The Indian Hotels Company Limited’s expansion beyond its luxury Taj brand has positioned the company for true market leadership, according to CEO and Managing Director Puneet Chhatwal.
NEW YORK—While The Indian Hotels Company Limited may be most known for the luxury Taj brand—the Taj Mahal Palace opened in 1903 in Mumbai and the brand now has 132 hotels—CEO and Managing Director Puneet Chhatwal has made diversification a top priority for the Mumbai-based company.
In a video interview with Hotel News Now at the recent NYU International Hospitality Industry Investment Conference, Chhatwal talked about the company’s latest growth mandate and performance results.
In addition to what Chhatwal called “a phenomenal year, financially,” he said the last year has been one of new brands, reimagining current brands and growth. The company did some re-tooling of its upscale Vivanta and midscale Ginger brands, introduced a soft brand—SeleQtions, with 12 locations—and entered the home-stay management segment with the launch of Ama Plantation Trails, a collection of bungalows owned by IHCL parent Tata Group’s Tata Coffee Limited company.
As of 31 March, the company operates 179 hotels—including 30 under development—on four continents.
This diversification plan is designed to position IHCL as “the most iconic and the most profitable company that South Asia has produced,” Chhatwal said.
“Any brand should never neglect its home market, and our home market is a very heterogeneous market,” he said. “The (luxury) Taj brand … does not address the needs and wants of all the market segments on the Indian subcontinent. By managing our ‘brandscape’ … we are now much better-positioned to address the needs and wants of all consumers in all segments.”
On the development side, Chhatwal talked about the company’s evolution away from asset-heavy to a more hybridized model, where the company pursues selective ownership and management contracts.
The company’s short-term focus remains on its home country of India, he said. The bulk of its properties are located in India, and the company notched some important deals in the country in the last year, including signing a 33-year lease on the Taj Mahal, New Delhi, and renewing its contract for Taj Lake Palace, Udaipur. The company also opened its first mountain resort, Taj Theog Resort & Spa, Shimla, in Himanchal Pradesh.
Beyond that, Chhatwal said the company will then prioritize management contract-driven growth outside of India.
Overall, he is confident that companies like his will continue to fill a relevant, experience-driven niche in the global hotel landscape.
“The global hotel industry is getting divided into the global majors—the top 10 or the top 20, about 5,000-plus hotels,” Chhatwal said. “Then there are the regional challengers, or specialists, as I would call them. The brands in between are getting squeezed out or taken over or merged with other companies. So I think we will be playing a more important role going forward. … We will provide the differentiated experience.”