Taj Hotels in London celebrated India’s 75th Independence Day with subtle aplomb! Inviting a select group among the resident guests, senior employees got together as Area Director, IHCL, Ms Mehrnavaz Avari, hoisted the tricolour. As the national anthem played out, everyone was standing still in proud celebration. Immediately thereafter, one solid voice from amidst the gathering boomed “Bharat Mata Ki Jai”, followed by another equally robust “Vande Mataram”, as the crowd burst into spontaneous applause.
A short and sweet ceremony where Mehrnavaz made a very brief welcome address, underlining the group’s commitment to playing “custodians to Indian hospitality industry”. Very true as the highlight of the snacks served included boondi ke laddoo, a burfee artistically draped in national tricolours, cocktail samosas and one of the best tasting dhokla you could have had.
Even a short stay at the group’s two adjacent properties, namely St James Court and 51 Buckingham Gate, together more than 400 rooms and residences, are an everyday and every time celebration of uniquely Indian. There are intricate soft touches of Indian art, some of Hussain and Paresh Maity adorning the hotel reception and prominent walls. There are art pieces at entrances, though the most prominent must be the culinary choices. Everyday the lavish buffet breakfast choices include dosas and appams. There is stuffed paranthas, cholla, rajma among others. Kingfisher beer is possibly the first choice suggested by the hotel staff. The hotel experience is unmistakably marked with Indian traditional warmth amplified with the presence of a significant Indian staff. Apart from meeting the shortage created by Brexit, the hotel employs students as part time support – they serve a standard 20 hours per week. They are well trained and most courteous, happy to be associated with India’s best known global hospitality brand. They are Indian students working on their MBAs mostly in business but also in hospitality.
No surprise then that the hotel remains the first choice of the Indian cricket team, leading public figures and artistes. This summer has been exceptionally busy for the hotel as most of London enjoyed high occupancies and never heard of before rates. The Taj preferred to be responsible towards its regular customers, going up on rates but not going over the top.
As the flag was hoisted, it was an unmistakable take off on IHCL being the predominant Indian hospitality major in both leading global cities like London and New York. Now, there should be more to follow, especially with Air India becoming a part of the TATA group. The effort would now be to fly the Taj banner in every major city where the Indian flag carrier is online. It’s but a most logical route to further growth in sync with the group’s acquisition.
The first thing one notices, incidentally, on arriving at St James Court is the Indian flag fluttering majestically, just as it does before the TATA office in the city. Given the current winds of expansion and consolidation within IHCL, with its multi brand assault and new emphasis on asset light strategy, one can only expect Puneet Chhatwal led group company to become aggressive in the Europian market – he has over two decades of hands-on experience in this region, first with Radisson Hotels and then as CEO of Steigenberger Hotels(now Duetsche Hospitality). We can safely expect more from Puneet and IHCL in the coming months. Keep the flag flying, IHCL, the nation has every reason to be proud of you!