Certainly, the Taj properties throughout India do have a sense of place, history and heritage—all factors that appeal to high-end clientele who know what they want and demand a level of service other market segments may not care about or have had very little experience with.
And to that service ethic she says, “We’ve had over one hundred years to perfect our service. We’re the oldest luxury hotel company in Asia, so service is obviously one of the key points we strive for in excellence. I think we have a sense that whatever the customer needs is there—an amazing sense of a smile that you don’t always get in foreign countries…. It sounds almost trite, but it’s not when you’ve traveled throughout the world. Their aim to please is genuine. It’s not just because they have to do it, it’s an amazing amount of energy that goes into the service, and because English is widely spoken in India, there really is no language barrier. But it really is a genuine warmth with our staff in all of our hotels and that’s what customers have remarked about with Taj.
“We also have a new palace opening in February 2010,” she adds. “It’s the Falaknuma Palace, which is, again, an authentic palace that was owned by a royal family in Hyderabad. It’s great because Hyderabad was the “City of Pearls”—each city in India has some sort of a specialty—and it’s also an international hub for IT. So we’re going to have this absolutely fabulous palace for leisure and business guests. It’s going to be set up for both.”
sita’s touch SITA World Tours likes both Taj and Oberoi well enough to use them on both of its luxury offerings to India. In fact, says Laudie Hanou, v.p., “Taj properties are as good and sometimes it’s also just a feel. The Oberoi hotel in Agra is positively opulent, it’s like dripping, it’s amazing, it really is. But there’s a feel for each property.”
Clients can get that “feel” on either of two luxury programs to India SITA’s offering in 2010. The 12-day India In Luxury offers exclusive accommodations at the Oberoi properties while clients are visiting Delhi, Agra and the Taj Mahal, Fatehpur Sikri, Ranthambhore, Jaipur, Udaipur and Mumbai. On the 14- or 17-day Best of India & Nepal, the Taj properties take front and center stage with stays at the Taj hotel in Mumbai and the beautiful Taj Lake Palace Udaipur, a one-time royal island retreat and now a luxurious hotel seemingly floating upon the waters of Lake Pichola.
Hanou concedes that, “The business to India has slowed down quite a bit; it’s just been a challenging year,” despite the fact the 75-year-old company has been named “Best Tour Operator to India” more times than any other tour operator in North America. Still, she says, “We’ve been fortunate—we’ve definitely been down like everybody else—but we’ve had some very large groups that we’ve been working on in 2007/2008 that were operating in 2009.”
Still, she says, the company’s confident on moving forward with business as usual. “We’re doing 2010 product right now; we’re not dropping any destination. We’re still doing Africa, all of Asia, India and South America.… The company’s been in business for 75 years and we’ve seen the ups and downs. But we’ve had some really good luck becoming preferred with new companies like Travel Leaders—which is the Carlson group—also TRAVELSAVERS, NEST and, of course, we became preferred with Vacation.com last year and we’re in talks with Virtuoso.”
As evidence of that confidence, the veteran tour operator is offering a new element to their 2010 India itineraries to beef up its program appeal. “It’s important to know that in 2010 we’re doing home-hosted dinners. This is something nice to do when you’re first arriving to immerse yourself in the culture and to get a feel of family life within India in a very nice home. It’s an introduction to the culture and the people and you become familiarized with what they eat, there are discussions.”
Indeed, she adds, “The people that are buying these kinds of programs—these luxury or deluxe programs—they’re discerning clientele; they ask questions, they’re inquisitive, they’re dynamic people. They welcome this kind of thing because they are learning more about the culture.”