By Kymberlee Fernandes
Heritage hospitality is one of India’s biggest USPs. Ahead of the CII-ET Dialogue in Luxury to be held in Delhi, we spoke to Shriji Arvind Singh Mewar, of Udaipur’s House of Mewar, who heads the HRH Group of hotels, on his work preserving India’s royal heritage though his palace-hotels across Rajasthan.
Kymberlee Fernandes: How has the Indian luxury market changed in the last decade, in terms of hospitality?
Shriji Arvind Singh Mewar: The last decade has witnessed immense changes in the Indian luxury market: the era of globalization has finally dawned. Luxury products and services in India are reflecting the aspirations and needs of our global citizens, who are discovering their new identities and demonstrating greater spending power. Global luxury brands are slowly establishing their roots in the Indian market. The hospitality industry too is keeping abreast of these global changes. India, being a diverse market, the development of luxury hospitality is uneven at the moment. I am sure, over the next few years, the luxury market will spread itself out and not be confined to a few mega-cities and pockets.
KF: With the HRH Group of Hotels, how are you are committed to preserving the royal heritage, culture and traditions of India?
SM: HRH Group of Hotels, as you may be aware, is the flagship commercial venture of the 1,500-year old House of Mewar, Udaipur. The House of Mewar has made one of the most successful transitions in the 20th century: from a royal house to one that has clearly defined commercial and non-commercial enterprises. Since 2005-06, we have been unfolding the vision of ‘Eternal Mewar’, which in itself is becoming a critical lesson on holistic heritage management and its perpetuation in our globalized world of the 21st century. I have always maintained that it is not the perpetuation of the family-name that is paramount: it is equally important to perpetuate the values and principles of the House so that people can internalize them.
We cannot overlook or disregard our own heritage, yet at the same time, the forces of globalization are spreading their own culture and values. I think the key to success lies in developing a synthesis of both the worlds: Our heritage, our legacies of the past have to co-exist with the needs and advantages of the present. Being in Udaipur, and as the 76th Custodian of the House of Mewar, this challenge is a constant reminder to us.
In our palace-hotels and retreats, through our museums and collections, we are continuing with the traditions of the royal past yet making them contemporary and relevant for a global audience. Let me illustrate this with a simple example of how Fateh Prakash Palace has been transformed into the Fateh Prakash Palace Convention Centre in 2011. During this transformation, we were very conscious of seamlessly blending the old with the new – whether it was the soft furnishings or the modern conference facilities, it had to retain the character of the past, while offering world-class amenities that conference delegates are comfortable with. I think this challenge will continue to remain with us: we have to find the right answers and keep on innovating within the paradigm of our own heritage.
KF: Do you think enough is being done in India to preserve and elevate its luxurious heritage?
SM: To answer with a cliché, we are a vast country! Our history, and heritage, is as vast as is our geography. The question will always be: what do you preserve from this vastness? And who takes on the responsibility of preservation? Can we expect the Government to do it, single-handedly? No. That would neither be right nor correct to expect the government of the day to play the role of the saviour .
Of course, through the efforts of the government and ‘Incredible India’ campaigns, we have been able to cover considerable ground. But the world of luxury heritage is changing. The benchmarks keep shifting and rising higher. This is where a lot more thinking needs to be done before we can embark on an action plan to elevate India’s luxury heritage offerings. I hope conclaves and brain-storming sessions like this ‘Dialogue on Luxury’ are able to show the road ahead.
KF: There is a lot of interest internationally, in luxurious heritage hospitality. Is India doing enough to turn this to its advantage?
SM: Yes, you are right the interest in India is growing exponentially. Not just India as a destination for business investments, but as a destination for heritage holidays. Over the last two decades, Goa, Rajasthan and Kerala have been getting the lion’s share of the tourism business. There is crying need to develop more heritage circuits. Luxury offerings cannot be created overnight. There is need for long-term planning and short-term campaigns that will highlight the unique advantages of India. Much needs to be done on that front.
KF: How is the marketing of heritage different from that of any other service or product?
SM: Of course, at one level, marketing is generic. Principles that apply to marketing detergents may also apply to heritage hotels. But the biggest differentiating factor (you may call it the BDF) is the ‘sense of belonging’. My heritage belongs to me; I belong to my heritage. This equation is what sets it apart. When we are marketing HRH palace-hotels for conferences or regal weddings, we are marketing this equation of ‘connecting’ with our heritage. We want our heritage to become a part of your life; as a guest when you walk into The Sabhagaar Conference Hall of Fateh Prakash Palace Convention centre, you experience the splendor that is being shared with you, with distinctive warmth. We probably could not do that when marketing detergents, could we?
My learning is that our heritage is actually our equity, if you want to use financial jargon. So build that equity, let it grow, let others contribute to that equity, but do not let anyone or anything dilute the equity. It sounds so simple, but it is so very difficult!
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