Lead Story

Puneet Chhatwal Writes: India's First Luxury Hotel Goes Where Indians Do

Incorporated in 1899 by the founder of the Tata Group Jamsetji Tata, IHCL opened its first hotel, The Taj Mahal Palace, in Mumbai—then Bombay— in 1903. Dubbed as the best hotel east of Suez, it transformed the face of Bombay and introduced authentic Indian hospitality to the world while bringing global luxuries to the country

An aerial view of the famous dome of the Taj Mahal Palace hotel in Mumbai

Incorporated in 1899 by the founder of the Tata Group Jamsetji Tata, IHCL opened its first hotel, The Taj Mahal Palace, in Mumbai—then Bombay— in 1903. Dubbed as the best hotel east of Suez, it transformed the face of Bombay and introduced authentic Indian hospitality to the world while bringing global luxuries to the country. Jamsetji Tata’s efforts were always to show India what lies beyond the seas, making India’s dreams his own. The management of the Taj realised that its future growth lay not just in Mumbai but also in the development of India as a tourist destination. And thus began the creation of India’s premier hospitality chain, the Indian Hotels Company Limited (IHCL). His vision of being the best of the best continues to drive us even today, as we prepare ourselves for the bright prospects and disruptive challenges of tomorrow.

IHCL’s first hotel was reported as “a resplendent debut” by The New York Times. It was the first Indian hotel to have a licensed bar and elevators and introduced jazz and cabaret in the country.

From the moment it opened its doors to the world, The Taj Mahal Palace has hosted an unmatched list of luminaries and celebrities—both local and global. Maharajas and presidents, ambassadors and actors, kings and legends, royalty and religious figures, entertainers and performers, writers and poets, politicians and artists have all walked through its doors into a haven of finesse and grace.

Since then, till now, IHCL has been the pioneer in bringing to the nation, and the world, a glorious list of firsts. From opening the doors to India’s living grand palaces to establishing the nation’s most-exclusive club, The Chambers, and from discovering and creating landmark tourism destinations like Rajasthan, Goa, Kerala, the Andamans and recently the Northeast to hoisting the tricolour globally with iconic hotels in the UK and the USA, IHCL has always played a leadership role in the hospitality landscape.

What had started as a single hotel is now a hospitality ecosystem, which brings together a group of brands and businesses that offer a fusion of warm Indian hospitality and world-class service. IHCL today has a portfolio of 270 hotels, including 79 under development globally across four continents, 11 countries and in over 100 locations. It is India’s largest hospitality company by market capitalisation.

IHCL’s brands include Taj, an iconic brand for the most discerning travellers that has been ranked as India’s Strongest Brand 2023 as per Brand Finance; SeleQtions, a named collection of hotels; Vivanta, sophisticated upscale hotels; Ginger, which is revolutionising the lean luxe segment and Amã Stays & Trails, a charming portfolio of private bungalows and villas.

The Tajness Effect

We have spent years perfecting our craft, decades earning a reputation and a century building a culture. We call it Tajness—the soul of our robust hospitality ecosystem that subtly guides all our behaviours. Tajness is the way we do what we do. And as we step into a world of newer possibilities, the spirit of Tajness stands invigorated.

As we are priming the organisation to realise its futuristic vision through an evolving operating ecosystem, IHCL unveiled its three-pronged strategy to continue and sustain its profitable growth with Ahvaan 2025, the propeller of all of IHCL’s determined actions towards expanding its brandscape, delivering unmatched experiences and accelerating progress.

Under this strategy, IHCL set out to re-engineer its margins, re-imagine its brandscape and re-structure its portfolio. The goal of Ahvaan 2025 is to have more than 300 hotels, clock 33% EBITDA margin and have 35% EBITDA contribution from new businesses and management fees by FY26. IHCL’s iconic and strongest brand Taj, its industry-leading ESG+ framework Paathya and a strong focus on digital are the key enablers on this journey.

The year 2022–23 was a record year with a number of significant accomplishments, including the highest ever full-year consolidated revenue, an all-time high and industry-leading EBITDA margin and PAT of over Rs 1,000 crore.

IHCL is focused on maintaining a balanced portfolio, ensuring a mix of owned/leased and managed assets, while enhancing brand recognition and guest experiences worldwide.

We have been making significant strides in international markets. Our hotels in New York and London are our global brand ambassadors. We are expanding our presence and following the Indian diaspora wherever they are present in large numbers. We recently launched Taj Exotica Resort & Spa in Dubai and signed more hotels including a Taj in Riyadh, in the heritage city of Diriyah in Saudi Arabia and twin Taj and Vivanta in Dhaka.

Guided by Purpose

Today, it has become even more important to chart a new tomorrow—one that is more sustainable and inclusive. We believe that this is the only way to drive India’s journey to being among the top tourism economies. IHCL’s commitment to contributing to the society with an integrated approach towards creating sustainable growth and positive impact under Paathya is in line with our founder’s vision of keeping community at the heart of business.

Rolled out a year ago, the comprehensive ESG+ framework of Paathya aims to create sustained outcomes that drive value and fuel growth whilst strengthening environment and societies. Taking ahead IHCL’s over-a-century-old legacy, Paathya forges a journey focused on environmental stewardship, social responsibility, excellence in governance, preserving heritage, value chain transformation and sustainable growth. Embedding ESG at the very heart of our operations will help us tackle the biggest challenges of today and capture the best opportunities of tomorrow.

As the world moves on, the services sector—travel and tourism business included—is emerging as a major growth engine for the Indian economy. Tourism is seen as a major driving force for any economy the world over. Interestingly, as per the latest World Travel and Tourism Council report, the sector is expected to create nearly 126 million new jobs globally within the next decade, with at least 20% from the Indian subcontinent.

India has transformed from a developing nation to emerging as the fifth largest economy in the world. Demand is now not just limited to metropolitan cities but is spread across the country. In the current times, when domestic demand is outpacing supply, growth outlook for the sector is strong.

IHCL’s performance reflects the affection and loyalty of our guests and the remarkable passion and commitment of the 28,000-strong IHCL team. The management’s focus remains on value creation for all stakeholders, offering customers a unique hospitality ecosystem, leading the way in engaging local communities in our value chain, pioneering new destinations in the country and delivering continued superior performance. The best is yet to come! 

Puneet Chhatwal is the managing director and chief executive officer of Indian Hotels Company