As we move into 2022, India’s oldest hotel company updates its legacy


IHCL Managing Director and CEO Puneet Chhatwal talks about a new segment of luxury travel – the Millennial Indian who now travels with family and is willing to spend big

It’s a busy morning in London, a hazy midday in Delhi and azure blue skies in Udaipur, when Puneet Chhatwal, Lakshyaraj Singh Mewar and I meet – online, connecting from three different cities for a one-on-one. head that was long overdue.

Initially, the idea was to get together around a meal. Maybe at The Chambers restaurant refurbished at the Taj Mahal hotel in New Delhi to talk about everything IHCL (the parent company of the Taj group and the largest hotel company in Southeast Asia) has been up to lately – showing a decent recovery from the first months of the pandemic, developing convincing strategies to reduce debt, increase revenue by 132% (in the second quarter of fiscal year 2021-22 compared to the same period of the previous fiscal year) , but above all, to develop furiously, by not only registering more recent hotels but interesting some: a luxury residence run entirely by women (the Taj wellington Mews in Chennai), a century-old house near the Ganges, in a town not known for leisure or luxury (Pilibhit House, Haridwar) , a hotel in the heart of the Makaibari tea estate (the Taj Chia Kutir, offering a deep dive into the plantation lifestyle with built-in permaculture and sustainability), and a Taj Exotica at the Palm in Dubai at the start of the year next (with a renowned Indian restaurant opening).

Puneet Chhatwal and (right) Lakshyaraj Singh Mewar

Puneet Chhatwal and (right) Lakshyaraj Singh Mewar

But first, London. It’s still early in the morning when Chhatwal, MD and CEO of IHCL, connects and we start discussing the Indian food scene in this metropolis. “Indian restaurants are buzzing,” he says, but admits he hasn’t checked out any other than the Taj-owned Quilon “because if I’m in Europe after all this time, I don’t want to eat Indian food,” says he frankly. . Then again, Sriram Aylur serves some of the best South Indian coastal fare in the world, and the restaurant also retained its Michelin star for the 14th consecutive year earlier this year.

Read also | IHCL’s Taj named world’s strongest hotel brand

We’re still talking about food, when Singh, the 77th keeper of the 1,500-year-old house of Mewar, India’s oldest royal dynasty, joins a cultured man. namaskar to all. “So, LakshyarajI am, have you been jogging? Chhatwal jokes about the former’s fitness routine.

The camaraderie between my two guests is immediately apparent. IHCL completes 50 years of operating the iconic Lake Palace in Udaipur, a home and hotel whose guestbook contains messages from some of the world’s most famous people, including Queen Elizabeth II; or octopus, the James Bond film starring Vijay Amritraj and Roger Moore was filmed; and which was built (it opened in 1746) long before the United States became a nation. “That’s what I tell people… that you are in a place that existed before your country,” says Singh, more practical hotelier than reckless prince, “if not who remembers the story?

Taj Lakefront in Bhopal

Taj Lakefront in Bhopal

Planning for the Millennial Indian

They talk about staying in touch with the needs of the contemporary traveler, while retaining old values, and how the pandemic has created a new segment of luxury travel – of the Millennial Indian, with his family, ready to go. pay more than before (while looking for value); and one whose patronage will be important in the future, even when the jumbo jets that pay in dollars come back.

“The national leisure market will not go away anywhere,” says Chhatwal, “People have traveled with their parents and families, and this behavior will continue. “When it comes to luxury experiences, the Indian traveler steadily evolves in terms of exposure” and if he is helped by political decisions such as reducing taxes on quality wines “, this market will reach its maturity.

Pilibhit House, Haridwar

Pilibhit House, Haridwar | Photo credit: @narresh

Realizing this new demand, global luxury hotel chains such as Six Senses and Raffles as well as Indian hotels ITC (with its new brand Mementos) have all launched / signed new hotels – managed properties offering luxury experiences. As the new Six Senses Fort Barwana near Ranthambore made the headlines for the super private wedding of actors Katrina Kaif and Vicky Kaushal, Raffles in Udaipur was talked about for experiences tailored to the Indian context, including dining who delve not only into Royal Rajput Kitchens but “culinary masterpiece made especially for you, with an amalgamation of your horoscope, individual dosha and health, ”according to its website.

All competition is good ‘

Does this competition baffle my guests today, both with considerable interests in Rajasthan which seems to be at the epicenter of the new hotel tug of war? Chhatwal smiles, “You shouldn’t be alone at the top,” and clarifies, “All competition is good in the long run because different brands bring in different sets of customers, whose acquisition cost might have been too high otherwise. It helps us because new customers get to see your brand ”. He continues to highlight Tata’s legacy: “Just look at the iconic properties we have… Lake Palace, Falaknuma [Hyderabad], 51 Buckingham Gate [in London, where he is staying as we speak], who can match them? “

Amã Stays & Trails - Cardozo House, Goa

Amã Stays & Trails – Cardozo House, Goa | Photo credit: Elmer D’Souza

As India’s new history unfolds, IHCL’s relationship with the royal dynasty of Udaipur which owns the HRH hotels (the only luxury hotel chain in India under private ownership) is significant. “It’s not a marriage, weddings can be complicated, this one isn’t,” Singh said of the 50-year ties between the two legacy businesses. “Through the pandemic, the Tatas have supported us strongly; I just had to pick up the phone and there was immediate help instead of being told to refer to page xyz of the contract, ”he adds. It’s a relationship based on shared values, but as Chhatwal drily adds, “every relationship must also have an investment, both emotional and capital.”

Read also | How Luxury Hotels Cope with Guest Needs with Specially Trained Butlers

For IHCL, this means not only better access to a pool of prestigious high-end properties, but also leverage vis-à-vis other aristocratic landlords who can admire the royal family of Udaipur. For HRH, growing and modernizing with the weight of such a large chain is a clear advantage. Hospitality insiders recently spoke about the IHCL signing on HRH-owned Gorbandh Palace in Jaisalmer and Fateh Prakash Palace in Udaipur last year, two interesting heritage spaces.

Busy pandemic years at the IHCL

  • Through the pandemic, in 2020 and 2021, IHCL continued to expand while streamlining its activities. As the industry recovers, here’s how the numbers tell the story:
  • During fiscal year 2020-21
  • 17 new hotel signatures
  • 7 new hotel openings, including The Connaught, New Delhi and Taj Chia Kutir Resort & Spa, Darjeeling
  • During the 2021-22 fiscal year
  • · Over 11 key hotel openings including Pilibhit House, Haridwar – IHCL SeleQtions, Taj Lakefront, Bhopal, Vivanta Sikkim, Pakyong. Upcoming hotels for the remainder of the year include Taj Wellington Mews, Chennai, Vivanta Navi Mumbai Turbhe, Raajkutir – IHCL SeleQtions and Taj Exotica Resort and Spa, The Palm Dubai
  • · Ama Stays & Trails, promising ‘untouched experimental escapes’ ranging from host families to unique trails, spans over 50 bungalows
  • Plans to purchase a residual stake in Roots Corp, which manages the Ginger brand
  • To raise 4,000 crore by selling shares to existing investors and financial institutions to fund capital expenditures and reduce debt

Unique dining experiences also play an important role in the future of the hospitality industry, explains Chhatwal. Singh, meanwhile, assures me that “of course you should have laal maans at the Lake Palace [a recipe his gourmet father, Arvind Singh Mewar, specialises in] but there are also other dishes ”. His favorite “hand to my heart” is the unlikely spaghetti bolognese which he says tastes as good as in Italy!

100 Taj hotels to come

Chhatwal reflects on the “paradox of life” where time has stood still in some places, as it should, but modern tastes and needs nonetheless have to be considered. “This is the tightrope you’ve walked everywhere,” I think, remembering breakfast at the refurbished Machan in Delhi, a beloved cafe, now stripped of its striped carpet and dated air. It’s lighter, brighter, and with options like a Japanese ‘trail’ menu, Delhi’s pop street foods like chole bhature, served with a scoop of old Bull’s Eye (an ice cream cake and dessert that 1990s Delhiites are still nostalgic for) and an old-fashioned Taj service.

The mention of Machan also arouses the nostalgia of Chhatwal, who is moved to exclaim: “This is the reason why I became a hotelier!” He tells us how he would sit in the cafe watching people for hours as a young hotel student – over the only cup of coffee he could afford then. Now, however, his eyes are resolutely on the future. Chhatwal, who played cricket in his youth, expects a new century: 100 Taj hotels over the next three years (the tally is currently 85), a feat that would make it one of the top three chains in luxury hotels around the world.


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