AT NOOR MAHAL PALACE, an 18th century Mughal-Rajputana palace-turned-hotel in Karnal, Haryana, the centrepiece of the artefact-studded lobby is a 150-kg handcrafted crystal and glass Swarovski chandelier. It is one of the two such antiques in India; the other adorns Rashtrapati Bhavan.

Not just the lobby. Every corner of the 122-room property is visually arresting with Instagram-able accents. The high-domed ceiling is patinated with gold-leaf frescos; walls in passageways flaunt works of traditional Rajasthani artisans alongside rare folk textiles and eye-popping embroideries. A centuries old door from a home in Bikaner nestles in one corner as an 18-karat gold encrusted life-size portrait of Maharaja Ranjit Singh graces a wall. The hotel’s soaring columns, corridors and pavilions are inlaid with gilt moulding and mirrors while the two inner courtyards — Deewan-e-aam and Deewan-e-khas — reinforce royal connect. “Our young guests appreciate the royal ambience. It offers them a cultural immersion into India’s syncretic past. There are several ‘Instagram/photo ready’ opportunities that capture luxury and the experience it provides,” says founder-owner Manbeer Choudhary, a direct descendant of Maharaja Ranjit Singh.

Like Noor Mahal Palace, more and more luxury Indian hotels are tailoring their offerings to appeal to Generation Z and millennials, the cohort born between 1982 and early 2000s. From glamorous interiors that go “viral” on social media to trendily designed suites, sophisticated wine clubs, bespoke gastronomic experiences and offbeat experiences, hoteliers are laying out a scintillating smorgasbord to woo this demographic.

Taj Palace’s  Loya, where foodies can try North Indian dishes with accent on sustainability and diversity.
Taj Palace’s Loya, where foodies can try North Indian dishes with accent on sustainability and diversity.

Not without reason. According to surveys, the over 400 million strong segment, with median age of 29-32, has a collective spending power of $330 billion, set to double by 2027. Analysts say this marks a change from a decade ago when luxury hospitality players were largely catering to older third and fourth generation entrepreneurs who had more conservative tastes.

“Affluent young Indians are reshaping hospitality. Emergence of many first-generation entrepreneurs, highly-paid professionals and deeper e-commerce penetration have accelerated the shift,” says Pankaj Tyagi, a Mumbai-based luxury consultant with Reliance Group.

India’s economy has grown seven-fold in past two decades from about half a trillion U.S. dollars at the end of 2002 to about $3.4 trillion, becoming the world’s fifth-largest after U.S., China, Japan and Germany. This has turned many first-generation entrepreneurs into ultra high net worth individuals, making them prime clients for luxury hotels, says Tyagi.

Taj Mahal Hotel’s “Casablanca-inspired” freshly revamped bar Rick’s
Taj Mahal Hotel’s “Casablanca-inspired” freshly revamped bar Rick’s

New Definition Of Luxury

As this younger cohort gains economic influence, there has been a shift in the definition of luxury. Raised in a digital, interconnected world, they value experiences with focus on self-exploration, personal growth and cultural immersion, say hoteliers. “Gen Z and millennials are seeking out properties that double up as settings for memorable experiences,” says Akhil Arora, chief executive officer and MD of Espire Hospitality Group that runs the Zana group of luxury resorts. At the freshly-minted Zana Forest Resort in Ranthambore, Rajasthan, guests are encouraged to avoid traditional itineraries. Instead, they craft own experiences with an in-house team factoring in individual tastes, preferences and timings. These may include anything from private liquor and liqueur tastings to freshly served grills and cocktails by the poolside; movies under the stars; a private dinner under an illuminated banyan tree with a musician playing tunes; launching paper lanterns into the sky; or a crocodile safari on Chambal river in a private boat.

Experiential Luxury

There has also been an increase in demand for experiential luxury. Personalisation is thus assuming greater importance. In keeping with this trend, many of leading hotels have launched initiatives such as offering unique culinary experiences that help guests learn about global culture and provenance of food on the menu. “For instance, the Art of Mixology experiential at The Blue Bar is a great way for wine lovers to learn about wines, bond with each other and have fun,” says Pradhyumna Rathore, general manager, Taj Palace, New Delhi. The experience, helmed by Australian chef Joel Scholtens Lindsay, allows guests to enjoy their libations and learn about mixology trends as the master takes them through an array of concoctions, infusions, techniques and ingredients.

Similarly, at the hotel’s freshly-minted Indian cuisine restaurant Loya, foodies can try “a truly differentiated gastronomic experience” while sampling North Indian dishes with accent on sustainability and diversity. From the foothills of the Himalayas to the flat terrain of Punjab to snow-laden Kashmir, Loya offers a deep dive into lesser known Indian flavours and influences. With its rustic chic ambience, interesting music (Loya is the only Indian restaurant to have its own music album), Instagram-able presentation, tableside service and a design philosophy with vibrant drapes and vivid artworks, the restaurant offers an unparalleled culinary experience for young diners, says Rathore.

Zana Forest Resort in Ranthambore, where guests craft their own experiences.
Zana Forest Resort in Ranthambore, where guests craft their own experiences.

Similarly, at Taj Mahal Hotel’s newly launched contemporary wine lounge Captain’s Cellar, oenophiles can embark on a “journey through the vivid landscape of global and domestic wines”. A chic, rustic ambience, cutting-edge technology, a meticulously curated liquor selection accompanied by “tapas with a twist” create a relaxed yet energising experience for guests, says Satyajeet Krishnan, the hotel’s Area Director, Operations and General Manager. At the hotel’s “Casablanca-inspired” freshly revamped bar Rick’s, innovative cocktails, global delicacies and eclectic music create an atmosphere that seamlessly blends sophistication with contemporary charm.

At Noor Mahal Palace, the crowd-puller is Frontier Mail, an award-winning eatery modelled after the 87-year-old train that operated between Mumbai and Peshawar (now in Pakistan) pre-Independence. The dishes showcase the cuisines of each of the states the train passed through. Customer experience is further augmented with original crockery and cutlery from the Frontier Mail offering, what its owner Choudhary refers to as an “exciting and unparallelled cultural immersion.”

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