Playing host to a different world of people, Taj Hotels Palaces and Resorts, as part of its corporate sustainability initiatives, is serving the luxury of self-reliance to a section of society that is less privileged but not less abled.
Taj Hotels worldwide strives towards creating unique experiences and lifelong memories for its guests. Its also focuses equally on creating livelihood options for the communities living around its properties. The menu for building sustainable livelihoods includes training in hospitality and service skills, promoting indigenous arts and crafts, and supporting food and nutrition programmes.
Preserving a dying art
With a view to preserving and showcasing India’s treasure of art and culture, Taj Hotels championed two causes with one initiative. It helped revive the traditional art of hand-woven Benarasi silk saris, which was in danger of extinction and also gave a new lease of life to the weavers, the custodians of this ancient art.
Master weavers from Benaras now weave customised saris which are worn by the front office staff of the Taj Hotels in India. They are also sold in the Khazana boutiques located at a number of Taj properties.
"The Benarasi sari epitomises luxury and it is Taj's way of paying tribute to the master craftsmen," said Abhijit Mukerji, executive director, Indian Hotels.
Ramji, who is one of the beneficiaries, is grateful to the Taj for recognising their plight and helping them earn a livelihood. “With the work coming in, our children are able to eat proper meals and go to school.”
Ramji and other weavers are now able to earn their livelihood with dignity and pride in their craftsmanship; and also look forward to passing on their ancestral art to the younger generation. Family members who had migrated to towns in search of work have now returned to participate in their family trade. Taj has also worked with weavers from Assam and craftspeople from Paramparik Karigar, whose products are displayed at Khazana.
Taj’s focus on providing skills, training and economic opportunities, combined with a personal humanitarian touch, has been successful in kindling entrepreneurial spirit and confidence among several underprivileged sections.
A helping hand from Taj transformed a group of ordinary Mumbai fisherwomen into a collective business enterprise. The women of Shree Fish Suppliers, a self-help group (SHG) based in a fishing village in Mahim, a suburb of Mumbai, today talk of sales and revenue figures with knowledge worthy of an MBA graduate. From delivering orders worth a crore to planning the expansion of their business, these entrepreneurs are competition to the well-established players of their industry.
At a vocational training centre at the Geetanagar slum close to the Taj President in Mumbai, managers and executives from the hotel impart theoretical and practical training in hospitality, with support from the local Kherwadi Social Welfare Association. The hotel has also trained five mentally challenged people from the SPJ Sadhana School who have been members of its kitchen staff since 2007. Other hotels too have offered similar support: The Gateway Hotel at Ambad, Nasik and TajSATS, Mumbai, have employed seven hearing impaired students from the Deeds institute to help in their kitchens.
Rather than give handouts, Taj Hotels encourages initiatives that hold out a helping hand. It sources laundry bags and napkins from cancer patients; dusters from the Happy Home School for the Blind and baskets from a group of adivasi (tribal) women in Gujarat.
At the company’s two hotels in north Goa, Fort Aguada Beach Resort and the Taj Holiday Village, laundry from the spa has been given to Swift Wash, a laundry service managed by the NGO Arz that works towards economic rehabilitation of commercial sex workers. For the tsunami-affected people in Kovalam village, the Community Development Action Group of the Taj Hotels in Chennai has set up vocational training courses in tailoring and sari-making, giving women’s SHGs the opportunity to become economically independent.
Taj has also conceptualised, organised and structured training for marginalised youth. The Skill Certification Centres (SCC) in Chennai, Mumbai, Bangalore and Goa empower young individuals with the requisite skills of the hospitality industry through theory and practical lessons in addition to an apprenticeship at various Taj Hotels. Appropriate assessment and certification by the Taj follow these courses and some trainees may be taken in by the hotel. According to Chef Rajkumar, who trained them in food production, “It was very rewarding to see how much it made a difference to their lives.”
Building livelihoods while doing business has enabled Taj to touch the hearts and lives of thousands of individuals. The loyalty and commitment of those benefitted in return has not only enabled Taj to provide better services to its customers but has also enabled it to make a difference of a humanitarian nature. True to the spirit of its founder’s vision.