During one of her whistle-stop tours to India in 2009, US secretary of state Hillary Clinton chose the ITC Green Centre to address a summit on climate change. Spread over 1,80,000 square feet, this green oasis in Gurgaon’s concrete jungle epitomises the company’s core philosophy of ‘responsible luxury’. Comparing the ITC Green with monuments like India Gate and the Taj Mahal, Clinton described the super energy-efficient, state-of-the-art complex as “a monument to the future”.
Over the last three decades, the ITC group of hotels has created a niche for itself by blending luxury with sustainability in a business traditionally viewed as indulgent. “So while we were building these world-class hotels, we wanted to ensure that the luxury experiences we were creating were also making a meaningful contribution to society with a positive environmental footprint,” says Nakul Anand, executive director, ITC Ltd. From running an entire hotel on wind energy to conserving and recycling wastewater, creating delectable ‘swasthya cuisine’ and delightful ‘sleep menus’, ITC’s guest experience is woven around healthy, eco-friendly yet lavish choices. “We are the only company in the world of comparable dimensions to achieve the three major global environmental distinctions of being carbon positive (10 years), water positive (13 years) and solid waste recycling positive (8 years),” says Anand.
The hotel’s large research and development team often delves into ancient texts and history to design deep, resonating, truly Indian experiences for guests. Be it the monumental architecture of ITC Grand Bharat in Gurgaon—inspired by the Nagara style temple in Odisha and Vadodara’s Laxmi Vilas palace—the herb-infused ‘SunyaAqua’ artisanal water or the ayurveda-driven all-vegetarian fare at the Royal Vega, ITC’s efforts towards sustainability echo across verticals.
The most important aspect of responsible luxury at ITC hotels, says Anand, is that it doesn’t burden the guests with the 'responsible' aspect. “We ensure that we take care of the responsible practices at the back end and in our service design experience, so that the guest can indulge guilt-free. The premium our guests are paying is for the luxury experience and it would be unfair to burden them with the task of taking care of the environment at the cost of compromising on their indulgence,” he says.
The architectural splendour of The Leela Palaces, Hotels and Resorts was envisioned as an ode to the local craftsmen of India. Samyukta Nair, the head of design and operations for the hotel, has been travelling extensively to pick up artefacts from the most unexpected pockets across the country. “We view The Leela’s art collection as a gift of ultimate luxury to our guests. Our philosophy is to celebrate the finest artists of India with the same enthusiasm as fostering young artists on the threshold of their careers, as well as artisanal communities who are reviving the dying art forms of India,” says Nair.
At The Leela Palace, New Delhi, more than 1,400 unique and original pieces of art, including specially commissioned installations, paintings, sculptures and photographs are featured throughout the property. The hotel offers specially curated ‘Art Walks’ around The Leela properties for guests who want to immerse themselves in the sociocultural narrative of India.
The artisanal collections at The Leela hotels range from splendid woven textiles to handcrafted silverware and intricate artefact. “Our engagement with local artisans has helped in popularising the15th century mother-of-pearl inlay craft, which is beautifully showcased both at The Leela Palace, New Delhi, and The Leela Palace, Chennai. We have also worked closely with Thikri artisans, who have been practising this dying art of mirror inlays from Mewar, and revived it on a grand scale at The Leela Palace, Udaipur,” says Nair.
Home to India’s wealthiest dynasty, Hyderabad’s Falaknuma Palace celebrated its fifth anniversary as a hotel last year. After an extensive decade-long restoration overseen by Princess Esra Jah, Taj hotels opened the gates to this majestic property with 60 guest rooms and suites furnished with some of the original Venetian chandeliers and a Windsor Castle look-alike library with the finest collection of the Quran in India. “The basic premise was to preserve as much as possible. Preservation and restoration has formed the core of all our grand palaces,” says Rakhee Lalvani, associate vice president, public relations, Taj Hotels, Resorts and Palaces.
Apart from the restoration of its palace properties, the Taj group of hotels has extended the idea of responsible luxury with employment generation programmes for the underprivileged. “We endeavour to help local vendors, farmers and women self-help groups by including them in our supply chain. The goods and services procured by our hotels from this target group include fresh fish, vegetables, laundry bags, honey, candles, gift items for guests, table napkins, dusters, dry snacks, pickles and allied services like roti-making, peeling onions and garlic among others,” says Lalvani.
In 2011, the Taj Exotica Resort and Spa, Maldives, in partnership with Ocean Dive Maldives, initiated Reef Recharge—a programme aimed at increasing the coral coverage near the resort and creating a healthy reef ecosystem. Coral fragments are attached to specially made frames and planted near the Ocean Pavilion, a private enclosure in the middle of the lagoon, off the beach. Over the years, the coral gardens have grown to consist of 190 frames. This has led to an increase in the fish population around the resort. “Our guests can get involved in this initiative by sponsoring a coral frame and building their own coral reef,” says Lalvani. “They can also attend a marine educational talk every Monday or enjoy the specially priced cocktails on Friday evenings at the Equator bar, which holds a fundraiser for the coral rejuvenation project.”