Forbes India 15th Anniversary Special

Global luxe brands rush to cater to the VIP Indian tourist

With the well-heeled Indian traveller splurging on sports and other experiences, personalised luxe itineraries are being curated like never before

Published: Jun 12, 2024 12:08:27 PM IST
Updated: Jun 12, 2024 02:32:06 PM IST

Karan Khetarpal & Rachel Goenka, Investor-entrepreneur & restaurateur, the Mumbai-based couple is travelling to New York for the India-Pakistan World Cup match, scheduled to be played on June 9 Image: Mexy XavierKaran Khetarpal & Rachel Goenka, Investor-entrepreneur & restaurateur, the Mumbai-based couple is travelling to New York for the India-Pakistan World Cup match, scheduled to be played on June 9 Image: Mexy Xavier

As the rich Indian traveller in pursuit of the exclusive—a tribe growing phenomenally since the pandemic—descends on London over the next few months, global ultra-luxury hotels, top restaurants and boutique concierge services are going out of their way to cater to them. There’s not just strawberry and cream, but also customised cocktails, personal shoppers, book readings by celebrity authors, spas and tête-à-tête with Scottish whisky collectors.

Catching the action at the Wimbledon’s Centre Court is on the agenda for many people. But their exclusive itineraries go beyond just the “free” nibbles and tipples in the hospitality box (prices start at 1,500 pounds per person), situated right next to the royal box, at the world’s oldest tennis tournament.

High net-worth individuals (HNIs) and ultra-high net-worth individuals (UHNIs) from India have increased their spending on leisure tourism, including sports, over the last few years, even outpacing traditional frontrunners from relatively stagnant or stalling economies in Asia and Europe.

“There is a sea of Indian faces at Wimbledon now… an upsurge in the number of Indians at big-ticket sports events,” says coach Aditya Sachdeva, technical director at the RoundGlass Tennis Academy in Mohali, when we talk on the subject at a society do. His students include rising Indian stars Rushil Khosla and Daksh Prasad, and he is a regular at all the Grand Slams. “The Indian sports fan is dedicated and obsessive. I know that the few tickets allotted to India for quadrennial events like the Olympics are snapped up in no time. In fact, there are now companies dedicated to curating sports experiences for Indians, and are bringing on board former players to give fans a unique perspective. Some of our former tennis greats were approached,” he notes.

This surge in international travel is being noted by a slew of global hospitality and fine-dining establishments too, who seek to benefit from the tourism spends by Indians at a time when economies such as the US, Japan and Europe are struggling, and traditional high-spenders from Russia and China are keeping away.

“While the pre-pandemic corporate business has not returned, during summer, we are getting a chunk of Indian travellers spending on Michelin-starred restaurants and exclusive experiences. People are planning their trips as much around Wimbledon as the Chelsea flower show,” says chef Sameer Taneja of the Michelin-starred restaurant Benares in Mayfair. “There was so much Indian food in the hospitality box at Wimbledon last year… and not just because of the larger London trend towards spicy, where, of late, even non-subcontinental Londoners complain if the food is ‘bland’,” he laughs.

Karan Khetarpal & Rachel Goenka, Investor-entrepreneur & restaurateur, the Mumbai-based couple is travelling to New York for the India-Pakistan World Cup match, scheduled to be played on June 9 Image: Mexy XavierIndian sports fans at Wimbledon in London. RedBeryl Lifestyle Services offers ball-hitting sessions with the likes of Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi at the venue Image: Julian Finney / Getty Images

“There’s a huge opportunity with the Indian VIP market,” acknowledges the uber-luxe Jumeirah group, owned by the Dubai royals. The group has been making substantial investments to attract HNIs from India.

“At Jumeirah, we are witnessing a noticeable shift in luxury spending among Indian consumers. We see a common thread among the affluent in that they are chasing the intangible—knowledge, culture and emotional resonance, luxury is not just measured by spends,” says Michael Grieve, chief brand officer at Jumeirah, who adds that the Indian market is extremely important and they are “exploring new ways to connect with the Indian audience”. The brand recently acquired new hotels in Italy, Oman and Bahrain (that sponsors the F1 team Williams Racing and is already popular with Indian F1 enthusiasts), and made a GBP 100 million investment in its historic Carlton Tower London to up the personalised luxury quotient, which it feels will appeal to the HNI Indian traveller.

Other global hospitality majors such as Mandarin Oriental, whose New York hotel was acquired by Reliance Industries in 2022, Singapore-based Raffles, and Bangkok-headquartered Six Senses (opening city hotels now) too are aggressively looking at luxury outbound travel from India. Six Senses CEO Neil Jacobs, who was in India last year, talked about how India is a “key source market” for the brand’s 23 hotels globally, and has appointed an Indian agency to look after its global communications mandate from India.

Also read: Indians are splurging on luxury holidays that give them more than just views and spa treatments


Karan Khetarpal & Rachel Goenka, Investor-entrepreneur & restaurateur, the Mumbai-based couple is travelling to New York for the India-Pakistan World Cup match, scheduled to be played on June 9 Image: Mexy XavierVaibhav Gulati, Founder, Gold Standard Sports Management, who has been a passionate sports fan since childhood, it was a dream come true to watch the high-profile Monaco Grand Prix race from a yacht docked on turn 9 of the circuit. “It was a historical race too, as this was the first time since 1931 that a Monaco-born-and-bred driver won the Monaco GP... that made it even more special,” he adds

How to spend it, and more

India’s tourism spends are expected to hit a whopping $410 billion by 2030, a 170 percent surge from $150 billion in 2019, according to the report How India Travels by Booking.com and McKinsey late last year. Indian travellers are set to be the fourth largest global spenders by that time. UNTWO has already recognised India as one of the top three fastest-growing outbound travel markets in the world.

An IPK International report published at this year’s ITB Berlin says India’s outbound travel market has exceeded that of China, South Korea and Japan, traditionally the biggest spenders in Asia. In 2019, India was fifth behind China, South Korea, Japan and Taiwan. This sort of growth driven by the aspirational and wealthy Indian is pegged on exclusive experiences lately, including sporting spectacles, but with a sense of the immersive.

It is not just London and Wimbledon with their cultural connect, but destinations in the Americas, Africa and Europe too are hosting premier events that are drawing Indians, with elite travel companies and concierge services engaged in crafting unique experiences for those who can splurge.

Karan Khetarpal & Rachel Goenka, Investor-entrepreneur & restaurateur, the Mumbai-based couple is travelling to New York for the India-Pakistan World Cup match, scheduled to be played on June 9 Image: Mexy XavierTV host and actor Mini Mathur, her husband, filmmaker Kabir Khan, with daughter Sairah (centre) at the paddock at Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. Sairah is an F1 geek. Her parents too have developed an interest in the sport and the family goes from country to country, and track to track, to watch major F1 events

Manoj Adlakha, former CEO of American Express India, launched his own firm RedBeryl Lifestyle Services eight months ago. The membership/subscription-based service curates luxury experiences for HNIs. “I combined all the benefits of top luxury cards without their credit aspect, and more, along with a global concierge service that is available 24x7”, he explains.

There is a separate vertical for sports (and concerts) to enable experience-seekers get the best. The curation includes getting business or first-class air tickets at preferred rates (because the wealthy are also value conscious, as Adlakha points out), the best seats at premium events and customised itineraries around these: “Our 24x7 concierge ensures you get the best seats… front-row action at prestigious sporting events from Wimbledon to the Paris Olympics.”

According to Adlakha, the growth in this luxe experiential travel, including for sports, is an estimated 30 to 35 percent per annum. “People are not thinking twice about travelling business class and are going beyond just seeing an event. For Wimbledon, for instance, we curate before and after occasions such as ball-hitting with Pete Sampras or Andre Agassi, or with women’s tennis champions such as Steffi Graf or Chris Evert for the girls—previous champions, because, of course, [a ball-hitting occasion] with Novak Djokovic would cost them the Earth!”

Karan Khetarpal & Rachel Goenka, Investor-entrepreneur & restaurateur, the Mumbai-based couple is travelling to New York for the India-Pakistan World Cup match, scheduled to be played on June 9 Image: Mexy XavierKolkata-based Shrenik Avlani, who was at the 2016 Rio Olympics as a volunteer, is heading to Paris Olympics this year, particularly to cheer the women’s football team. “The Rio Olympics was my second time as a volunteer for a big sporting event, after the Fifa World Cup in Brazil in 2014,”he says. “I always wanted to find out how such huge events are pulled off and volunteering gave me that chance.” Volunteers pay for everything—from their tickets and visas to boarding and lodging—so it’s not cheap. But it brings together thousands of enthusiasts, including fans and world-class athletes, who celebrate sports, sportsmanship and, generally, have one big party for three weeks. “Some of the Rio volunteers will be working in Paris too, and I am eagerly looking forward to our reunion,” he says. “I had applied to volunteer for Paris 2024, but wasn’t selected for some reason. Since these processes are opaque and no one explains the reasons for rejection, I haven’t bothered finding out. So, I am Paris-bound as a spectator this time.”

The India-Pakistan ICC World Cup match slated for June 9 at New York’s Nassau Country International Cricket Stadium is similarly much in demand by well-heeled Indian sports fans. The tickets—that cost $1,200 initially but eventually were selling for $2,300—are all sold out but there is still hunger for more. RedBeryl’s curated experience around this match includes an exclusive fireside chat with former men’s cricket team captain Sourav Ganguly.

There are also other frills, including fine-dining in restaurants such as Indian Accent New York and Junoon (once helmed by celebrity chef Vikas Khanna), transport in luxury cars, and luxury stays.

“We are super excited to watch the forthcoming T20 India-Pakistan match in New York. Thanks to RedBeryl, we have VIP seats with drinks and dinner, and also interactions with cricket legends,” say Mumbai-based couple Karan Khetarpal and Rachel Goenka, who are travelling for the match.

Karan Khetarpal & Rachel Goenka, Investor-entrepreneur & restaurateur, the Mumbai-based couple is travelling to New York for the India-Pakistan World Cup match, scheduled to be played on June 9 Image: Mexy Xavier

Also read: Why restaurateurs are betting big on India's new penchant for luxe dining experiences


A chateau in France, private tastings in Scotland

This year’s Paris Olympics too are seeing affluent Indian travellers buying into plush travel, dining and retail experiences built around the games. Radhika Khanijo of Delhi-based luxury travel company Welgrow Travels shared an itinerary that includes a private dinner with fireworks in a French castle located half an hour from Paris, breakfast at the Hermes flagship, private appointments at Chanel with a personal shopper, and a visit to the Louis Vuitton family home. Each of these carries hefty price tags.

On the sidelines of Wimbledon, Khanijo says, travellers who are mostly in the 40- to 60-year-old age bracket are looking for out-of-London experiences, too, to extend their trips. Like, stays at villas in Cotswold, a week in Scotland with private whisky tastings with collectors there, etc.

Karan Khetarpal & Rachel Goenka, Investor-entrepreneur & restaurateur, the Mumbai-based couple is travelling to New York for the India-Pakistan World Cup match, scheduled to be played on June 9 Image: Mexy XavierThe Glenmorangie House is located near the village of Tain, amid barley fields, and facing the sea. An open bar with luxe and rare Scotch, ceremonial Scottish meals with a bagpiper ushering you in, and country sports like clay pigeon shooting are the highlights of the tranquil stay. It’s almost never available on usual booking sites Image: Left: Courtesy Glenmorangie House; Right: Aaliya Ashwin

Interestingly, even luxury hotels in these areas have options for outdoorsy activities that Indians are taking to, despite not being the sportiest of the lot at home. Hotels such as Four Seasons Hampshire have curated experiences such as pony grooming, falconry and clay pigeon shooting for kids.

Estimated spends with air tickets, event tickets, hotels and a week’s curated experiences can come up to ₹25 lakh to ₹30 lakh per person, or $3,000 or even more a day per head, estimate those in the business.

Last year, in Scotland, on the sidelines of my own summer in London, I had a taste of some Scottish sport in a remote villa in Tain, overlooking the sea and surrounded by fields of barley.

The Glenmorangie House is almost never available on usual booking sites, with its six bedrooms, full staff, including butlers and bartenders on call, a 24x7 bar with rare whiskies, a piano on which Sting had practised while he stayed here, and bagpipers ushering you into ceremonial dinners (they played the Indian national anthem for me). But the highlight was a village youngster coming by to teach me clay pigeon shooting with a heavy air rifle that can give you a sore arm from the recoil if you aren’t adept or careful.

It was a priceless experience. But, of course, priceless is pricey. And India is discovering that.


(This story appears in the 14 June, 2024 issue of Forbes India. To visit our Archives, click here.)