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Sun, Feb 22, 2009 - Page 12 News List

Hospitality starts at the family’s ancient palace

By Perry Garfinkel  /  NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , NEW YORK

In India, sometimes you feel everyone hovering over you — until you need something, that is. It’s something I am very conscious of as we train employees who work more and more with our international guests. Working at the Four Seasons job, I saw Americans get things done because they are clear and simple. They know the shortest distance between two points is a straight line. Indians tend to solve problems in a more circular fashion but are beginning to see there are more efficient strategies.

NYT: What are you doing to respond to the double whammy India is dealing with now, between the global economic downturn and any reduction in travel to India due to the attacks?

Mewar: At the trade show I just came from in Madrid, I was heartened to hear that people are still keenly interested in and fascinated by India. Surviving the attacks has actually increased people’s appreciation of our fortitude. But hearing the reality of the slowdown in Europe and the United States, I came home more committed to exploring and opening new markets. Diversifying is the key these days. That’s why next month I am going to Germany and Russia, two segments with vast potential that we have not fully tapped.

Also, I feel well positioned, even through these times, because of the growing trend of authenticity, a word that’s already in danger of becoming a cliche in the hospitality world. Guests know the difference between brand-new hotels built to look like 200-year-old palaces and actual 200-year-old palaces turned into hotels with modern amenities and history that’s palpable everywhere. Hospitality is like fashion. Both thrive on changing styles and tastes. But our kind of authentic is timeless.

NYT: How do you explain the dichotomy between the perception and the reality of India, between the booming economy we read about in headlines and the India that many in the West saw for the first time in Slumdog Millionaire?

Mewar: Yes, there is poverty. Yes, there is illiteracy, overpopulation and massive traffic. We are dealing with them the best we can. It’s another cliche, but India really is like the proverbial blind men and the elephant. It all depends on what part you touch, what your perception is. The reality is we are like our famous biryani dish, a mix of spices, rice and vegetarian or non-vegetarian.

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