Luxury Hotels

I first stayed in a luxury hotel at the age of 27 and a fine thing it was. The soft beds & fluffy pillows, the scraping & aahing of so many, the big cheque at the end – I knew I was somebody. But unfortunately most of that wonder has now been taken away from me. I still love 5 star hotels. But not for their ability to reinforce my self-esteem but for their capability to deliver extreme physical comfort.

In this, the unkind God we live under has been having a bit of a laugh at my expense. Comfort now is less of huge, plump, soft mattresses and more of the anemically firm; less of the fluffy pillow and more of a tiny cotton one. Of course, a bathtub with running hot & cold water and a case full of assorted unguents can never wither. Nor will a Room Service that can deliver a truly crispy masala dosa at any time of the day or night.

The luxury hotels of the Taj group deliver the most physical comfort in India and that I like. While they can scrape and bow like the best of them, they leave you alone if you are of such a mind. I am & so we get along fine.

 

 

Whither Budget Business Hotels in India?

A few years ago, in one of those ritual paroxysms that grip the Indian business community every so often, everyone decided to set up budget hotels across India. As is wont in such circumstances, serial announcements  were made, each one rivaling the previous about the number of rooms that would be set up across India in just 3 to 4 years. And as is wont again, nothing much has happened since.

Let me tell you why.

The basic premise went thus. With India’s economy booming at almost 10% growth every year there was a lot of new business activity expected. Most of this activity would require people to travel resulting in a huge  increase in the demand for mid-range and economy hotels for these itinerant business men. Given that the current capacity was all in low-end, dirty (nay, mostly filthy) ‘lodges’ that sprout next to bus stands and railway stations, there was clearly an opportunity to provide clean, hygienic, smart hotels that would provide great accommodation at a compelling price point.

Unfortunately, the script has not quite worked out the way it was intended to. Uptake has been sluggish for the few hotels that managed to get launched. And it has left a number of highly-paid heads being scratched vigorously (mostly of people who have never ever done low-end business travel in India themselves).

To understand why the whole things has been a damp squib, a good starting place would be to deconstruct the basic premise I outlined earlier. The hypothesis had the following elements:

1. Indian economy will grow

2. That will lead to massive growth in business travel

3. Most of this additional travel will be in the mid to lower end of the market

4. Evolving consumers will demand a new product in business travel accommodation

5. This ‘new’ product will be ‘hygienic, smart, functional’ rooms at around Rs 1000/- per night cost

My guess is that the first four elements of the hypothesis turned out to be broadly correct although probably much lesser in extent or speed than envisaged in business plans. Extensive reading of hotel reviews on HolidayIQ, lots of conversations with actual consumers and my own personal experience of low-end business travel back in my CA student days suggests to me that the problem is primarily in point 5 above.

We all agree that the average Indian budget business hotel (the ‘lodges’ we talked about) is extremely unhygienic and generally unkempt. But that is to miss the primary value they provide. In addition to providing a room with a bed to sleep on, these lodges provide travellers with a perception of being important. In classic Indian ‘high touch’ style, there are multiple minions (the quintessential ‘chhotus’) who hover around the traveller and cling on to every word and take barked orders with meek accetance and generally scurry about. This sense of finally being a VIP is the biggest value provided by small business hotels to small businessmen. And it is precisely this value that has been lost in the new breed of hotels. With their policy of no room service and general parsimony towards having employees, this new breed of ‘hygienic and smart’ hotels are exactly what their target customer wants to avoid. After all, who wants to walk into a people-less hotel and realise that one is truly unimportant.

And in this lies their failure.

Weekend getaways from Mumbai, Bangalore, Delhi, Chennai, Pune, Hyderabad, Kolkata and 10 other Indian cities

HolidayIQ has just revamped its weekend getaway section. Now one can find weekend getaway destinations as well as weekend getaway resorts/hotels by distance from each of the top 17 Indian cities.

Click here to see the new pages:

Weekend getaways from Mumbai, Bangalore, Delhi, Chennai, Pune, Hyderabad, Kolkata

Weekend getaways from all 17 cities

Aman, DLF & Zecha

aman.jpg

The big news is that an Indian real estate company, DLF has purchased Aman Resorts, the very high end resort operator for USD 250 million. The interesting part of the news is that this represents just a tiny portion (well under 1%) of the current market cap of the recently listed DLF. Ok, so that is headline. Now, for the analysis & context.

Adrian Zecha the founder & CEO of Aman has done this before. In the early 90s, Aman was sold to LA based Colony Capital and Zecha left the company. What followed demonstrated the power of the man behind the brand. Aman’s regular, very rich clientele decided that Aman without Zecha wasnt quite the thing they wanted and started to drift away. Soon, the money bosses had had enough. They sold the company to a HK group and Zecha was back running the business. So, will there be a replay this time?

DLF is a listed company and listed companies do not make great custodians of luxury brands. Continue reading

Go Goa : the Beaches of Goa

It is now official – Goa is the biggest vacations spot for Indian domestic tourists. Over the last 3 years HolidayIQ has been tracking its members & users who are amongst the most ardent holiday-goers in India and the data is clear & unambiguous. Goa gets more domestic holiday-goers than any other single location.

HolidayIQ lists 18 Goan destinations for tourists, from the ever-popular Calangute beach to the lesser known Varca beach to the secret Chapora & Palolem beaches. HolidayIQ also has a free downloadable Guide to Goa’s Beaches which you can get here.

goa_img.jpg

Click here to get this guide>>

11 disrupting web 2.0 companies that will Change India

I was doing one of my usual google searches for HolidayIQ and stumbled upon something that is very gratifying. The sentence was – “One of the best travel sites we’ve seen anywhere on the web”. Apparently, IndiaStreet, the online magazine for new projects & investments in India, did a detailed exercise to identify what they called “11 disrupting web 2.0 companies that will Change India” and lo & behold, HolidayIQ is one of them. When one is immersed in work and in creating something new, there is very little time to look up and see how far one has reached. This, for me, is a sure marker of our progress. Obviously, happy about it.

Here is the link>>

6500 Indian resorts, hotels, home-stays & guesthouses

HolidayIQ has now listed 6500 resorts, hotels, home-stays & guest-houses across India. About 40% of these properties have got reviews from actual guests who stayed there, which is amazing for our country. This is simply because of the consistent hard work so many travel-crazy folk have lovingly put into this over the last 3 years. I still remember early 2004, when this project started as India Resorts Survey – a travel-lovers initiative set up by a small group of holiday junkies. It has really grown up now and it cannot be easily replicated.

The count of accommodation options at the major tourism states are: Goa Hotels – 384, Kerala Hotels – 642, Rajasthan Hotels – 561, Himachal Hotels - 381

For the bigger cities, the count is : Delhi – 198, Mumbai – 176, Bangalore – 171

Out of this list, 1157 India hotels are in a mountain or a hill setting, 554 are Beach hotels in India, 161 are wildlife hotels and 92 give the traveller an inland waterfront experience.

Karnataka : India’s best tourism destination?

karnataka-map.gif

(Karnataka map from Totalkannada)

From the rolling, cool country of Coorg to the azure blue seas around Karwar just south of Goa & Maravanthe just north of kerala, from the elephant & tiger reserves of Kabini & Nagarhole in the Nilgiris Biosphere to the historical poetry of World Heritage Sites such as Hampi & Pattadakkal, Karnataka is a state with a hell of a lot of tourism oomph. Unfortunately, the state tourism bureaucracy has managed to keep this one of India’s better-kept secrets.

In spite of which, of late, tourism has blossomed here only because of the desperate need of Bangalore‘s denizens to escape the city on weekends.

While Karnataka’s tourism future has Bangalore as its possible saviour, what about the other strong potential tourism states, such as Orissa or Madhya Pradesh?

Oh, and another thing. Talking of Kannada oomph – Aishwarya Rai & Shilpa Shetty, the 2 most-est current hotties of Bollywood & Deepika Padukone the babe-in-the-making are all from Karnataka. Coincidence or what?

Click here to read all my posts on Karnataka >>

Best Hotels by Travel + Leisure : Where is Aman?

Another ‘Best Of’ list. Travel + leisure magazine has announced the best of tourism for 2007. Included are the Best Hotels, Best Cities, Best Islands, Best Airlines, Best Cruises, Best Car-rentals, Best Tour Operators and so on.

The big Indian story of course is that the Oberoi Udaivilas comes in as the Best Hotel in the world. The really interesting news for the cognoscenti is the absence of any Aman Resort in the World’s top 100 list for 2007. Intrigued, I checked out the 2006 list – Amanpuri had come in at a low 72nd rank last year. Is this a reflection on the properties of Aman or on the readers of T+L?

World’s best restaurants

The Restaurant magazine has listed Bukhara at Delhi’s Maurya Sheraton among the world’s top 50 restaurants and the best restaurant in Asia. I have done my rounds of Bukhara & yes, it is a pretty good restaurant; but the best in Asia? Proves once again that nifty ‘selling’ is a key component of such awards.

I consider myself a foodie – for me nothing in a restaurant is as important as its food. Not the ambience, not the location, nothing else. Which is why I believe that the best food in the world is still authentic street food. So, maybe Bukhara does stew its Dal for 18 hours & maybe Bill Clinton could’nt have enough of it. But for an authentic “royal” experience of food in Northern India, I would much rather trawl the streets of Delhi or Lucknow.

Incidentally, India is one among the 15 countries to figure in the top 50 list. France tops with 12 restaurants in the top 50.

Orissa – the next big thing?

Two separate items in this morning’s Economic Times caught my eye. One was a news item announcing a massive road infrastructure project in Orissa to carry iron ore to the new Posco steel project. Anyone who has spent some time in Orissa (I did my time of about 6 months, 20 years ago) understands the criminal neglect of this state that is hopefully now getting slowly rectified. Another was an advertisement by the Orissa government inviting developers for luxury hotels on Shamuka beach in Puri. Seems Orissa is waking up.

It is my firm conviction that Orissa is one of India’s jewels in tourism and needs lots of attention. Is there any Indian (or for that matter anybody interested in India) who can ignore the land of Ashoka, the Konark temples or Lord Jagannath? But more to the point, Orissa’s virgin beaches & multi-hued landscape can be developed into buzzing centres of water sports and other holiday activities – important to all those Indians below 35 years of age, for whom activities on a holiday are important (going by activities offered, all other Indian destinations except Goa, seem to think that tourists are geriatric, has-beens who need only peace & quiet – sorry, this is a pet peeve of mine).

So, is Orissa finally going to happen? Wait and watch..

It is raining ski-villages

The Economic Times this morning carried a story on 2 new ski-villages being planned in Kashmir. These are in addition to the 2 already under implementation in Himachal Pradesh.

India is definitely one of the hottest countries on earth. So the idea of India having ski-slopes to rival the Alps seems kind 0f strange. Strange, but soon to become true.

It seems climate change is melting the ski slopes in the Alps and for aficionados, the only option soon to be left is the Himalayas.

Pakistan seems to be jumping into the act too - check out this video.

Niche, influential, defiant

These 3 words were written recently to describe both Adrian Zecha, the founder of the Aman Resorts chain and Steve Jobs of Apple. If I have benchmarks, they are it. Their businesses revolve around building lifestyle services created out of a wonderful personal aesthetic.

Obviously, neither of them run the biggest businesses in their chosen fields. Apple is so much smaller than Microsoft – but, given the Mac, the ipod & the iphone, can there be any comparison? Similarly, all the rooms of all the resorts owned by the resolutely niche Aman Resorts can probably be fitted ito a large chain hotel in one place. But again, no product in world hospitality can be easily compared to an Aman.

Sorry to gush – but that is the way I would want to make products – as things of beauty.

Gates vs Jobs : check out this cool animation video

The north kerala sikhs

My colleague Prashant claims this is a true story..

Ramanashree Hotel in Bangalore has a Punjabi restaurant, one of the highlights of which is that every evening there are a bunch of prancing sardars doing an authentic Bhangra.

So, Prashant decides to take his punjabi friend who is on a long business trip to Bangalore, to take in the Bhangra and drive away his homesick blues. So off they go to Ramanashree and right on cue the prancing Sardars happen. Amidst his relief at finding compatriots in far away south India, the Punjabi friend then engages one of them, resplendent in his psychedelic turban and luxuriantly waxed beard, in a little bit of Punjabi banter (if you have lived in Delhi for even a short while, you know what that means).

Huh? says the Sardar. The Punjabi friend tries again. heh, heh laughs the sardar apologetically under his breath. Sorry Saar, I do not understand Punjabi. And as the Punjabi friend falls off his chair, the sardar delivers his coup – You see saar, I am from Wayanad.

We all know that whichever end of the earth we go to, there will be the one-metre chai guy from kerala and the friendly butter-chicken dhaba man from Ludhiana. But, evolution being an inexorable force, watch out for new composites.

Here is a video of a Bhangra in M.I.T. (amazing, isnt it, the kind of stuff you find these days on Youtube!). Presumably being done by nerds, it is unlikely to have the earthiness of the real thing.

Weekend breaks

As the monsoon sets in and summer holidays become a memory, urban India goes into the short-break mode. Soon HolidayIQ will be flooded with users trying to find weekend getaways from various cities. When we put togethe the Weekend Getaway option on HolidayIQ, we did not anticipate the huge following this feature would get.

The Weekend Getaway feature on HolidayIQ lets users find holiday options around 18 cities of India. The best part is these can be searched by distance from the city, upto a distance of 350 kilometres. I have great fun playing with this feature even when I am not planning a holiday. Dreaming.

Here is the list of 18 Indian cities from which weekend breaks can be found on HolidayIQ:

Ahmedabad, Bangalore, Chandigarh, Chennai, Cochin, Coimbatore, Delhi, Hyderabad, Jaipur, Kolkata, Lucknow, Mangalore, Mumbai, Mysore, Nagpur, Pune, Thiruvananthapuram, Vizag

Times of India & HolidayIQ

India’s largest media group, Bennett Coleman & Company Limited (BCCL), the owners of Times of India has just announced their investment in HolidayIQ. It is indeed satisfying to see one’s creation grow up – an emotion somewhere between that of a movie director and a parent. It has been an interesting journey. To jump into areas one had limited knowledge of (travel industry & media business), try out a new concept – the first asian travel media organisation – and see it validated by the biggest media company in India has been a roller-coaster ride. Now, the stage is set for initiatives across multiple media channels – mobile, books, magazines, TV shows etc. Looking forward to lots of action.

Teppanyaki in India

Teppanyaki (鉄板焼き) is a type of Japanese cuisine that uses an iron griddle to cook food. The word “teppanyaki” is derived from teppan (鉄板), which means iron plate, and yaki (焼き), which means grilled”, says Wikipedia

Teppanyaki is that point where a lot of my “lifestyle obsessions” come together. This is where my love of east asian cusines mixes with my fascination with the spareness of japanese presentation, melts into the warmth of having a social meal around a fire and rounds off with the theatrical convivality of its chef/presenter. I love the alchemy.

Last night I had a great Teppanyaki meal at the Zen restaurant in Leela Palace hotel in Bangalore. Continue reading

Ram’s native village

ournativevillage.jpg

C B Ramkumar left a cushy job as a big honcho of the revered ad agency Saatchi & Saatchi in the middle east to return to India and indulge in that ultimate of luxuries – pursuing his dream. He now farms a 7 acre patch of fertile land just outside Bangalore and has set up India’s first 100% eco-resort adjacent to his farm. With a menagerie of animals (including Basavaraj the bull, who gives you great Bullock-cart rides and Nihal the turkey who thinks he is a peacock), the chance to share long-forgotten experiences such as kite flying and Gilli Danda with your kids and the amazing sound of silence that you get in wide open spaces, the place has a serene charm that most of us will find enticing. Check out his resort, Our Native Village, for yourself. Here is wishing CB the very best.

Travelocity India site is up..

The Travelocity India site is up. Rumour is that a formal launch is imminent. This marks the entry of the first major international Online Travel Agent into India. The most visible aspect is that the site does not have a flight booking option – maybe that is being integrated. The first impression of the site is positive. Continue reading

5000 Indian hotels, resorts, guest-houses and home-stays

HolidayIQ has hit a big milestone. It now lists over 5000 hotels & other travel accommodation options across India. The diversity and range of accommodation options is increasing in India and this is a good opportunity to take stock.

With its focus on vacations, HolidayIQ lists a large variety of “pure holiday” acommodation options. In addition, there is a group of City Hotels listed (about 1500, which is 30% of the total) primarily in “gateway” cities which are cities used as transit points by tourists to get to the more remote areas of India.

Here are the fascinating details of the holiday accommodation options available to tourists across India. Continue reading