In times of growing competition in the hospitality industry, as leading global players eye the Indian market, India Hotels Company Ltd — better known as the Taj Hotels Resorts and Palaces — is restructuring its brand architecture to tap the “upper upscale segment”, rolling out 19 hotels under the ‘Vivanta by Taj’ brand. The company’s MD and CEO, Raymond N. Bickson, shared the company’s plans with HT. Excerpts:
The IHCL Taj brand is synonymous with India worldwide. So where does Vivanta fit in?
At present, nearly 40 big international players like Starwood, Marriot, Four-Seasons, Ritz-Carlton, Hyatt International, etc are entering India with multiple brands. Taj is the leader with 25 per cent market share, and to compete with these hotel chains — both home and abroad — and retain our position, there is a need for segmentation. In India, we have four brands, whereas Taj is our only luxury brand abroad.
What are your global expansion plans?
We are entering key international markets to pursue rapid growth in international destinations. The company has always been open to opportunity, and as and when we saw potential, we have explored the market to enhance our portfolio.
We recently inaugurated our latest addition to our international portfolio, the Taj Cape Town, in South Africa. Since international hotel chains are entering India, we’re forced to go overseas to protect our market share.
IHCL has not made any major acquisition nor does it have a major presence in Europe and China. Any plan for 2010 and beyond?
The UK has two key Taj properties in 51 Buckingham Gate and Crowne Plaza at St. James Court. Besides this, we have a marketing alliance with a boutique hotel chain Victoria-Jungfrau Collection in Switzerland as a strategic joint marketing alliance to develop cross-promotional opportunities. We have also forayed into China and have signed management contracts and are looking at opening luxury hotels in major Chinese cities over the next five-seven years. We are looking forward to the opening of our first two properties in China — one near the Temple of Heaven Park in Beijing, and a resort in the Hainan province. These should be ready in the next couple of years.
What’ll be the funding model for your on-going and new projects worldwide?
Funding will be a mix of 100 per cent investment by IHCL — limited to a few projects, joint ventures and management contracts.
What effect will Mukesh Ambani’s stake in EIH Ltd have on the industry?
It’s positive as well as challenging for the Indian hotel industry. Big money will come to this sector.
Any other areas that IHCL is focusing upon, apart from hotels?
It’ll be in the form of value-addition to our hotel business — expansion of our Spa venture and construction of convention centres in Delhi, Mumbai and Goa at present.