Luxury hotels in India are trying to pamper their guests a little more by offering them personalised experiences aimed at creating lasting memories and a neverbefore feel. Their catch-line is no longer ‘What We Offer’ but ‘What Do You Want to Experience?’
At the Taj Mahal Hotel in New Delhi, guests could be tempted by sushi-rolling tutorials with expert chefs at its fine dining restaurant Wasabi by Morimoto, exclusive cooking sessions at the gourmet Indian dining destination Varq, and unique rickshaw tours of Old Delhi, which has become a favourite of patrons.
The Oberoi Rajvilas in Jaipur takes customers into the countryside for a ‘Sunset at Naila Fort.’ In Agra, the Oberoi Amarvilas has a ‘Dinner Under the Stars’ for those in a romantic mood. “Each of the dining experiences is completely tailor made, with great ambience, specially crafted menus created by the chef with handpicked ingredients of the season, a special customised label of champagne as well as customisable gifts to take away,” said Bhavna Mehta, director of PR and marketing at the Taj Mahal Hotel in New Delhi. “The idea is to help customers take special dining to the next level through a series of courses, where each entails a series of surprises.”
Customers with higher disposable incomes have been exposed to a variety of luxurious experiences overseas and want the same in India. They want more than just spas and yoga sessions.
What sets these experiences apart from the usual five-star fare is the detailing. Each experience is unique and tailored to suit the guest’s taste. They are also sensorial and meticulously fabricated with assiduous attention to detail. “The idea was founded on the principles of being authentic and genuine,” said Silki Sehgal, director of corporate communications at the Oberoi Group.
“Experiences are designed so that our guests develop an everlasting bond not only with our hotels but the destination they are in. Listening actively to our guests allows us to refresh and update our hotels, services and experiences.”
Hotels say requests for bespoke experiences is rising and people are willing to go to any length to make them all the more exclusive.
Anwesh Thakur, a lawyer from Bengaluru, said he visits the Oberoi Udaivilas in Udaipur for all special occasions. “My wife belongs to Rajasthan and we celebrated our first wedding anniversary at Udaivilas three years ago. The services provided there are world-class, complete with personalised meal courses and spa sessions. The first experience made us go back every year since then,” he said.
According to Mili Soman from Delhi, luxury has taken a turn. “Five-star hotels had a standard method of functioning for customers a few years ago. Everything was for everybody, whoever chose to avail it. But now, we get to choose what we want from them,” she said.
Trishala Mukherjee from Delhi, who is a frequent visitor at Varq, said bespoke experiences notched up the exclusivity factor. “Luxury is all about getting something that isn’t readily available to all. That’s what makes it special,” she said. The Taj Mahal Hotel also curates bespoke hampers for guests, complete with an exquisite selection of gifts including culinary delights, limitededition designer accessories, signature brews as well as exotic crystal ware.
“We have excellent sales which see an almost 40 per cent increase during the festive seasons like Diwali, Christmas and New Year’s. Our hampers are also largely bought by people who conduct wedding parties at our hotel,” said Mehta.
As a segment, bespoke experiences now constitutes about 12 to 15 per cent of a hotel’s annual revenue, according to Mehta from Taj.
Packages at the Oberoi Rajvilas include ‘The Rajput Romance’ costing Rs 30,000, ‘Renewal of Vows’ for Rs 1,00,000 a couple, ‘Sunset at Naila Fort,’ which costs Rs 9,000, and a ‘Poolside Dinner’ at Rs 16,500 per couple. Cooking sessions with master chefs are available for Rs 5,500 per person. There are add-on sessions including wine-tasting, yoga and history sessions, which cost extra. Mehta reckons bespoke experiences can become a force in the luxury market in the near future.
“The experiences we have hosted in the recent past have been a huge success – the most recent one being just last month. Judging by the pace with which trends are being set today, we definitely see it as a new emerging trend in the luxury market,” she said.
There has been significant growth in the luxury market since the advent of bespoke experiences, according to Sehgal from Oberoi. “Sales of the packages we offer have shot up significantly in the past couple of years, which has guaranteed the growth of luxury in India,” she said.
India’s hospitality space is in a state of flux, given the consolidation in the industry, the emergence of aggregators and the upcoming goods and services tax regime. The changes don’t appear to have affected the luxury segment, where the very concept is being redefined and is transforming from materialistic levels to exclusive, memorable experiences.