Mehrnavaz Avari is the UK Area Director and General Manager of one of London’s most popular Indian hotels – the Taj at St. James’ Court.
The hospitality chief arrived in her new post last year, at a time when the industry faced a few false starts with the Covid-19 pandemic related lockdowns. Now finally, as the UK has moved into the living with Covid safely phase, iGlobal caught up with Avari to find out her plans in the coming months, the brand-new Taj Chambers exclusive club and the concept of a more environmentally conscious kind of pampering as travel opens up once again.
How does it feel to see things finally open up for the industry?
The UK has been getting ready in stages and phases, and that's the best part about the approach it has taken with this crisis altogether. It has been a step by step progress, with restrictions lifted over a period of time.
We've seen a steady positivity in the messaging. I am a little sceptical on the fact that there is still that challenge of what are the restrictions when they return back home, because we are seeing that with our guests.
A lot of the uptick in the business will depend on how the other countries react as well. Also, there is still that fear because people are coming out of the pandemic but at the same time, the fears that are instilled from the initial year of restrictions and the habit of recording numbers is still inhibiting people from feeling free from the Covid crisis.
I think the psychological journey of this will take some time for everybody. The world overall will take some time to come out of the crisis in that sense.
But travel is an inherent need of human beings. It is natural that it will soon be back.
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What has been your approach since you arrived?
The UK started opening up last May and that's when I came here. So, we have also been opening up in stages along with that.
It was a very quick and steep learning curve to understand the dynamics of this geography. It has been a very interesting experience. I find myself very excited by this exhilarating experience.
The first mark of our positivity towards the sentiment of how we want to evolve has been through the Chambers, which is our exalted members-only club – by invitation.
We brought in the Chambers last August and from there on we have been inviting members in to enjoy the privileges, facilities and benefits of this exclusive club. As part of the Chambers, we bring to London the Rendezvous series – curated events where we try to look for common interest topics. It could be masterclasses, expert speakers, culinary experiences or revolving around entertainment. Our tag line is "Cocktails, Conversations, and More" and essentially the idea is to bring people together on common interest topics.
The first , is a mark to the fact that we are now finally opening up and inviting people for these forums in a calendared manner.
The Taj and Tata Group have always been at the forefront of causes that are related to either the environment or help our community overall.
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What are some of the new highlights?
We've opened our new TH@51, which is Tree House at 51, which is based on a global palate, very experimental, very exciting cuisine because it is an amalgamation of two cultures. It truly embodies what London stands for - it is a city that is an amalgamation of various cultures and that's what we wanted to bring together by creating this mix of cuisines.
It isn't uncommon to find something like the Kale Burrata Chaat, where you take the authentic Italian Burrata and give it the twist of the Indian chaat. Then there is the Bao Bhaji – the Chinese bao with the . So, we are not doing fusion here. What we are doing is taking two authentic things and trying to create an amalgamation to bring together something that is very interesting and exciting for the global palate.
The cocktails are based on the biomes concept, focussed on several biomes of the world - whether it is urban, desert or grasslands. Our head bartender actually has a mini-lab where he curates each of these ingredients, creating a wonderful spectacle to watch.
And, any special events lined up for the summer?
In line with the fact that we are in the middle of royal quarter or stone's throw away from Buckingham Palace, we also have the Queen's Jubilee celebrations this year. We've brought forward the Afternoon Tea at Kona.
We truly believe in partnering with whatever is India and whatever brings a strong British connect as well. We have focussed on elements of her life and also elements of her preferences to present a very nicely crafted Afternoon Tea, running throughout the year in celebration.
As we open up, we are seeing a very bouyant summer. So, we are very excited to see how the summer unfolds for us. It's a very dynamic market situation. We are in volatile times, where things can change overnight. We have to be cognisant of the fact that while we are very excited about the summer ahead, we have no way of predicting how things go over time.
If all goes well, we are looking forward to a number of exciting partnerships ahead.
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Finally, looking ahead, how do you see the hospitality sector shaping up?
I think to a large extent the definition of has changed. It had already started evolving prior to the pandemic with a focus on curated experiences. Today I can say it has evolved even further from opulence to a little bit of prudence and personalisation.
People don't expect to see waste, but they do want to be pampered. It's a very thin and interesting line of difference, where we as hoteliers are looking for opportunities to pamper and wow our guests but within a much more conscious environment.
Looking for hybrid models for large conferences, being able to do global conferences, with some participants not having to travel – the phygital format – are some of the changes that I think are definitely here to stay because companies will see the benefit of these over a period of time.
We feel there is still going to be some time before we come back to a 100 per cent capacity or what we were prior to the pandemic. So, we will continue to use this time to redefine our services, to keep working on our product, create our new restaurant – that is still a surprise!