The President hotel at Mumbai’s Cuffe Parade has had quite an identity crisis recently, thanks to a series of changes: Is it to be called the Taj President? The Vivanta? Vivanta by Taj?
To maintain its distinctive identity—which has always been ‘The President’ for people of the city—and of other properties like it, the Indian Hotels Company Limited (IHCL), the parent company of Taj hotels, will launch a new brand for a curated collection of such hotels, called SeleQtions. SeleQtions hotels will not bear the ‘Taj’ or ‘Vivanta’ tags, but will be properties that are locally famous in their own right, for which IHCL will take on management contracts.
In its first phase, SeleQtions includes 12 hotels, which will be known by their legacy names:
1. President, Mumbai
2. Ambassador, New Delhi
3. Blue Diamond, Pune
4. Tajview, Agra
5. Savoy, Ooty
6. Cidade de Goa
7. The Connaught, New Delhi
8. Devi Ratn, Jaipur
9. Gateway, Coonoor
10. Gateway, Chikmagalur
11. Gateway, Varkala
12. Pratap Mahal, Ajmer
Puneet Chhatwal, MD and CEO, IHCL
In an exclusive chat with Forbes India ahead of the brand launch, IHCL MD and CEO Puneet Chhatwal highlighted the key features of this strategy. Edited excerpts: Q. Before you took over as CEO, the previous management had attempted to re-brand all of IHCL’s properties as ‘Taj’. What made you move away from this plan, and where does SeleQtions come in?
The starting point was this: To have a clear identity for all of our brands. For example, we have removed all references with Vivanta to Taj—it’s no longer called Vivanta by Taj, it’s just Vivanta. Just like Ginger was, and just like JIVA Spa was. Nobody has ever called The President in Mumbai the ‘Taj’ or the ‘Vivanta’. Everyone calls it The President. They come there for Thai Pavilion or Konkan Café or Trattoria, which all have their own identity. The Connaught in Delhi is another such example.
Our first SeleQtions hotel, Cidade de Goa, is a famous property that we have recently taken management of. So to suddenly call Cidade de Goa ‘Taj’ or ‘Vivanta’ is confusing.
We believe that having this separation will make the Taj brand purer and allow Vivanta to evolve, and at the same time, create a platform for IHCL to add a significant number of hotels to its portfolio in many secondary cities and district capitals of India. They may already be there, but without the business model to become a Taj or a Vivanta. This way, they keep the name they created, but they get all the benefits that are difficult for them to achieve as single-hotel owners, to match both customer expectations and market competitors.
As it stands today, all SeleQtions hotels are all management contracts for us. While Vivanta will be led by new construction, SeleQtions will primarily be a conversion brand. Globally, big chains such as Hyatt and Marriott also have such curated collections of hotels, which are not called Hyatt or Marriott, but known by their own individual names.
Q. What is SeleQtions’ positioning, and what are its defining factors?
The positioning will be anything between upscale and upper-upscale, which is market driven. What is upscale in Delhi or Mumbai could qualify as upper-upscale in Ranchi or Patna or Shillong. There will be certain common elements between these hotels, such as the bathrobes, linen and shower products, but otherwise, they’ll be about their own character, which we don’t want to change. The very purpose of having a named collection like this is that the hotels can maintain their identity. So although they are part of the global subcontinent story, they are completely local in terms of customer needs and experience. Q. How many SeleQtions hotels are planned to open over the next few years?
We hope to get to 50 operational properties within five years. The great news is that we’re starting this new brand with presence in Mumbai, Pune, Goa, Agra, Jaipur, Bangalore, Chennai, and two in Delhi—covering all the significant lodging markets. Q. Where does the Vivanta brand fit into this hierarchy?
Vivanta will be a very nice upscale brand, as is evident in the hotels we just opened in Guwahati or Kathmandu. With this positioning, it will be an ideal fit for all the state capitals of India—political as well as commercial state capitals, cities like Bhopal, Indore, Ranchi, Patna, etc. They will be excellent markets, besides the mega markets, and ideally, Vivanta will be our growth brand here. Q. Are you on track to open one new hotel each month this year, as promised earlier this year?
We might even over-deliver on that. Cidade de Goa has already opened, and more will follow in the next month. Obviously, that one hotel each month promise also includes Ginger brands. It’s a significant change versus before, to do net 12 openings this year—and we just opened two Taj hotels in March, in Rishikesh and Shimla. Whether we count this year from January or April, we are very much moving in the right direction. We already know we will be opening two more Taj hotels in Dubai this year, and six more Ginger-branded properties.
In Dubai, one property is more or less finished, and the other will be handed over in August. We’ll wait for the summer period to pass and launch them in October. We are very confident we will have 12 openings this year, if not more.