Publication Name: Business Standard.com
Date: 5th March 2014
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The brand positioning of the iconic hotel will be that of a boutique property rather than a corporate product
The address, 54, Buckingham Gate, is an enviable one. St James Court (SJC), a Taj hotel, London describes itself as "discreetly hidden from the crowds, yet so close to the centre of the city that many of the capital's landmarks are just footsteps away." When Taj undertook the rebranding of the property right next to its other luxury property at the 51 Buckingham Gate (BG), it came with its own challenge.
The group company, Tata Elxsi, a design enterprise, was given the mandate for SJC. The quality of the brand had to be high but without diluting the perception of what was happening at 51 BG (Taj Suites and Residences), SJC's neighbour. "Its suites are five-star. And, SJC is a four-star hotel. That was a balance we had to strike," says Nick Talbot, global design head, Tata Elxsi.
The rebranding follows the Taj Group (which comprises Indian Hotels Company and its subsidiaries) taking over the management rights of the property from Crowne Plaza, and renaming it as SJC.
One of the main changes brought about during the transition, Talbot says was to do away with a cookie-cutter approach. He says, "When it was Crowne Plaza, you had a corporate manual. We have, instead, introduced a human element and, at places, even brought a touch of humour."
For instance, instead of the conventional 'Do not Disturb' sign on the door, you would have a 'sleeping beauty' tag hanging on the knob. "Taj can experiment with the SJC property with such things as it is a heritage building, and you cannot change much of the physical structure. Also, the company would be trying all sorts of things to make it work on their international platform," a senior hospitality industry expert says.
The process of infusing the property with the theme of Taj by way of signages, menus, collaterals in the rooms, new furnishing and lighting took all of three months. The branding agency is still continuing with the work in the spa and wellness centre of the hotel.
"We wanted to have a contemporary feel to the hotel and still retain the traditional element of London," Talbot adds. A Shakespearean frieze installed in the hotel is interpreted in an illustrative style, for example, to give it a touch of modernity.
The hotel wants to build itself as a boutique property and not corporate product. "Our copy-writing has a very personal tone and tenor. There is an individual spirit to the hotel," Talbot says.
The rebranding of SJC with 338 guest rooms and 25 suites comes at a time when the Taj Group's international business is under the scanner for not giving adequate returns on investments.
Its Australian property, Blue Sydney, is on the block and the group is also mulling creating a separate company for its international hotels.
Indian Hotels Company (IHCL) has spent over Rs 3,000 crore in buying overseas assets, besides building its operations through management contracts. The international assets include Campton Place Hotel in San Fransisco, Taj Boston and hotels in Sri Lanka, Maldives, Dubai and Bhutan. IHCL also has a management contract for The Pierre in New York.
If the rebranding exercise is a success, and aids the turnaround of the international business, Taj could go in for more such exercises and Tata Elxsi would stand to get a larger mandate. SJC is its second Taj hotel branding exercise, as the company had been involved in the branding of the new property, Taj Marrakesh in Morocco as well.
But Indian hotels are also on the radar for Tata Elxsi. "There is potential of branding and rebranding on an international platform.
We have ambitions to grow in this area within India," Talbot adds.