DURING A recent visit to New Delhi, Jason Harding, the general manager of Taj Dubai, Taj Hotels’ new property in the United Arab Emirates, had said, “We are operating an international hotel in an international market. If we were operating an Indian hotel in an international market, I think that would reduce our reach and ability to attract.”
He was talking about the Taj’s position in a market like Dubai, but for an Indian visitor at Taj Dubai, the statement sums up the whole experience of the hotel. Everything at the hotel is comparable to what an international hospitality brand would offer in a place like Dubai. From a small, no-fuss lobby to well-equipped rooms, luxurious toiletries, a well-stocked mini-bar and vibrant restaurants, the hotel competes with the best in amenities and ambience.
At the same time, one never really forgets that it’s a hotel run by an Indian company. Harding tells us that over 3,000 pieces of art were specially commissioned for the property. So if a set of Mughal paintings greets you in the room hallway, Emirati ceramics adorn the bedroom. This balance of the two cultures can be seen all across the property. If one encounters marble-inlaid furniture at various corners, a big pot of Arabic coffee and tumblers greet visitors at the entrance. But the overall mood is unmistakably cosmopolitan.
This is confirmed by the generous number of expats who throng the sprawling outdoor Mediterranean Treehouse and the more cosy, but electric gastro pub The Eloquent Elephant. This, despite the hotel being just a year old. They are not looking for an ‘Indian’ experience, and the watering holes offer them none. Interestingly, the hotel has no ‘24×7’ café, a must in every Indian establishment.
“The market defines what we offer,” explains a hotel executive, when asked why the atmosphere of the hotel feels so different from some Taj properties in India. Perhaps the same logic also explains the stepped-up game at the Taj Safari properties and places like Umaid Bhawan in Jodhpur (which attract mostly foreigners).
In an intensely competitive market like Dubai, which saw a Four Seasons and St Regis opening the same year as the Taj (2015), and with Bulgari and ME Dubai slated to open soon, there is no room for laxity. But Harding is not intimidated. “We are in downtown Dubai, which is marked as the centre of now. You have the world’s biggest shopping mall, you have the world’s tallest tower, Burj Khalifa. You have the world’s biggest fountain show in the Dubai Fountain. Then they are opening up the Dubai Opera House soon. So we have an incredible location. From our perspective, there are some wonderful hotels in Dubai. More are coming, but none of them have 130 years’ experience of running luxury five-star hotels. And that’s what we have. That’s our differential,” he says.
Also, given that Indians make the largest percentage of tourists coming to Dubai, an Indian hotel brand finds many takers. “It’s a matter of pride for Indians to see a home-grown brand standing tall in a foreign country. Plus, the familiarity of the brand is inviting enough for guests to check into the Taj,” adds a hotel executive.