Taj Mahal Palace & Tower in Mumbai, built in 1903, was the chain’s first hotel, and represented the refined taste of its founder. Born in an Indian culture where the guest is treated like God, J.N. Tata traveled the world to ensure that his hotel was equipped with world class facilities. From English butlers to Turkish baths, The Taj offered its guests the best in luxury.
At the time when the Taj Hotels brand was born, the travel and tourism industry in India was at a nascent stage. As Ashwini Kakkar, Managing Director, Thomas Cook India, explains, “In the early 1980s the tourism industry in India was equated with the foreign visitor. The hotel rates were generally priced higher than the economic standards prevalent in the country and for Indians, travel was restricted to either places of pilgrimage or visiting one’s home town.”
However, the growth of the Indian corporate sector in the mid 1980s saw an increase in domestic business travel. Also, the liberalization of the Indian economy in 1991, coupled with permission of Foreign Direct Investments (FDIs) in various sectors of Indian industry, created a spurt in both inbound and outbound travel. Domestic players like Taj Hotels and Oberoi Hotels seized the opportunity and expanded rapidly to meet the demands of the growing market.
In the last decade, the recognition of India’s IT talent has seen the influx of corporate multi-nationals like Microsoft and IBM, matched by international hotels chains like Hyatt, InterContinental, and Hilton. With a multitude of brands vying for space in the burgeoning hospitality industry in India, there is now intensified competition for homegrown brands like Taj Hotels, Oberoi Hotels, and Leela Hotels and Resorts.
To compete with these global chains, Taj Hotels introduced new systems like corporate standardization, renovation of previous properties, and new age services like loyalty programs and spa services. Along with its heritage, the continued focus on customer service and innovation helped Taj Hotels maintain its position in the Indian industry. And to compete with the global brands in their own turf, Taj Hotels also set up and acquired properties outside India. The brand now boasts of a luxury hotel chain with 57 hotels in 40 locations in India and 18 locations worldwide such as Maldives, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Seychelles, the United States, Bhutan, and the Middle East.
With properties gracing metropolitan cities, hill stations, wildlife destinations, beach resorts, and historical sites across India, each Taj hotel serves as a window to a destination, where guests can absorb the region’s history, savor traditional fare, and interact with the locals. For example, Taj Lake Palace, Udaipur, and The Rambagh Palace, Jaipur, are luxurious palace hotels which allow guests to experience the grandeur and lifestyle of the Indian “Maharajas” (kings). On the other hand, Taj Exotica, Goa, and Taj Garden Retreat, Kumarakom, are leisure properties that showcase some of India’s wonderful scenic treasures.
The presence of these “four and five star hotels” in exotic locales around the country has not only helped showcase Indian destinations to the world but also played a significant role in promoting tourism among the country’s growing middle and upper middle class.
One of the key attributes about the Taj brand is the way in which it juxtaposes the traditional and the contemporary. As Mr. Ajoy Mishra, Senior Vice President, Sales and Marketing, Indian Hotels (the company that owns the Taj properties), explains, “While we ensure that the décor and ambience of our hotels echo the region’s culture, our hotels provide guests with the comfort of modern facilities and services.”
While most luxury chains in India are on a level playing field when it comes to service and amenities, the focus on “food & beverage” often serves as a differentiator. As a spokesperson of Taj exclaims, “In India, the dining experience can make or break a hotel, especially when it comes to creating a perception about the hotel.” The Taj brand’s penchant for creating outstanding culinary experiences has increased footfall of non-resident guests, which has been a significant revenue source. For example, Taj was the first to introduce international cuisines like Sichuan, Thai, Italian, and Mexican in India. In another innovative initiative, a year ago, Taj introduced PURE at Taj Lands End, Mumbai—India’s first restaurant focused on organic ingredients.
In order to attract business clientele, Taj Hotels is providing corporate clients a mix of practical utilities with luxury. It is focused on developing cutting edge technology, and introduced an innovative service called “cyber butlers” in some of its properties, which allow guests to help get connected to the Internet in any part of the hotel. Wi-fi technology has also helped the company promote “green workstations,” particularly at a time when India is emerging as an important MICE (Meetings, Incentives, Conferences and Exhibitions) destination.
While the Taj brand in India has a high, unaided brand recall, the company regularly undertakes advertising campaigns to reinforce its brand values of warmth, luxury, and efficiency. In the 1990s, the brand launched the “She is the Taj” campaign, which emphasized that the Taj was modern and efficient, yet traditional in its respect and care for people. It was personified as the Indian woman who is traditional and graceful. Recently, the Taj has launched a campaign to promote its palace properties. The advertising is reminiscent of India’s bygone era and entices travelers to savor the lifestyle of the Maharaja.
According to a company news report, “the overall strategy is to ensure that a third of the brand’s revenues come from global acquisitions.” No wonder, that in recent years the company has witnessed a spate of acquisitions, like the Ritz-Carlton in Boston and Campton Palace in San Francisco, and plans to enter gateway cities like Paris, Frankfurt, Chicago, and London in the near future.
Internationally, Taj Hotels is generating brand awareness through niche promotions like participation in global travel exhibitions and marketing alliances (a recent one was the alliance with Okura Hotels and Resorts, a leading international hotel chain in Japan).
In India, the Taj brand has beautifully captured the essence of Indian hospitality. If the brand can evoke a similar feeling of warmth and efficiency in its properties abroad, the brand is definitely set to go places.