Taj Chia Kutir: One stop destination for tea tourism and luxury in Darjeeling

In an exclusive interview with BWHOTELIER, Jitendra Singh Lote, General Manager, Taj Chia Kutir Resort & Spa, Darjeeling talks about ‘Makaibari’ way of life, promising guests ‘Instagrammable moments’ along with visit to the world’s first ever tea factory, guided trips and valley treks while at the same time putting health and safety of all stakeholders as top priority.

Set amidst 22 acres, the Taj Chia Kutir Resort & Spa, Darjeeling is a 72-room luxury resort nestled amidst the sun kissed tea gardens of the Makaibari Tea Estate in Kurseong. Home to the first and the oldest tea factory in the world, it was established in 1859, also the first to be certified as a fully organic tea garden 32 years ago. The resort, often enveloped in mist, has panoramic views of the rolling hills. The design is inspired by the meandering tea terraces and blends with nature.

Congratulations on opening this beautiful resort! Can you elaborate on the USP of the resort and the reason for choosing Makaibari Tea Estate as the location?

The exotic location seeped with traditional blend of cuisines and cultures were some of the reasons to choose Makaibari Tea Estate as the site to build the hotel. The eco-friendly design of the hotel incorporates elements of stone, bamboo, cane to instill the essence of Makaibari. Jiva spa with an indoor heated swimming pool is an ideal way for our guests to relax after curated trips to the tea gardens and its factory, cuisine trails and a host of experiences. In addition to a mélange of cuisines offered at Chia Verandah, we also present to our esteemed guests Sonargaon all the way from Taj Bengal, Kolkata.

What are your expectations for traveller footfall, average occupancies and ARRs? Which are the potential source markets? 

We are looking at positioning ourselves as a one stop destination for guests who wish to experience the thrill of tea tourism along with comforts of luxury. We see an opportunity to unlock a beautiful resort in the hills of the Himalayas and make the Makaibari way of life come alive in all its interactions, the X factor that will boost visitors to the hotel. Guests for our hotel would be varied and across the spectrum. A blend of conventional hill station lovers as well as a long tail of micro consumer tribes. Focus on key feeder micro markets like Siliguri and Guwahati which are also extremely amenable to driving holidays, short  hauls are being considered along with Kolkata which would be a defining opinion maker of  this address – as most of our guests would be  familiar with the region and it is a matter of great pride for them to be associated with the hotel.

What has been your marketing strategy for better sales?

Top of the mind recall for key travel agents based in the source and micro markets, property tours and virtual connect with each of them. Roadshows and FAM trips along with reaching out to the loyalty guests data base to introduce the new entrant in the Himalayan circuit. We have also focused on social media campaigns on handles of different hotels to leverage our strength. 

What are the measures you have taken to ensure a safe and 'seamless guest experience' especially in light of Covid-19?

The COVID-19 pandemic is continuing to reshape the hospitality business. While we have adapted to the dynamically changing market scenario, our top priority continues to be the health and safety of all our stakeholders. We have developed a framework in collaboration with some of the leading players in the field of safety and hygiene, to build standards that ensure well-being and safety of our guests and associates embodying our renewed spirit of Tajness - A Commitment Restrengthened , which is representative of our augmented safety, hygiene and physical distancing standards. Technology is being integrated for seamless, yet personalised check-ins, check-outs and dining experiences. With digital payments and non-invasive thermal screening, physical touch has been replaced by a touch of safety. Enhanced disinfection protocol with frequent cleaning of high touch surfaces is in place with rooms allocated to guests only after mandatory resting for a specified time frame.  

What do you think of the future of hospitality industry? How long do you think will it take for things to go back to normal? 

As we have adapted ourselves to the new normal, we have been able to repose the trust and faith in our guests. We are looking at positive trends in revenues with our guests venturing out to recharge themselves.  We are closely monitoring the guidelines issued by the Govt of India along with the health authorities and making the necessary changes in our operations. The future of the hospitality business looks promising with green shoots of hope springing up.

What special experiences are in store for the guests coming to Taj Chia Kutir and Resorts? What makes this resort stand above others in the competitive benchmark?

We promise the guests a host of 'Instagrammable moments' as they enjoy the specially curated experiences. These include mystical tea trails of Makaibari where the guests can experience tea cultivation at the only organic tea garden where Camellia Sinensis are growing in harmony with the primary sub-tropical rain forests. Visit to the world’s 'first ever tea factory' built in the 18th century which is built on wood, bamboo and cast iron and is perfectly functioning till date. There is a valley trek to take guests into a world of pristine tea estates dotted with winding forest paths and streams of pure spring water gently flowing along wet, mossy creeks with interesting birdlife. Guided trips to Ghoom, Darjeeling and Kurseong to explore local history, cultures and cuisines. Guests can also enjoy 'Tea Ritual' which is a hi-tea and tea tasting session with our Tea Sommelier.

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