Taj Hotels Harness Varied Inventory to Tap Wedding Market & Group Travellers

IHCL's Sales Mission at the Taj Palace, with more than 60 hotels and resorts participating in it, shows that the 115-year-old brand has the nimbleness to stave off challengers

INDIAN TRAVELLERS are constantly seeking out newer domestic destinations even as they are re-defining the old idea of 'family travel'.

In the age of nuclear families, where friends are the new extended family, group travel by unrelated people is becoming more important than ever. Forever looking for newer experiences and therefore creating a growing market for experiential travel, these groups could be as diverse as single women travelling together to let their hair down, or workplace friends, or alumni of a particular batch from a particular school or college (this is the 're-connecting' market), or even bachelorettes.

"People are even travelling to celebrate milestones," said Renu Basu, Senior Vice President, Global Sales and Marketing, IHCL (the Taj Group in popular parlance). "And the milestones are no longer just golden and silver jubilees, but even 30th birthdays."

To reach out to this new class of 'group' travellers, IHCL has lined up a whole array of experiences -- from Ama Trails and Stays, which offer the colonial planter's lifestyle in the Tata Coffee (Coorg and Chikmagalur) and Tata Tea (Glenlorna in Coorg) plantations, to Theog (Shimla) and Rishikesh, where Taj has made its first forays into hill tourism, to iconic city hotels such as Blue Diamond (Pune), Cidade de Goa (Panjim) and Devi Rattan (Jaipur), which are all a part now of the IHCL's SeleQtions brand.

"We are forever looking for new destinations offering new experiences," said Basu, who is in Delhi for the two-day IHCL Sales Mission featuring more than 60 Taj properties working towards the Aspiration 2022 target set by the company's Managing Director and CEO Puneet Chhatwal. The objective of the sales mission, as Basu pointed out, is to project IHCL's changing brandscape and growth plans and the new additions to its fast-expanding universe.

Aspiration 2022, as explained to me by Rohit Khosla, IHCL's Executive Vice President-Operations for North, West and East India, in the May-June 2019 issue of BW Hotelier, is a mandate for each group hotel to lift its profit margin by 2 per cent a year between 2018-19 to 2021-22, or 8 per cent in all, of which 4 per cent will be contributed by the top line (revenue growth) and the remaining 4 per cent by cost efficiencies.

Indian travellers may be looking out for new experiences, but there's no getting away from the fact that weddings have grown into a market that no hospitality company can ignore. IHCL, Basu said, has the distinction of being the first Indian hotel brand to organise a destination wedding at the Taj Exotica, Goa, in the early 2000s, and the joke in Mumbai is that marriages are not made in heaven, but at the Sea Lounge, Taj Mahal Palace. With so much tradition to back it, 'Timeless Weddings with Taj' was bound to be a success, offering one-stop solutions, including expert advice, to wedding-bound families.

IHCL, according to Basu, has multiple advantages in the wedding market because of the many different hotels and the many different hotels it has to offer. From Dubai to The  Pierre, New York City, from its palace hotels (including the Falaknuma Palace in Hyderabad, which is much sought after for engagements) to its hotels in Goa, Bhutan, Coorg and now Amritsar, IHCL has a vast variety -- from a wedding on the beach (Taj Exotica) to one in the shadow of the Himalayas (Taj Rishikesh) -- to offer to the wedding market.

"Taj has emerged as a trusted brand for weddings," says Basu. "Some of our hotels, in fact, have become wedding destinations." Notable among these hotels are the Taj Palace, New Delhi; Taj Land's End, Mumbai; and the historic Taj West End, which first opened its doors in 1887, and is famous for its expansive gardens.

IHCL's strength is its enviable inventory. The Sales Mission gave us an idea of how vast and bountiful it is.

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