It was after midnight when I checked into the Taj Mahal Palace in Mumbai (formerly Bombay), India. As I usually do when I arrive in a hotel room, I set up my laptop. And as I usually do, I used a piece of paper to serve as a mouse pad.
Next morning when I’d returned to my room after breakfast, I discovered that a staff member had placed a real mouse pad on the desk, unasked. Later, in the elevator, I bumped into another obliging employee who introduced himself as F&B Director Ritesh Choudhary. I sought a booking at one of the hotel’s restaurants that evening, I told him. He insisted on personally showing me to The Chambers, a club-like eatery that overlooks Mumbai’s waterfront and The Gateway of India, a famous British colonial monument.
It was an auspicious start to my visit to the Taj Mahal Palace, the venerable flagship of the Taj Hotels, Resorts and Palaces group. Since its opening in 1903, the “Palace” has hosted conferences for representatives of virtually every one of the top 300 companies in the world, according to Nisha Dhage (main picture), Associate Director of Public Relations.
“It’s geared to MICE business and always has been,” says Nisha. “From the day we opened we’ve had the ballroom and crystal room, which are still important venues. Over the past hundred years we’ve added another eight venues and we’re in the process of adding one more.”
Big social events, product launches, black-tie evenings and weddings are a key part of the hotel’s business today – and what its operators perceive to be its future, she adds. “The Taj Bombay’s seen it all. We were the first hotel to provide outdoor catering in India, and today we’re equipped to handle everything from intimate events like a five-person sit-down dinner to a banquet for five hundred.”
Plus the Taj operates four other hotels in the city, so if it can’t cater for everyone, it has sister hotels from which it can pull chefs and staff, and expand its capabilities. Plus, because it has so many rooms, guests can attend, say, a very large banquet and stay overnight on site as well.
With 550 rooms and suites, the Taj Palace has two accommodation wings – the Tower, which was built in the ‘70s as a complement to the original “Palace,” which was the brainchild of Jamsetji Nusserwanji Tata, founder of the Tata industrial conglomerate. (According to one anecdote, he decided to open the hotel after he’d been refused entry at another Bombay hotel because he wasn’t a European).
The Palace’s seventy-metre-high dome was the first clear marker of Bombay Harbour that could be seen from the sea, and it still serves as a navigational aid. When it opened, the hotel claimed a series of firsts: American fans, German elevators, Turkish baths and English butlers. It was the first building in Bombay to be lit by electricity and had the city’s first licensed bar.
For landlubbers it also enjoys a good strategic location in Mumbai’s main commercial hub. An hour from the airport, it’s close to the financial district, parliament, stadium, offices and shopping districts.
The variety of things to do means it can offer events organisers a swag of opportunities for team-building. “In fact we’re about to start offering a broader variety of team-building activities for groups,” explains Nisha Dhage. “One of these is sailing on the Arabian Sea right outside our front gate, which is something we can arrange from October onwards – the non-monsoon months.”
Events staff can arrange city tours on bicycles and an educational Mumbai-by-dawn excursion which starts at 5am and takes in such sights as the flower and fish markets. “We’re in the art district of Mumbai which also sets the scene for great tours,” adds Nisha. “We have the National Gallery of Modern Art and at least 15 other galleries in this area, plus the Taj’s own gallery which just reopened. Many great Indian painters started their careers here from the 1940s onwards.”
When to get the best deals
The monsoon months, June to September, are the best time to have an event at the Taj Palace, price-wise. From mid-September occupancies tend to rise, says Nisha. “That means the combination of the room and banquet venue, and of course if you’re planning a banquet here and take a room as well you get a better deal, as a package.”
Rates depend on the kind of conference PCOs are seeking. The hotel often recommends they keep the bed-and-breakfast element separate from the conference deal, because it allows for more versatility in what you can add into the package. “Being a hundred-year-old hotel, while we’ve upgraded our services, there may be things you add in for vendors who bring in equipment that may not be available here, for example.”
On average, for organisers who take say fifty rooms and up, the bed and breakfast-plus-taxes rate during the monsoon months would be in the INR 9,500 to INR 10,000 range, says Nisha. And a lunch and dinner buffet together would be around INR 7,000 plus taxes. That means all-up you’d be looking at INR 15,000 (USD 225) to INR 18,000 (USD 270) per person, based on a stay in the tower section which is aimed more at business travellers.
Anyone fortunate enough to stay here can expect uniformly brilliant service. When I asked housekeeping to collect some laundry, it was returned in about an hour, with shirts beautifully cleaned and pressed and individually wrapped. And when I checked out very early in the morning, staff at one of the restaurants insisted on arranging a packed breakfast for me to eat in the cab.
“I think it might be part of our DNA somewhere, in everything we do, that guest is God,” says Nisha Dhage with a smile. “It’s part of the Taj way of doing things.”
The Taj group has over 100 hotels in 62 locations.
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