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A Correspondent in Mumbai |
December 16, 2003
Exactly a century ago, Jamshetji Nusserwanji Tata's dream was concretised when the Taj Group's first hotel, The Taj Mahal Palace & Tower, Mumbai, was opened on December 16, 1903. It is said to have cost £500,000 -- or Rs 2.5 million -- then.
Legend has it that it was not a very enjoyable experience that made Tata foray into the hotels arena. Somewhere towards the end of the 19th century, Tata is said to have taken a foreigner to a dinner in a hotel, only to be stopped at the entrance by the doorman.
The reason? Only Europeans were allowed in, not Indians.
That rebuff was enough to make Jamshetji decide to build a grand hotel in India that would be a matter of pride and awe the world over.
Legend has it that scores of people gathered for the opening ceremony; some as invitees and others as curious onlookers to see the majestic, illuminated edifice that has since been a symbol of India's hospitality across the globe. The hotel stood overlooking the Arabian Sea.
Eight years later, the hotel got another magnificent monument to keep it company when the Gateway of India was built to commemorate the visit of King George V to India in 1911 in front of the Taj.
When it began, the hotel had only 30 suites and four electric elevators. It had just 17 guests when it opened, but since then it has played host to Pope John Paul, Queen Elizabeth, former US President Bill Clinton, the Aga Khan, Shah of Iran, George Bernard Shaw, Sir Richard Attenborough, and former member of The Beatles Paul McCartney, among other global celebrities.
'Second to none, east of the Suez'
"The imposing structure, with a large central dome and two wings crowned with smaller domes, stands on a foundation that is 40 feet deep," writes T Damu, vice-president, Indian Hotels Company, about the hotel on the company Web site.
"It cost Tata a staggering Rs 25 lakh (Rs 2.5 million) to construct the princely marvel. His intention was that the hotel should be 'second to none, east of the Suez.' It had all the facilities one could imagine - and many one couldn't - for a hotel of its time: power laundry, electric irons, Turkish baths, a chemist's shop, post-office, and more."
"Tata had toured many countries in Europe with the expansive plan for the hotel meticulously sketched in his mind. He visited London, Berlin, Paris and other cities to make many of the purchases, while his sons, Dorab and Ratan, put their hearts and heads into ensuring that the hotel's interiors were moulded according to their father's desire," writes Damu.
"Thus the premium hotel grew in stature and grandeur. By 1906, the Indian Hotels Company, the Taj's proud owners, had a capital worth Rs 30 lakh."
"The Taj holds the distinction for achieving many firsts, among them India's first air-conditioned restaurant and ballroom and Mumbai's first licensed bar, the Harbour Bar, both built in 1933."
"Further expansion of the hotel started in 1968, when a new tower, designed by Rustam Patell, was added to the heritage wing," writes Damu on the company Web site.
"The hotel has been continuously evolving ever since its birth, adding new facilities and expanding its physical properties. It's a member of 'the Leading Hotels of the World', and it has 582 rooms, including 49 spacious suites uniquely decorated with original artefacts and antiques," writes Damu.
Global acclaim and expansion
The Taj Group of Hotels has established itself across India, in important industrial cities, beautiful beach resorts, hill stations, places of pilgrimage and historical significance, and even wildlife destinations.
The Taj Group has won global praise for its quality hotels, its excellence in business facilities, services, cuisine and interiors.
"The Taj Group's operations cover over 60 hotels in India and abroad, and encompass a number of brands across various price segments," says the company Web site.
'The symbol of India's warmth and hospitality'
On the occasion of the completion of 100 years of the Taj hotel, Tata Group Chairman Ratan Tata said that the hotel will continue as the symbol of India's hospitality and warmth.
Speaking at a prayer ceremony marking the centenary of the Taj, Tata said the hotel had drawn up plans that provided immense possibilities of growth.
The Taj Group also announced 100 centenary scholarships for underprivileged children in Mumbai and said all the Taj hotels would plant 100 saplings to mark the event.
Ratan Tata said the Taj Group, which set the standards in the hospitality industry a century ago, will keep offering the best service to all.
Managing Director of the Indian Hotels Company Raymond Bickson said the company had plans to expand into China, West Asia, North America and Australia.
He said the group welcomed international competition and would attract India's best and brightest talent and select international staff.
Strengthening the brand
In a bid to grab the larger market share in the hospitality industry and strengthen its brand, the Taj Group of Hotels has launched a major upgradation programme of its business hotels both in India and overseas, to be completed in three phases.
"The first phase of upgradation is already complete. Banquet halls have been renovated at Taj Residency in Bangalore and Taj President in Mumbai. This will be followed by opening of 65 rooms at Taj Connemara in Chennai next month," Jyoti Narang, chief operating officer of the business hotels arm of Taj Hotels, said.
The group has invested over Rs 30 crore (Rs 300 million) in the first phase of upgradation, Narang said. The next phase will be completed by September 2004 and will include renovation of banquets at the Taj hotels in Chennai and Pune. Work on the Hyderabad hotel too will begin then, said Narang.
The group is likely to open its recently acquired property from India Tourism Development Corporation in Chandigarh soon. The company has named it Taj Residency. Narang, however, declined to give details on investments in the next two phases.
As part of room renovations, the group has introduced facilities to de-stress and entertainment besides deciding to over deliver on food.
Asked about increase in costs, Narang said there would be marginal increase in costs.
The company has a dominant position in most areas it is present in. Providing world-class personalised service to guests, while authentically reproducing the traditions and heritage of India, has made the 'Taj' brand a symbol of luxury and service the world over.
The Taj Group of Hotels is grouped into strategic business units to standardise the brands, making them distinct and identifiable. These brands have been classified as luxury, business and leisure.
Taj luxury hotels: The Taj Luxury Hotels capture the essence of the Taj experience. Located in the main Indian cities, they maintain high standards in all the services they offer. With exquisitely appointed rooms and modern comforts, these hotels offer the finest standards of hospitality and service.
Standing testimony to the quality of service, a number of the luxury hotels of the Taj Group are members of the Leading Hotels of the World. These include The Taj Mahal Palace & Tower (Mumbai), Taj Palace Hotel (New Delhi), The Taj Mahal Hotel (New Delhi), Taj Bengal (Kolkata), The Taj West End (Bangalore) and The Taj Coromandel Hotel (Chennai).
Taj business hotels: Located in the heart of India's key commercial cities and towns, the Taj Business Hotels provide every modern facility at particularly attractive room rates.
These international style hotels meet the growing needs of business travellers visiting cities, which are rapidly industrialising and expanding. The best hotels in their environment, the Taj business hotels offer multi-cuisine restaurants and the best business facilities in the city. Vibrant and progressive, they retain the warmth and spirit of India.
The company anticipates that a significant portion of its long-term growth will come from the expansion of this brand and is actively seeking ways of strengthening and expanding this brand.
Taj leisure hotels: At the Taj leisure hotels, pleasure seekers, the curious and those simply wanting to get away from it all can do just that. These properties include idyllic beach resorts, genuine palaces, turn-of-the-century garden retreats, hotels located close to historic monuments, pilgrim centres and some of India's best wildlife sanctuaries.
Taj Palace Hotels are exquisite 18th century monuments replete with domes, terraces, carved pillars and archways built in the true royal Rajput style.
These hotels are characterised by opulent, uniquely appointed, spacious rooms, with exquisite decor. An abundance of sun, sand and surf await the leisure traveller at the Taj beach resort hotels.
The Taj Group of Hotels has won numerous prestigious international travel awards, reinforcing its position as India's largest and finest hotel chain.
A hundred on, the Taj's visage is as young as ever and its hospitality even stronger.