What makes the Taj Mahal hotels so special!?

I must admit I have never stayed at the Taj Mahal Palace Mumbai, but every time I’ve walked in for a client meeting, or a lunch, or an event being hosted, or just a casual drink after work, I’ve felt the warmth more than any other hotel I’ve stayed in around my travels so far.

At the Taj Mahal Palace, which was under siege for about 3 days from 26th November 2008 to 28th November 2008, it was a different picture than it exists today. Having been very close to one of the venues of this unfortunate event, I only feel lucky to have not been sucked into the tragedy by a whisker. Rated as one of the best hotels of the world by almost everyone including the Conde Nast Traveller, it looked ramshackle after the whole incident. Today, it is back, bigger and better than before.

What happened at the Taj Mahal Palace that night was a brave act, which surpassed all acts of customer service and customer before self you might have heard of. At a hotel held hostage to terror, the staff held fort and stood by the guests, fed them, protected them and evacuated them before they went out themselves. A new case study published by the Harvard Business Review states:

the upscale Japanese restaurant Wasabi by Morimoto was busy at 9:30 PM. A warning call from a hotel operator alerted the staff that terrorists had entered the building and were heading toward the restaurant. Forty-eight-year-old Thomas Varghese, the senior waiter at Wasabi, immediately instructed his 50-odd guests to crouch under tables, and he directed employees to form a human cordon around them. Four hours later, security men asked Varghese if he could get the guests out of the hotel. He decided to use a spiral staircase near the restaurant to evacuate the customers first and then the hotel staff. The 30-year Taj veteran insisted that he would be the last man to leave, but he never did get out. The terrorists gunned him down as he reached the bottom of the staircase.

What is more interesting is that Harvard tried studying how the Taj managed to get employee engagement so high that they all stood in unison against this attack, saving about 1,200 to 1,500 lives. They say

Our studies show that the Taj employees’ actions weren’t prescribed in manuals; no official policies or procedures existed for an event such as 26/11.

This was not unique to one incident, but they had seen tragedy strike in Maldives before too.

As soon as the giant waves struck, guests say, Taj Group employees rushed to every room and escorted them to high ground. Women and children were sheltered in the island’s only two-story building. Many guests were panic-stricken, believing that more waves could follow, but staff members remained calm and optimistic.

No more waves arrived, but the first one had inundated kitchens and storerooms. A Taj Group team, led by the head chef, immediately set about salvaging food supplies, carrying cooking equipment to high ground, and preparing a hot meal. Housekeeping staff retrieved furniture from the lagoon, pumped water out of a restaurant, and restored a semblance of normalcy. Despite the trying circumstances, lunch was served by 1:00 PM.

Call it the right timing or wrong, the HBS has now published the article from the HBR to coincide with the third anniversary of the fateful event. And with their selfless acts, this institution called the Taj Group has won hearts all over. No wonder, this hotel by the sea came up on tops of my list of places to stay in Mumbai!

Please do share your experiences of the best customer service experiences you have had at hotels!

About Ajay

Ajay Awtaney is the Founder and Editor of Live From A Lounge (LFAL), a pioneering digital platform renowned for publishing news and views about aviation, hotels, passenger experience, loyalty programs, travel trends and frequent travel tips for the Global Indian. He is considered the Indian authority on business travel, luxury travel, frequent flyer miles, loyalty credit cards and travel for Indians around the globe. Ajay is a frequent contributor and commentator on the media as well, including ET Now, BBC, CNBC TV18, NDTV, Conde Nast Traveller and many other outlets.

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  1. I have stayed here twice although, I am resident of Mumbai . What I like about the hotel is having chit chat with the staff in my mother tongue Marathi . Once in a buffet, I managed to get served a bhel puri in special request. Talk about local food . This is very rare even in Hotels in Pune where Maharashtrian staff in 5stars like JW tends to speak in English and no decent Local Sabudana Khichadi is available

  2. You could definitely see your skills in the work you write. The sector hopes for more passionate writers such as you who are not afraid to say how they believe. Always follow your heart.

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