Taj again & again, but when ?
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Taj again & again, but when ?

June 18, 2022

It has been reported that Lalitha Mahal Palace Hotel will be taken over by the famed Taj Hotels, run by the TATA group. But will it?

Lalitha Mahal Palace turning into Taj Hotel story has been played numerous times, for 22 years! It began in 2000 when late Union Minister Arun Jaitley, then the Disinvestment Minister, wanted to give up Lalitha Mahal, which came under ITDC (India Tourism Development Corporation).

Back then, Jaitley spoke of divesting hotels under ITDC, saying, “People may fancy PSUs like ITDC as temples of modern India, but a temple is served better if its priests are NOT drawn from the ranks of politicians or civil servants.” Then we thought Taj would take over Lalitha Mahal. It didn’t happen.

15 years later, in 2015, the then Union Tourism Minister Mahesh Sharma said, “We believe it makes little sense to let these hotels run in perpetual losses.” We thought that Taj would take over Lalitha Mahal again. It didn’t happen.

Two years later, in 2017, the then State Tourism Minister R.V. Deshpande told the Karnataka Legislative Assembly that his Ministry would look into various violations committed by ITDC  and terminate the lease signed in 1973 with regard to Lalitha Mahal Palace Hotel. What these violations were he never mentioned?

Many feared Lalitha Mahal would be handed off to some private player inexperienced in heritage hotels for a song and a ‘pocket full of change.’ Thankfully, that didn’t happen even though there was an attempt. But once again, reports came that Taj may take over. It didn’t happen again.

Instead, it went to Jungle Lodges and Resorts, a State Government body that manages Lodges in the Jungles, as its name suggests. It has no experience running a luxury hotel or maintaining a heritage structure.  But the Government assured us that it was a temporary arrangement and that a more experienced private hotel company would run it soon after the global tender was floated. Again many thought Taj would take it over. It didn’t happen.

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In 2021, it was said that while Taj is the preferred hotel group, the Government would still float a global tender. Nothing happened.

Now again, there is news that Taj will take over. But yesterday, Tourism Director T. Venkatesh informed the media that the Cabinet Sub-Committee decided not to favour any particular luxury hotel chain like the Taj. Instead, a decision was taken to call for global tenders where many other luxury hotel brands could bid.

 This Government decision is indeed the proper procedure to follow, but the Government must choose wisely because Lalitha Mahal is no ordinary structure; it could change the fate of our city’s tourism potential.

Our city’s second largest Royal Palace, Lalitha Mahal Palace, has been waiting for a resurrection for nearly half a century. The wait has been on since 1973 when it was first handed over to ITDC, a Government body that did little to enhance Lalitha Mahal’s grandeur or retain its splendour.

But it was not always like this. Arun Shourie, the man in charge of divesting during the NDA Government, writes in his book ‘Governance And The Sclerosis That Has Set In’ that, “In 2002, when a case was made to divest hotels under ITDC, Lalitha Mahal Palace Hotel in Mysuru was the only ITDC Hotel in the whole country that was making a profit.” 

It remained profitable until the 6th Pay Commission when a dishwasher in Lalitha Mahal was paid Rs.18,000! And a receptionist Rs.45,000! If this is the pay structure, how could a hotel survive, let alone compete and make a profit?

The other reason Lalitha Mahal lost out was the inability to upgrade rooms. Even a minor plumbing work in the hotel required permission from the State Tourism Department, which owned the hotel.  Why? Because to fix the old pipes, one had to remove the tiles. And tiles were deemed heritage!

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That is why the Government while calling a global tender to lease Lalitha Mahal Palace, must strongly consider the company’s history and expertise in restoring heritage properties. The Government must also pay attention to the company’s financial prowess because it costs a lot of money to restore and renovate a Palace. Just consideration of the financial returns to the Government should not be the criteria.

The resurrection of Lalitha Mahal Palace is vital to Mysuru. It will give a new lease of life to our city as a tourist destination. Lalitha Mahal restored to its grand splendour will reflect our claim of being a royal heritage city.

When a financial and professionally strong hotel group takes it over, be it Taj,  Oberoi or ITC, they will create not only our city’s first proper five-star hotel but also sell our city to high-net-worth tourists. This, while making the hotel itself a tourist attraction. 

We have an example of this with what Taj Hotels did to the once dilapidating Falaknuma Palace Hotel in Hyderabad. Once Taj took over the property, they spent crores renovating and restoring it. Today that hotel itself has become a tourist destination.

Falaknuma Palace Hotel is open to tourists on weekends, where along with a guided tour of the Palace, you also get a luxurious high tea at a high price of Rs. 3,000 per head! This high tea session is available in Lalitha Mahal too, but it is nowhere as famous, luxurious, grand, educational or awe-inspiring as it could be and should be.

Let’s hope this Government achieves what previous Governments could not for 22 years since disinvestment started — restore Lalitha Mahal to its original glory.

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4 COMMENTS ON THIS POST To “Taj again & again, but when ?”

  1. sanjay kini says:

    People want to be treated like kings and want the Best of Service when they come to a hotel, but they question why, a Receptionist is being paid 45000/-.
    Sir, the world’s most expensive room in 2022 is $100000(5 zeros is correct) for a two nights stay. Why can’t Indian Hotels command such high Tariffs, it is because of the Quality of Service.
    With My Experience of training staff in my department let me tell you, it is very difficult to train staff if you recruit staff for a low salary. There are some things which they will never agree to learn. The Quality of staff you get is based on what you Pay.
    Most Talented Hotel Managements students join the facilities department in IT Companies as they get better Pay and 5 Day Work Week.
    The Salary an Assistant Manager in a hotel gets in India is what a Receptionist gets in the middle east and hence they get trained here, work here for one year and go abroad. they also work 5 days a week in hotels in the Middle East.
    it is high time hotel owners woke up to reality, and pay staff high salaries which will attract staff from Hotel Management Schools. Only when you get the best minds in every department only then will the service be of a high standard and you can charge a premium Tariff.
    The rest of the Trip Advisor reviews of Good Service are on Leisure days when occupancy is less and also by providing some goodies to the Guests.
    The Real Test is whether how hotels can perform at full occupancy and that’s where India Lacks Talent because hotels are understaffed to save costs on the off-season/low occupancy days.
    Also, the lack of very good talent in Sales & Marketing leads to Room being sold cheaply to corporates to just fill up rooms in Off-Season. This leads to one big hotel undercutting rates just to beat the competition.
    Hence My opinion is that it is the best handover of the Hotel to Taj, there are other small players in the Heritage Segment but they can’t maintain the standards that a Taj Hotel can, especially in matters of recruiting good talent, integrity, ethics and Work Culture.
    Mysuru needs a Hotel with an International Standard of Service. Will Lalitha Mahal Palace under Taj Hotels will be that Hotel we can look up to.
    Waiting for the Government’s Decision and to see if Taj Hotels under Mr Chandrasekharan’s guidance wins the Bid.

  2. Mann Ki Baat! says:

    No wonder @Kini is more interested in hoisting more tourist onto Mysore. He does not cate if Mysore gets destructed.
    As for the SOM, it always talks with a forked tongue-ensuring the heritage of the City and making in a tourist spot of massive interest.
    Mysore is finished as the last bastion of Old Mysore , as a serene, unpolluted and un-congested city!

  3. Mann Ki Baat, Bisi Bele Baat! says:

    @Kini is only interested in picking a pot of money out of the refurbished Lalitha mahal Palace as a hotel, and does not much care for the implications of thrusting more and more tourists to Mysore, and to the inevitable destruction of the next door Chamundi Hill.
    As for the=is character Ballal, a deluded yesterday man of tourism, who always prattles nonsense-like his name sake, perhaps a relative, another Ballal, the owner of the Ballal Hotel in 1960s and 1970s, who was a loudmouth and dished out crappy advice, but yet could not manage to deliver quality food items in his hotel!

  4. Vasu says:

    We spent one night in Lalith Mahal last week, and it was painfully disappointing. Painful because such a beautiful structure is being looked after so poorly.

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