The hospitality veteran opens up about the challenges of helming the opening of a luxurious palace hotel in the midst of the pandemic, and the well-considered strategies that make The Leela brand stand out in a saturated market.
Chandrashekar Joshi has over 20 years of experience in the hospitality industry at both city and leisure hotels. Over his career, he has worked with Le Meridien Pune, JW Marriott Juhu Mumbai, Renaissance Mumbai, JW Marriott Mussoorie and JW Marriott Jaipur. He then joined The Leela family as General Manager of The Leela Palace Jaipur.
Most recently, he took on the challenge of expanding the luxury hospitality brand’s portfolio in Rajasthan with the opening of the 200-key The Leela Palace Jaipur. True to its name, the hotel embraces modern palatial grandeur and with its signature services, and promises guests a truly royal stay.
Excerpts from a chat with Traveldine.
Can you tell us about the newly opened The Leela Palace Jaipur?
The Leela Palace Jaipur has been branded after extensive refurbishment and enhancements, both in the product as well as service offerings. The property is spread over 8 acres of landscape area, set against the majestic backdrop of the Aravalli range. The Palace is inspired by the luxury of yesteryear: 200 lavishly appointed rooms, suites and villas offer luxuriant indulgence. The property is conveniently located on the Delhi-Jaipur highway, amidst tranquil environs near the Amber fort.
The Leela Palace Jaipur boasts of over 60,000sq.ft of indoor and outdoor event spaces including a stunning pillarless Grand Ballroom and lush green lawns, providing a superlative venue for celebrations, memorable weddings and bespoke events. The serene surroundings, modern technology and personalised services make every occasion truly outstanding. With its magnificent architecture, elegant venues, refined taste making, thoughtfully curated immersive cultural experiences and ceremonial rituals, the hotel is set to play host to an array of memorable social moments that epitomise true Indian luxury.
What is your vision for newly opened hotel?
Our vision is to deliver a highly personalised and memorable guest experience and emerge as one of the most sought after luxury resorts for the discerning global leisure traveller. We would also like to be the dream wedding destination for high-end weddings.
Can you tell us about the culinary offerings at the hotel and how it draws from the local food culture?
The rich culinary repertoire satiates the palate with everything—from the royal kitchens to traditional Indian to contemporary fine dining. Sukh Mahal offers delectable flavours, both Indian and international, thoughtfully crafted with the freshest of ingredients. Mohan Mahal, the specialty Indian restaurant, inspired by the famed Sheesh Mahal at Amber Fort, offers a magical dining experience. Lit only by candles, the iridescent ambience of the restaurant lends a unique charm as guests relish the most authentic Awadhi and Rajasthani cuisine. It is truly the most magnificent dining experience in the country. Hawa Mahal is our exclusive rooftop venue that can be setup on request to satiate the longing for unique dining experiences. The Palace will soon open a contemporary Italian restaurant .
The property would make a gorgeous location for destination weddings. Do you have any custom wedding experiences or packages on offer?
As each wedding requirement is unique, we customise and curate our proposals and experiences related to stay, and food and beverage, basis the needs of the guest.
What is your view of the destination wedding market in India currently considering fluctuating travel restrictions and COVID cases due to the pandemic?
The destination wedding industry is only likely to grow more in its current form, as customers are moving away from large-scale gatherings and limiting weddings to more intimate gatherings in a post-COVID world. Also, with practically no options to travel abroad, the Indian domestic market will benefit from its own buying power.
Safety is paramount in everyone’s mind and we at The Leela have this at the centre of everything we do with Suraksha by The Leela, our enhanced safety and hygiene protocols. And this is here to stay.
The luxury hospitality market in Rajasthan is a crowded one with tough competition. What makes The Leela Palace Jaipur stand out?
The luxury hospitality market has a strong presence of renowned brands that are well established. Each of these have their own unique positioning and appeal. The Leela Palaces, Hotels and Resorts enjoy global recognition and the brand has often been voted the World’s Best Brand by Travel + Leisure USA Reader’s Survey 2020. Our distinctive USPs include:
Product (Architecture, Design & Facility )
The architecture of the Palace draws its inspiration from Rajasthan’s palatial heritage, with each guest room ornately decorated. It features modern amenities and services that are inspired by the graciousness of Indian hospitality. The Palace offers a variety of guestrooms suitable as per requirement of travellers, the most sought after being ‘Villa with Plunge Pool’ that features 115sq.m long temperature-controlled private pool, a cabana and outdoor seating area with the unique Leela Palace Butler Service.
Ease of travel is one of the factors that a modern-day traveller considers while booking weekend getaways or upscale events and celebrations. The Leela Palace Jaipur is located 25kms away from the bustling city of Jaipur. Perched on the Delhi–Jaipur Highway, close to the iconic tourist attractions such as Amber Fort, Jaigarh and Nahargarh Fort. Being away from the city offers travellers the advantage to unwind and relax in a resort setting and host extravagant celebrations without having to worry about traffic jams.
Our Palace Services are an intuitive, contemporary yet authentic expression of the soul of India’s heritage, culture, history, traditions and beliefs. These are designed to recreate the experience of ‘Living Palaces’, replete with palace etiquette, ceremonial rituals, royal cuisine, traditions, history and culture to present regional nuances with pride and authenticity. The Leela Palace Jaipur has introduced Palace Butler Service for upper villa category rooms where every guest experience is personally curated during their stay.
What have been your learnings from launching a luxury hotel post-Covid?
COVID-19 has taught us many lessons and has made us challenge everything we have done or believed in so far. Health and wellness practices are no longer just nice to have in a post-COVID world. And we have had to reimagine how we deliver customer experience in a hygienic yet human way. Today, more than ever, it has become imperative that we take even more stringent measures to ensure our guests and associates feel safe. At The Leela Palaces, Hotels and Resorts the safety and wellbeing of our guests and associates is of paramount importance. We therefore launched Suraksha, in partnership with Bureau Veritas India. This comprehensive program builds on The Leela’s existing rigorous cleaning protocols and is aimed at elevating sanitisation, hygiene and safety procedures to deliver a safe environment for guests and associates.
Recently, we have also launched a vaccination drive and have committed to covering the costs of vaccinations for our eligible associates. This is also open to the associate’s family members.
Were there any precautions that were kept in mind while launching the property? Do you foresee a change in consumer demands ? If so, is that something that governed your strategy while launching the property?
We have been mindful of the physical and emotional needs of our guests in taking care of their safety or providing spaces that they feel comfortable in. Ensuring Suraksha by The Leela protocols are followed stringently to reassure our guests that their safety and wellbeing is important to us. We have also gone the extra mile and introduced immunity boosters in our welcome drinks .
Travellers expect higher standards to ensure their wellbeing, and digital tools have expanded to “no touch” options. Hotels and resorts that naturally lend themselves to social-distancing and provide expansive settings such as private pools and private lawns will see a surge of interest and we are fortunate to have these as a major part of our inventory. Larger suites and villas, where people can gather with family and friends while social distancing from others, will be in demand. Privacy is the new luxury and we are making every effort to ensure we deliver this in the most meaningful way.
We also believe guests today value experiences more than anything else and brands that can deliver meaningful experiences will lead the pack. We are focused on our programing to deliver a true Indian luxury experience that is representative of the brand and the destination.