India: Chaos, contrast — and so much potential

Being a German citizen, I am very used to structure, organization and functionality… Perhaps it’s a case of striving for some kind of perfection in our everyday lives.

In India, everything seems to work on the basis of improvisation and coincidence… what a happy country! And, indeed, people seem to be relaxed, they find the time to pause and have chats with neighbors and friends. Yet the streets are crowded with cars, people, tuk-tuks, trucks, dogs, buses, pushcarts, bicycles and motorbikes (and sometimes a cow) – where there seem to be no rules of the road. Whenever a gap appears somewhere, it immediately fills up with a car or a brave pedestrian.

India is also a country of contrasts between very poor people – even people with a regular job may live in slums – and of course, extremely rich people.

My first visit to India was organized by the Taj Hotel Group. I was picked up by somebody in uniform inside the airport who accompanied me to an air-conditioned car with a uniformed driver wearing white gloves and a white hat. My luggage was invisibly stored and I had a bottle of water and Wi-Fi. When we arrived at the Taj Mahal Palace, once again people were on hand to take care of my luggage. When I entered the hotel, beautiful Indian ladies in colorful saris approached and welcomed me with a charming “namaste”. One of them had a bowl full of flowers, a candle and red powder; she painted a red point with her finger onto my forehead, and another lady hung a necklace over my head. Everybody already knew my name.

Then a young man accompanied me to my room (it was actually a beautiful suite), guiding me through this most beautiful, historic hotel full of picturesque charm.

Everything was ultra-luxurious and perfect!

After working with the Taj Hotel Group, we are planning to establish an office in India, having learned that Indian guests have some of the highest expectations in the world. Even in budget hotels guests expect to be able to eat in their room, for the hotel to provide coffee machines, a safe and a minibar … and a 24/7 buffet in the restaurant. In luxury hotels, they also expect perfect meals from 24/7 room service. 

During my last visit, I attended HICSA, the Indian hotel conference, where an on-stage discussion about limited-service hotels was taking place, and the consensus was that limited service in India is rather unlimited, compared to Europe or even the US. And if I understood it correctly, three out of four people on stage believed that India is not yet prepared for limited-service or budget hotels like those we have in the Western world.

Obviously, there are many people living in India, who – never in their lives – will be able to afford a night in a hotel, but those who can have very high expectations! Hundreds of times I heard the phrase “Indian hospitality,” which is indeed extraordinary! But looking at the country with a different external view, I can see that even middle-class people can easily afford to have a housekeeper, a maid, a driver … and that they are used to any kind of service. They don´t expect any less in a hotel.

But I also can see that a new, upcoming generation of millennials is much more easy-going and has traveled to other countries. They might have experienced that status will not be completely undermined if they carry the luggage yourself or if they can’t expect 24-hour room service. These “young urban professionals” might have the money to spend in full-service hotels, but they probably can’t see the value in doing so.

I don’t think you need to be a prophet to see that the near future will show the three out of four people who were on that stage that India has huge potential for select-service hotels and budget brands.