Udaipur evokes magic in the minds of the traveller, and has seen a steady growth in infrastructure, enabling it to host prestigious global conferences and celebrity weddings. DI talks to the scion of the royal family, Lakshyaraj Singh Mewar, to uncover some of the secrets of its success.

How has the city grown in the last two decades and more importantly, in the last five years? As a city, not in terms of tourism. I would look at clean air, education, governance, ease of travel, health and hygiene, etc.

Lakshyaraj Singh: The city of Udaipur, since 2009, has been voted time and again as the ‘best city in the world to visit’. Often in these ratings Udaipur has been way ahead of all-time favourites like Venice or Sydney. These ratings are indicative of how Udaipur has preserved its character, its soul and not become a faceless modern city, indistinguishable from other so-termed ‘famous cities’.

Let me give one example: in October 2019, Udaipur played host to the 30th Global Summit of the Family Business Network (FBN), with over 400 of the world’s leading family business heads present and participating in the four-day long summit.

As the city hosts, we warmly welcomed these global dignitaries in our midst, and at one of the opening sessions, it was remarked that Udaipur had come a very long way indeed in hosting such a significant global summit. With FBN choosing to host the Summit in Udaipur – well, they could have chosen Mumbai, Delhi or Jaipur instead – it remains a testimony to how the heritage city has grown and developed its abilities to cater to the needs of such a high-profile global audience.

Where has the city arrived? In terms of say, in the absence of a better expression, in achieving the happiness index score?

Lakshyaraj Singh: Udaipur as a heritage-city had arrived on the international map way back in the early 1960s, thanks to the pioneering endeavours of my illustrious grandfather His late Highness Maharana Bhagwat Singh. He ‘converted’ our Family’s Jag Niwas Palace into the Lake Palace Hotel and then there was no looking back!

It has been a steady journey since then, and we have added more feathers to our cap; with The City Palace Museum becoming one of the most vibrant institutions of India, attracting over 1 million visitors every year till 2020. The city has become an educational hub; and with a population of nearly 700,000, it remains a relatively calm and stress-free city. I would put a very high score on the happiness index! 

Where does tourism activity fit into this scenario? Like, how much of the city is driven by tourism directly or indirectly? Can we quantify some of these facts?

Lakshyaraj Singh: Undoubtedly, as a city we are driven by tourism and travel industry. Over the last five decades there has been a continuous growth catering to the needs of the tourism industry. Trade and commerce have thrived; hotels and restaurants have grown far beyond their own expectations. As I said, the city attracts over 1 million visitors each year.

Besides leisure and business travel, the city has emerged as a major educational hub. This is yet another trigger for the growth of hospitality and services industry in the city with a large migratory population of students and their visiting families. In the best of times, we could look at the number of flights to Udaipur from the metro cities as indicative of the growth of tourism. 

What would say is the city’s tourism synonymous with? Like what would be the essentials of Brand Udaipur?

Lakshyaraj Singh: Brand Udaipur is beyond tourism. It is synonymous with ‘Excellence that Endures’. Our palaces and forts, temples and ancient sites, art and culture, sports and spirituality are proof points of our uniqueness and the quest for excellence.

There are innumerable young musicians, singers, artists, poets, sportsmen and sportswomen who are excelling in their fields and owe their success to their roots in Udaipur.

There are emerging verticals in tourism beyond pure leisure – such as weddings, meetings, sports, events, etc. Which of these do you believe are crowning the city’s appeal most?

Lakshyaraj Singh: Yes, we have worked hard at developing not just our tourism-related businesses but for Udaipur as a ‘destination’. Of course, there is no denying that HRH Group pioneered the concept of ‘regal weddings’ and threw open the doors of our palaces for ceremonial events. Our heritage venues are unique and incomparable; it was over a period of time that Udaipur become a leading ‘destination wedding’ venue.

The credit goes to our Chairman and Managing Director, Shriji Arvind Singh Mewar who transformed the palace-hotels and heritage venues for Regal Weddings, wedding planners, ceremonial event-planners. It started in 1999-2000 and soon grew into a torrent! Yes, in the post-pandemic era, we will have to get back to the drawing board and see what the demands are for the new normal age.

Across the hospitality canvass, how many hotels, with how many rooms, do you have in various star categories, between super luxury, mid-market and budget?

Lakshyaraj Singh: We own, manage palace-hotels: Shiv Niwas Palace and Jagmandir Island Palace are our iconic hotels in Udaipur. The HRH Group of Hotels has now been around for five decades: our operations have been streamlined, professionalized, computerized beyond belief. ‘Experience the Original in the Abode of Kings’ is our brand positioning and USP.

We are India’s largest chain of palace hotels and resorts under private ownership in Rajasthan. I guess we will remain so. Rooted in our own reality, our land. Tourism in Rajasthan has been going great guns, with better planning and focus, it will do even better in the years to come. Of course, everything now needs to be tweaked around and made sharper, but that applies to every industry, every segment in the pandemic era.

Hotel Unit

Category

Number of Suites / Rooms

Shiv Niwas Palace

Heritage Grand

36

Jagmandir Island Palace

Heritage (Basic)

10

Shikarbadi Hotel

Heritage (Basic)

25

Gajner Palace

Heritage (Basic)

45

Karni Bhawan Palace

Heritage (Basic)

12

The Aodhi

3 Star

26

Gorbandh Palace

3 Star

83

Fateh Bagh

Non-Classified

18

Garden Hotel

Non-Classified

29

Hotels are mostly homegrown, or Indian brands such as Taj, Oberoi and Leela. How about foreign brands? What in your opinion has been the reason for their absence? How do you see brands coming to the city?

Lakshyaraj Singh: We cannot be reading the minds of hospitality giants thousands of miles away! Yes, Udaipur and Rajasthan remain a big draw for every travel and tourism major. I hope in the coming years there would be a renewed focus on creating infrastructure that can support several other industries besides tourism and travel. IT, manufacturing and services industries could make Udaipur into a significant hub.

Skilling for jobs, ensuring the quality of the experience across segments, especially the mid-market and the budget, is critical to long term growth. How do you ensure this as an industry?

Lakshyaraj Singh: This is a question best answered by the industry associations: they have to take up the challenge of training and skill development for the entire industry.

At the HRH Group of Hotels, we have always believed in training and skilling our staff-members at the back-end operations and the front office. There is no substitute for regular training and boosting the confidence of the staff-members. With the pandemic, we have developed the protocols required and ensured that each and every staff member is able to deliver to his or her best, under these very difficult times.

The country is talking of domestic tourism for revival. How can Udaipur give the lead as a destination?

Lakshyaraj Singh: We are not living or functioning in isolation! Udaipur is part of the entire hospitality eco-system which is dependent upon airlines, railways, road networks, health and security agencies.

Above all, in the pandemic era, it is the government regulations and rules which have to be followed and adhered to. We cannot be talking about tourism revival in isolation: the economy as a whole has to be revived.

This coming season – what are your predictions?

Lakshyaraj Singh: 2020 is a landmark year in the history of humankind; never before have we witnessed such a lockdown. To be talking about seasons and predictions seems quite out of place till the time we are able to emerge from the pandemic. That is a long haul ahead…

Connectivity is the big issue. What do you see happening to improve? Can Udaipur become an international airport? What are your thoughts on making the city the leading destination for inbound tourism?

Lakshyaraj Singh: As I said, issues of infrastructure and connectivity were significant in the pre-pandemic era. Now, as we go through the months of 2020, the issues of health, hygiene, safety and security are paramount. There are new protocols guiding our lives and business destinies.

Let’s wait and see how the year pans out…my best wishes to all your readers! Let’s stay safe and healthy!!

It has been the vision of my late grandfather to promote Udaipur as a destination.  Jag Niwas was converted into Lake Palace Hotel; The Mardana Mahal was converted into the City Palace Museum. This was done to offer different options to a tourist travelling to Udaipur. Since then Udaipur has grown organically catering diverse and discerning travelers and tourists. You can get a room for Rs. 50 a night to Rs. 4,50,000/- a night now. The awareness towards tourists all over Udaipur is very high and guests actually get an opportunity to explore and discover the City on their own.

Yes, Udaipur is heavily dependent on tourism and, over the last six decades, has grown enormously, thanks to leisure and business travellers along with pilgrimage tourism that continues to be a big draw. But a City with Udaipur’s lineage and rich resources cannot be dependent only on tourism and hoteliering!

Where is the 21st century infrastructure to host high profile cultural events? Can the City boast of a world-class auditorium for a music or dance performance?

Look at what Edinburgh or Sydney has to offer! Not just Udaipur, even a mega-metro like Mumbai or New Delhi is woefully short of cultural infrastructure that can take the visitor’s breath away!

Now, as the global order straightens itself up, we will have to re-think, re-draw and re-plan everything! Hotels and hotel-owners do not have the wherewithal to build cities or look farther into the future. I sincerely hope that the big hotel chains can collaborate with the world’s best and transform our cities with cultural spaces – auditoriums, amphitheaters, music halls, gallery spaces that ignite our creative minds. 

Then, we will be in a position to re-position ourselves with product offerings that can make a city like Udaipur match up with Edinburgh…how many years will that take? Ten years? I am ready to put on my hard hat and get going on this front!