January 2011 | Philip Chacko
Jewel in the Chennai crown
Vijay Shrikent, general manager, Vivanta by Taj - Connemara, elaborates on the property's blend of colonial allure and contemporary amenities
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.
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.
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.
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.
significant business from travel agents.
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.
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.
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.
More than a hotel
The Connemara — as the folks in Madras (now Chennai) have come to know it — began its remarkable life way back in 1854 as the Imperial Hotel. This became the Albany in 1886 and, four years later, morphed into the Connemara, named after the title of the Baron of Connemara, Robert Bourke, the governor of Madras from 1886 to 1890 and one of the shapers of the city in its early days. Lord Connemara, as The Madras Mail of November 27, 1890, has it, "ruled the land, lived his little span and then passed away, neither unregretted nor unsung".
The Connemara has aged a lot better, becoming one of the great hotels of Asia, spoken of in the same breath as the Taj in Bombay, the Great Eastern in Calcutta, the Gale Face in Colombo and the Raffles in Singapore. Its ownership passed through different hands and its façade and interiors changed with the years, but the Connemara retained the allure that has always characterised it, enhanced by the colonial legacy of which it was born and enlivened by the city that it has embellished with its magisterial presence.
Today the Connemara is a modern hotel in every sense of the word, but this modernity is meshed with a sense of history and custom in a manner that few structures, devoted to the care and well-being of visitors and guests, can boast. The legend that once spanned the entrance of the hotel could scarcely have been better suited:
Nor fame I slight, nor for her favours call,