credit such as electricity and elevators. At the time, it was probably the only place in the world where a British Viceroy could rub shoulders with an Indian Maharajahand where sailors on shore could flirt with the Pompadour Follies. Predating the Gateway of India by over two decades, it was the Taj that welcomed the world to the city’s shores. 

FS: For over a century, the Taj has played a historic role hosting Maharajas, dignitaries and eminent personalities from across the globe. At times, Mumbai and the Taj are counted as the one. You must be feeling proud about it?

RL: The Taj Mahal Palace, Mumbai, has defined and redefined luxury hospitality for over a century, winning countless awards and honors, with an impeccable reputation for excellent service, stellar accommodations and outstanding dining. The Taj takes pride in hosting distinguished guests, from heads of state to industry leaders and entertainers. 

The Taj Mahal Palace, Mumbai has featured on the T+L USA Top 100 World's Best Hotels List in 2014 and ranked 8th in the list of Top 30 City Hotels in Asia.The hotel was alsonamed the Best Overseas Business Hotel on the Conde Nast Traveller UK Readers' Travel Awards in 2014 and stands a firm favourite every year at the TripAdvisor Traveller’s Choice Awards. 

FS: Taj is a treasure-trove of invaluable memorabilia, there is a story to tell behind every pillar, a landmark deal in every boardroom, and a storied celebration under every awning. Elaborate it a little more.

RL: We can respectfully say that The Taj Mahal Palace, Mumbai has grown alongside India. Lord Mountbatten announced India’s independence from the steps of the hotel. The moment has been etched in the history of India. 

The grand staircase has been the walkway for several important figures over the past century. Kings, Queens and Presidents have walked down the regal red carpet including President Barack Obama, President Sarkozy and even the Champions of the ICC World Cup 2011 and his Holiness, the 14th Dalai Lama

Golden Dragon is the first Sichuan restaurant in the country. It now serves cuisine from all over China.  We at the Taj, are also proud of Harbour bar, Mumbai’s first licensed bar which opened in 1933. In the 1980’s the Taj opened India’s first fine dining restaurant,The Zodiac Grill to cater to the demand for a Grill Room. Chefs were sent to London to train with Albert Roux at Le Gavroche. The most famous dishes are the Camembert Soufflé, Chicken Zodiac, Prawn Ala Kiev and the Kahlua Mousse. When the Zodiac Grill opened, the Taj threw another surprise. The Menus had no prices. When the bill came, it was a blank sheet of paper. “We have no prices, Sir,” the waiter would explain,“You pay what you think the meal is worth”. It was a daring ploy, which paid off handsomely.  

The French couturier, Pierre Cardin held his first fashion show in India at the ballroom, this was among the first tête-à-tête for India with international fashion. 

The visit of one of Hollywood’s post-war idols, Gregory Peck, was particularly memorable to the Taj’s carpenters, because they had to be called out to extend the frame of his bed to accommodate his exceptional height. 

An architectural marvel of the Taj is the 40-foot long panel of filigree stone in the tower wing lobby, made up of square jaali panels, was cut by the stoneworkers of Agra whose forefathers had worked on the grieving Shah Jehan’s masterpiece, the original Taj Mahal.

We introduced the concept of ‘Saturday night’ with dinner-cabarets that became an enormous success. Every Saturday it was packed. Fifteen rupees for a three-course dinner with cabaret.

It is not uncommon to see generational association of employees at the Taj. An interesting anecdote is of Jaswinder Singh – our imposing doorman; who gets mistaken for his father, Nidan Singh who was at the Taj for 23 years and succeeded his father who was also at the Taj for many years; so effectively three generations all in the same role. 

FS:  How many hotels does the Taj Group have across the country and abroad?

RL: Established in 1901, Taj Hotels Resorts and Palaces is one of Asia's largest and finest group of hotels, comprising 131 hotels in 65 locations across India and with a global presence in Maldives, Malaysia, UK, USA, Bhutan, Sri Lanka, Africa and the Middle East. From world-renowned landmarks to modern business hotels, idyllic beach resorts to authentic Grand Palaces, each Taj hotel offers an unrivalled fusion of warm Indian hospitality, world-class service and modern luxury.  For over a century, The Taj Mahal Palace, Mumbai, the iconic flagship has set a benchmark for fine living with exquisite refinement, inventiveness and warmth. Taj Hotels Resorts and Palaces is part of the Tata Group, India’s premier business house. 

FS: Vivanta by Taj Hotels and resorts is hailed by Wallpaper UK as a "stroke of genius" and rated by Conde Nast Traveler US as the 3rd best global hotel brand. Tell us more of that.

RL: The brand Vivanta by Taj has been created by the company after extensive customer research and feedback. Vivanta by Taj-Hotels & Resorts appeal to the cosmopolitan global traveller who appreciates new experiences and pleasant surprises, rather than the typical hotel experience. The name ‘Vivanta’ draws inspiration from the term ‘bon vivant’, denoting sophistication and appreciation for the good things in life and also from the attributes of vividness and vivacity. The brand exudes vibrancy, style and a strong sense of living life to the hilt.Vivanta by Taj is the next generation of cutting-edge hospitality. An experience that always inspires your senses, seeks to redefine the usual and serves up the ordinary with a twist. 

Vivanta by Taj delivers premium hotel experiences with imagination, energy and efficiency. Currently comprises 30 Vivanta branded hotels and resorts in India and the Indian Ocean region, Vivanta by Taj is represented across key metropolitan capitals as well as popular holiday destinations like Goa, Kerala, Rajasthan, Sri Lanka and the Maldives. With innovative cuisine, energetic spaces, unique motifs, distinct avatars, the smart use of technology and experiences that seek to constantly engage, invigorate and relax, it challenges your expectations of a hotel and unfolds multiple layers of delight all adding up to make Vivanta by Taj the new signature in hospitality.

Vivanta by Taj was ranked as the 3rd best hotel brand in the world by Conde Nast US in 2014 and was the 4th most sought after brand in India as per Digital Luxury and Ecole-Lausanne. Developers have embraced this model and voted for it with a slew of projects executed within a short span of 5 years that has seen the brand double its turnover. 

Vivanta by Taj – Dal View, Srinagar characterizes the complete spirit of the Vivanta brand. Located on the Kralsangri Hill overlooking the scenic Dal Lake, Vivanta by Taj - Dal View, Srinagar, is the ultimate romantic getaway. With its breathtaking views, the hotel offers fascinating surroundings in any season, bordered by the majestic snow-capped Zabarwan Range in the winters and overlooking the Tulip Gardens in full bloom in spring. 

Unique Motifs offered at Vivanta by Taj – Dal View, Srinagar include an elegant Wazwan experience, a charming sunset shikara ride, traditional Kehwa high tea experience and a visit to Dachigam National Park as well as the Papier Mache factory. 

FS: Could you tell us more about the comparative advantages of the hotels managed by the Taj?

RL: Taj, India’s eponymous hospitality brand has always known to be way ahead of its peers.It is one of the most respected and admired brands. For over a century, Taj has always pioneered destinations, cuisines and is probably the only Indian hotel group to masterfully restore authentic palaces which are recognized as some of the finest in the world. The Taj has been inextricably linked to preserving India’s heritage, as well as consistently championing the cause of arts and artisans to create a platform for sustainable living.

Today, the Taj Group occupies an unrivalled place in the history of Indian hospitality. We continue to grow with 131 hotels spread across India and present in London, New York, Boston, San Francisco, Cape Town, Dubai, Langkawi, Lusaka, Maldives, Sri Lanka and Bhutan. Intuitively attuned to your every need, each hotel strives to deliver an authentic experience. 

Young & Rubicam’s Brand Asset Valuator Study has recognized the Taj as the No.1 breakaway brand, which is one of the most reputed brand studies globally. This recognition is yet another testimony to the deep levels of engagement that our guests experience with the Taj brand.

FS: Technology and social media play major roles in the hospitality industry. For the Taj, what role does technology play in improving the guest experience?

RL: The digital medium today impacts all aspects of our lives and this is equally true for the hospitality industry. Our guests are using technology like never before and we as hoteliers have to keep up with the ever-changing guest needs. The Indian e-commerce industry has grown exponentially over the last few years and the travel segment dominatesthe sector. Taj Hotels Resorts and Palaces will continue to focus on this area with the main objective of improving our guest experience and engagement during the stages of pre, during and post stay. Our focus on the digital medium will drive some of our technology investments as well as how we invest our marketing funds. 

Since last year, we have been working on a few initiatives including complimentary Wi-Fi connectivity for residential guests across all our brands. This year we have put a lot of effort in re-launching our award winning loyalty program ‘Taj InnerCircle’ which has been accompanied by a new website, making it easy for our guests to access all relevant information and services easily. We will take this a step further and also launch a mobile app shortly for our loyalty members so they can view their activity and book/redeem easily within the app itself. We are also working on re-launching our web and mobile presence with the aim of providing an enhanced user experience with relevant content. We are also workingto enhance our in-house guest technology in order to provide a more personalized and interactive experience for guests. At the same time we are also increasing our distribution reach to connect with meta-search aggregators in order to drive more customer traffic through our brand websites.

 

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