Dapper and soft-spoken, Vijay Shrikent is not the kind of person to go overboard or get loud about anything. But turn the light on the hospitality icon he oversees and the general manager of the Taj Connemara (or Vivanta by Taj – Connemara, to give its rebranded, modern name) cannot stop singing the praises of a property that stands apart with its blend of colonial allure and contemporary amenities.
The Connemara is a standout property in the rebranded Taj bouquet of hospitality offerings. Like its Vivanta siblings, it focuses on delivering ‘premium hotel experiences with imagination, energy and efficiency’. This heritage structure was built in 1854 and named Imperial Hotel, renamed Albany in 1886, and called the Connemara in 1890.
Mr Shrikent knows all this and more, as he reveals in this interview with Philip Chacko, in which he talks about the many charms of the hotel.
The Connemara, with its traditions and history, has always been a strong brand. What’s the logic of having this brand supplanted by the Vivanta tag? What are the advantages of such a move?
The Taj brand architecture is fundamental to the way our business strategy unfolds. This includes becoming a significant global brand by creating differentiated brands across different customer segments. The Credit Suisse Research Institute recently ranked Taj Hotels Resorts and Palaces among the top 27 global great brands of tomorrow, and cited one of the key enablers for the Taj’s transformation and proliferation as the building of our different brands to help the company grow market share across segments.
Vivanta was born of a series of extensive customer understanding studies; it recognises the emergence of distinct psychographic (which are attributes relating to personality, values, attitudes, interests or lifestyles) segments and constantly evolving consumer needs. Vivanta by Taj is designed to appeal to the cosmopolitan global traveller who, rather than the typical hotel stay experience, appreciates new experiences and pleasant surprises. It’s the flavour of contemporary luxury, laced with cool informality and the charming hospitality that the Taj is renowned for.
We have in place an aggressive expansion programme to see the Vivanta brand grow organically to more than 30 hotels with over 5,000 rooms over the next couple of years. This will support our objective of achieving growth through dominance in the Indian market.
The Connemara is Chennai’s only heritage hotel. Built in 1854, it has the art deco look and is today infused with the spirited style of Vivanta by Taj. Some of the standout features of our property are its central location; our lobby, which has a unique blend of the chic and the classic; spacious, well-appointed rooms with high ceilings and a distinct colonial character; and our beautiful poolside, which is set amid lush greenery. Additionally, the artefacts in our property and rooms lend an interesting heritage touch to the hotel.
Vivanta by Taj offers a variety of options for the refined traveller across metropolitan India, in commercially important centres as well as some of the best-loved vacation spots in the country. Vivanta challenges the expectations that guests have of a hotel. Innovative cuisine concepts, the smart use of technology and our inclination to constantly engage and energise our guests add up to make Vivanta the new standard in hospitality services in India.
In this spirit and by retaining its singular charm, the Connemara is Chennai in all its colonial brilliance. We have a fresh new vibe that complements the tradition that has always been our hallmark. We believe that we meet every expectation of the seasoned traveller.
We have a good mix of Indian and foreign nationals, averaging almost an equal number across the year. With all the new room inventory coming into Chennai, we follow a very robust ‘key account management’ process that involves strategies and action plans to aggressively target competition accounts, consciously protect retention accounts and progressively look for new accounts.
Building relationships is our company’s core competency and drives us to make a mark in the market. We have conducted in-depth research and created separate service designs for each of our market segments, since all of them have their own special needs, requirements and preferences.
We are beginning to see occupancy figures climbing with the upswing from tourism, and this is being supplemented by occupancy from the business fraternity. It helps that the Tamil Nadu government is encouraging and supporting a diverse mix of industries, among them automobiles, information technology, leather, garments and financial services. This is a contributory factor in the optimistic outlook we have for the future.
Having an international trade department combined with a global sales network works to our great advantage. We share competition information received through various sources and collectively work on bringing business to our property. Being a ‘leisure-friendly’ property as well, we are able to attract
significant business from travel agents.
There are other initiatives that help us, such as the peacock trail we organise on weekend mornings in collaboration with an organisation called Story Trails. The peacock trail is an easy, enjoyable walk through Mylapore that comes packed with a bundle of stories about local life, gods and demons, ancient customs and traditions, and the symbols and culture of Mylapore and the erstwhile Madras.
What are the challenges of being in charge of a heritage property? How do you balance the need to deliver the best you can to your guests with caring for a structure that has such a storied past?
The biggest challenge is maintaining and preserving the antiquity of our property. We are constantly working on this while upgrading ourselves by reinventing our food and beverage offerings, which create an enticing food corridor by offering the best in world cuisine.
Technology is woven through all that we do. We have ensured that the Connemara has all the entertainment and connectivity options today’s traveller requires.
How do you see the Connemara evolving in the years to come? Are there potential areas for enhancements; what about your future plans for the property?
We foresee the Connemara standing out in the clutter of competition through the sheer appeal of its elegance. All our future plans, in terms of the overall product and activities, are channelled in this direction.
Could you tell us some anecdotes about the Connemara?
The banquet halls at the Connemara have witnessed some of the most memorable entertainment and social evenings the city has ever hosted. In one of our halls we have a grand piano as an endearing relic of a glorious past.
Perhaps the oldest tradition here is the weekly lunch of the Rotary Club of Madras, which has been faithfully meeting here since May 10, 1929. And the tradition continues. We also have The Madras Book Club meetings, which have been held regularly at the Connemara over the last two decades.
All of this is apart from the emotive connect that the Connemara has with Chennai, its history and its people. This is a very special bond, one that gets stronger with every passing year.