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June 22, 2009

BANGALORE PHAL:A hot new business destination in India's hi-tech capital

With passanger numbers to India falling month on month, now wouldn't seem the most obvious time to be opening a new luxury hotel in Bangalore. Intrepid traveller Amar Grover, finds out what Taj Hotels Resorts and Palaces' latest addition has to offer the corporate traveller and how India's hi-tech capital's MICE sector is holding up.

Just as Air India, the revamped state carrier, recently allocated the prestigious Boeing 777 to its normally busy Mumbai- and Delhi-London routes, international arrivals to the country have stalled. Meanwhile, month on month demand for airline seats within India continues to slump. It might seem like a brave time to be launching new hotels there but Taj Hotels Resorts and Palaces – one of India’s best-known luxury hotel groups – seems undaunted.

One of their latest offerings is in Bangalore, India’s hi-tech capital in the southern state of Karnataka. Situated right outside the city’s 69 acre International Tech Park (ITP) – a purpose-built complex for IT and technology-related businesses – ‘Vivanta by Taj - Whitefield Bangalore’ to use its full name is Taj’s fifth property in the city. Vivanta (a word play on vivacity, vividness and bon vivant) is a new brand within the Taj group aimed at the sophisticated ‘business nomad’. Bangalore’s Vivanta is the brand’s flagship and its location alongside the ITP is deliberate.


MICE to be here: Taj Hotels is capitalising on its predominance
in the MICE sector with the Vivante Bangalore


WOW factor
Designed by Singapore-based WOW Architects/Warner Wong Design, it’s a striking low-rise building of mainly blue-green glass panes where gardens, lobbies and stairs seem to flow organically from one to another. This overt sylishness, complete with groovy mood music purring discretely in the background, is unusual in India whose prime hotel offerings tend towards conventional, almost cautiously bland, modern buildings, or restored palaces and forts, or faux exotica.

And while there’re plenty of worthy distractions for the stressed executive – pool, tennis courts, gym, spa and salon together with accomplished restaurants and al fresco dining, a rooftop bar and lounge – the young trendy ‘business nomad’ is still here primarily on business, meetings and events or otherwise.

With between 200 to 250 companies alone based in the ITP and Whitefield area of Bangalore, the demand for conferencing facilities has tended to be non-residential.  Arjun Pandalai, Vivanta’s director of sales, says India’s top-end hoteliers noted a “pronounced drop” in occupancy levels last autumn. Consequently, residential conferences have been reduced in scale and the MICE sector has inevitably become much more rate sensitive.

Expanding horizons
According to Suku Verghese, Taj’s head of meetings and conferences, Taj has a predominant position in India’s MICE market of which approximately 25% originates with international businesses. Most meetings activity is concentrated in the principal gateway cities of Mumbai and Delhi, with Bangalore, Chennai (Madras) and Hyderabad forming a subsidiary tier. In Bangalore alone, Taj has just over 30,000 square feet of meeting space, nearly half of which is contained within their Residency Hotel. When another property opens by the end of 2010, this space will be expanded by a third.

Bangalore’s Vivanta has a 6,000 square foot function and banqueting hall called ‘Tango’, which can be partitioned and with all electricals from lights to drop-down screen governed by a single remote. Capacity ranges from a floating crowd of 700 to sit-down dinner capacity of 250. The Board Room, known as ‘Agenda’, seats 18. Both rooms have Tandberg T1 hardware with a 65-inch screen for HD video and ultra-wide band audio teleconferencing. The technology extends to its 199 bedrooms and suites equipped with interactive TVs, IP phones and high bandwidth wireless internet.

A vision in green
The hotel’s green credentials are impressive and Green Globe Certification is awaited. A self-contained sewage plant treats the entire water discharge and uses it for flushing, gardening and in the air-conditioning cooling tower. There are kitchen grease taps and a Wet Air Scrubber (to arrest carbon release), rainwater harvesting facilities, solar panels for electricity and a heat exchanger in the air-conditioning system to generate hot water. CSR is focused on a Building Livelihoods theme in partnership with an NGO whereby disadvantaged youth are trained in skills relevant to the hospitality industry such as housekeeping and security

Pandalai remains upbeat about the meetings industry’s immediate future in Bangalore, but notes a real need in the city for larger conferencing facilities to compete with other international destinations. Meanwhile demand for corporate events such as employee meetings and award evenings is holding up even as rates have softened. Moreover, Verghese notes that for the overall domestic market a host of sectors are still displaying healthy growth rates and the appetite for conferences and events remains strong. Banking and securities in particular are expected to turn around in the coming months in light of a reasonably healthy performance in the first quarter of 2009.

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