India Luxury Offers Maharaja Moments

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Despite all these pluses and their 30 years of experience developing tours to India, the Greaves president admits, business “…was pretty dire at the beginning of the year obviously. The economy had an effect on people traveling and then the bombing in Mumbai really frightened people and it got very quiet in December and January. But to be honest, it’s really picked up. We’re not where we were last year, but it’s definitely improved.”

And a lot of that, she says, has to do with adding the aircraft availability. “Virtuoso had its big travel mart in Vegas and we talked about that primarily with agents—we had about 100 meetings a day for four days—and everyone was really, really keen and since we got back, there’s definitely been an increased interest in those offerings,” Cambata says confidently.

virtuoso viewpoint One of those Virtuoso agents may well have been Paulette Aaronson, an India specialist at Greatways Travel, who says she loves India, wants to go back and sells all of it. “I tell people to go into Mumbai for only a day or two because you want to see it. That’s where all the technology is, it’s a built up city. But I just loved Delhi; Delhi was amazing. I think the old and new Delhi is just an incredible part of the country,” she says enthusiastically. “And I think also that because Gandhi was there, it gives you that feeling of the struggles that he went through and a greater understanding of things.”

In terms of utilizing tour operators to India, the Virtuoso specialist says, “when we go through the list of Virtuoso tour operators that go out there…Abercrombie & Kent and Cox & Kings do an amazing India for luxury.” Still, Aaronson says, despite booking with the big boys, “I try to use small companies that will make changes at the last minute for some of my clients. Sometimes people want to get out of a hotel because they don’t like it and if you’re really on a tour, sometimes it’s not the easiest thing to do. But when you’re dealing with a single tour operator who’s doing a VIP for you, it’s always easier to switch out.”

Speaking of hotels, Aaronson is enthusiastic about the hotel properties in India and very enthusiastic about one brand in particular. “The hotels were amazing, especially the old hotels—the imperialist, magnificent and absolutely gorgeous hotels. But basically, I think the Oberois, as far as I’m concerned, are the major hotels to stay in,” she says. “I stayed at the Taj in Delhi and it was a lovely, beautiful hotel. But when you go into what they call the ‘Golden Triangle,’ the better of the hotels—you can speak to anyone and they will tell you it’s the Oberois.”

the taj mystic But there’s at least one person who would differ from that viewpoint—Jodi L. Leblanc, v.p., sales and marketing, the Americas, Taj Hotels, Resorts and Palaces, who is particularly fond and proud of the Taj group’s palace hotels and its flagship hotel in Mumbai.

“They’re our brand ambassadors. They really are what makes up the essence of the Taj group. We’re in 12 countries now, but if we’re just talking about India, The Taj Mahal Palace and Tower—which is our flagship since 1903—along with the palaces really are our brand ambassadors for the group. It is part of India’s heritage,” Leblanc enthuses. “And these are authentic palaces. We don’t rebuild to make them look like a palace, these are actual palaces, owned by the royal families—the maharajahs. We operate them, we’ve restored them to what they looked like when the maharajahs grew up in these homes. So that’s pretty much our trademark and what Taj is known for best.”

The Taj Mahal Palace and Tower, which was one of the focus points of the infamous attack on Mumbai last year, has been renovated with a new palace wing that’s made it even more luxurious than before.

“We’ve moved forward and our clients have come back. The tower reopened three weeks after the attack and the palace wing has been totally renovated and it’s going to be more gorgeous and more spectacular than it was before and that’s going to reopen most likely before or by the beginning of the year,” the sales exec points out, adding that bookings are available right now. “And what’s brand new about it is that all the rooms in the palace wing will have butler service. We’ve only had it reflective in suites and certain rooms.”