In the capital to launch a book on the Rambagh Palace, Jaipur, part of the stable of the Indian Hotels Company, the latter’s managing director and chief executive officer, Raymond Bickson, had a quick chat with Ruchika Chitravanshi. Edited excerpts:
You have recently completed 10 years with IHC. What has been the high point of your journey?
The high point has to be the growth the company has seen in the last decade. I am on my 11th year here. We are so pleased to open our 100th hotel in India in the coming month. It will be branded Vivanta, our upscale brand. That will be a great benchmark for us. We will also be opening the 30th Ginger hotel this year.
What does the launch of the book on Rambagh Palace signify for Taj Palaces and Resorts?
Rambagh Palace, Jaipur, is probably the most iconic in the Taj group and it represents the true India. It is one of the icons through which people from all over the world get to know about India. We are very fortunate to be custodians of the heritage that is in these palaces in Rajasthan, particularly Udaipur, Jaipur and Jodhpur. Also, Rambagh for us is special as it is one of our longest relationships. The family is commemorating Rambagh with a book on Rajmata Gayatri Devi and all she did to make the hotel happen today.
How are the heritage brands performing compared to the modern hotels the company has opened?
During this season, I think the fourth quarter shows that these palaces are holding their own, from the small one in Varanasi to the Rambagh in Jaipur and Lake Palace in Udaipur. These are a must to see and experience when you come to India.
Hospitality companies are increasingly focusing on the domestic market, since foreign tourist inflow has slowed. For Indian hotels, is the focus more on domestic than international?
It is both. Ideally, we would like a 50:50 mix, where we are not completely dependent on one market to keep us going. It is obviously the reason why we branded all our properties, to give us an opportunity to have different types of hotels at different price points at different levels of service for different customers.
Is this because of the entry of so many global brands in the Indian market?
The international brands entering the country today have a preferred stable that they have put out in the market. We needed to go head to head, toe to toe with the new competition and I think the segmentation we have done with Palaces at the top, down to Ginger offer a product, a price and a service that give value to the customer.