Opinion by Ranjit Phillipose, area director – Middle East and general manager, Taj Dubai
With almost a million Indian visitors arriving in Dubai in the first half of 2019, India remains as the number one source market to Dubai, and hence, makes up a substantial share of the guests staying at hotels in the emirate. Like travellers from any nation, Indian visitors come to Dubai for business as well as leisure, with diverse expectations and needs, and at various price points.
Indian hospitality is known for treating guests with utmost respect, and for providing the best services. With hotels in India generally offering much more warmth than hotels around the world, pampering their guests and providing that elusive ‘feel-good-effect’, Indian travellers might arrive in Dubai with higher expectations than many other travellers. They also have a stronger wish to find certain home comforts at their travel destination than other nationalities.
As a hotelier, I always strive to ensure our guests, from any country, feel welcome and at home. Expectations differ, of course, between age groups, cultures, nationalities and reason for travel. We are seeing an increased need to personalise and tailor our offerings to our guests’ preferences as travel is becoming more experiential than functional. This is true for guests of all nationalities, including Indian guests.
As an Indian brand famous for offering authentic hospitality, we draw on our experiences, both personal and professional, to provide our Indian guests with a fine balance of immersion in local culture and access to the familiar comforts of home. From my personal experience, small things can have the most impact, such as a freshly brewed masala chai in the morning or a hot, crispy dosa for breakfast. Language is another major comfort factor, although most Indians speak English, there is nothing more comforting than hearing one’s mother tongue in a different country. In fact, the most important home touches Indian travellers report looking for in a new destination are traditional food and beverage choices and being able to communicate in a language they understand and speak.
For many Indians, culture is a major contributor to food choices; many are vegetarian and other cuisines tend to offer limited options. It can also be difficult to identify if other cuisines’ dishes are vegetarian or non-vegetarian; they may include ingredients such as fish oil or chicken stock but be declared vegetarian since no meat or fish was added. Guests from India also tend to have a preference for high spice levels, so satisfying that craving is important for many.
Travellers from home also tend to be very family- oriented. We often see three generations travelling together; and they like to stay together. Being able to accommodate several family members in larger or connecting rooms and offering recommendations for multi-generational activities makes the whole family happy.
For many of our Indian guests, special occasions have been synonymous with Taj for generations. When they chose to stay with us in Dubai for a celebration or for a destination wedding, they often expect the same level of service, splendour and luxury that they would get back home – in a new avatar. Respecting and appreciating the cultural importance and treasured traditions of Indian weddings, for example, allows us to deliver an unparalleled experience and great levels of guest satisfaction.
However, as India is a diverse country with a variety of cultures, cuisines, taste preferences, and languages, there is no one-size-fits-all solution to providing the home-away-from-home experience to the Indian traveller. To help us create bespoke experiences, we now use technology to begin to recognise our guests’ expectations during the purchase journey, before they even arrive at the hotel. Once guests arrive, a great mix of engaged, meticulously trained associates play a significant role in making guests feel at home.
Although the way Indians travel is changing, home comforts will always be relevant. Providing some special and familiar touches to travellers from back home deepens their sense of welcome and adds a feel-good-effect. Ultimately, understanding and engaging with guests continue to be the most important factors in first time and return visits. We, as hoteliers, must never assume, but always keep learning and listening to provide our guests with an outstanding stay experience – wherever they come from.