From the busy streets of Mumbai and the bustling bazaars of New Delhi to the leisurely cities of Agra in the north and Goa in the south, India is waiting to welcome corporate groups.
Any number of cities in India can now provide the right environment for your incentive, corporate event or company getaway. The country has recently seen a significant increase in the number of corporate groups travelling to the country for conferences, seminars and meetings. And, while transportation is still a chief concern, especially for large groups, the benefits of a trip to a rich, historical, not to mention gastronomically and culturally diverse country are worth further exploration.
Several major hurdles are immediately present in any event organiser’s mind when discussing an event in India: food and transportation. Apocraphyal stories of questionable hygiene as well as delayed flights throwing an entire event off schedule, abound. However, event organisers can be reassured that with careful planning and by sourcing through the proper channels of specialist organisers and hotels, these hurdles can be avoided.
Vivek Tyagi, director, Tybros India says: “We work with airline corporate offices, and if there’s a big enough group, sometimes we can arrange a large aircraft for one specific company. We just need advance notice.”
Where food is concerned, he explains that his company takes control of that aspect of the event..“We have been doing this for 25 years, so we know when people are coming from different places, what they want, what level of spice most people will be looking for, and we also can recommend the best hotel, venue and catering company based on those needs. We know the food and beverage managers at all of the hotels [all over India] and they know the standards that must be met because they do this all the time. Usually, if someone gets sick on one of our trips, it’s because they went off and ate something on the side of the street.”
The Golden Triangle
One of the most popular regional destinations for groups of all sizes, and for events of all types, is the Golden Triangle of New Delhi, Agra and Jaipur.
Benita Sharma, the general manager at Sheraton New Delhi, says she has seen an increase in the number of conference stays the hotel has hosted in the past number of years; the hotel offers bespoke packages to groups from all over the world. With conference halls in the city that can host up to 2,500 people, Delhi is the capital for conventions in India. And, in addition to sites like Red Fort, the impressive Laxmi Narayan Temple and the government section, Delhi boasts off site venues that bring the culture and heritage of India to life for delegates. For instance, the Garden of Five Senses, a 8.09-hectare park and public leisure space is available for booking for outdoor parties, dinners and banquets. Hotels such as the ITC Maurya, a member of the Starwood Luxury Collection, have rooftop restaurants that overlook nature reserves and the city, providing a location for business and pleasure to collide.
Popular day trips to Agra – home to the Taj Mahal – and Jaipur-the Pink City of India, can also be arranged, and provide delegates with a sense of the history and culture of the country.
“Clients from all over are trying new things. So, while the Taj and Jaipur are always on the itinerary, we once rented the City Palace which is still owned by the royal family, and organised a gala dinner with folk dancers, music, traditional food. The guests loved it.”
Organising interesting and unique activities like elephant rides, or shopping for Rajasthani handicrafts will imbue any event or conference with an atmosphere unlike anything else available for corporate groups or associations.
In Agra, while the main draw is of course the Taj Mahal, there are other options for experiencing one of the seven wonders of the world. Anil Chada, general manager at the ITC Mughal, explained that team-building offsites and banquet dinners infused with historical Mughal food and culture can be arranged on a hilltop just outside of Agra that looks out onto the Taj. “We can arrange for traditional set-up [of colourful tents and seating on large pillows] and catering. Groups of up to 300 can dine overlooking the Taj. It’s amazing up there and we always get positive comments on the experience from delegates.”
The ITC Mughal, which boasts 12.14-hectares of landscaped grounds, minigolf, a separate conference centre for up to 750 people attached to large lawn areas – perfect for outdoor breakout sessions – and luxurious rooms (17 of which have Taj views), will soon have another one-of-a-kind offering: India’s largest spa, slated to open early 2008. With options like the Jaypee Palace Hotel and Convention Centre, and the luxurious Oberoi, Agra has plenty of first-rate facilities to match corporate travel needs.
Mumbai and Goa
Mumbai, formerly Bombay, is the commercial heart of India. It is young and cosmopolitan, often compared to New York or London – especially where real estate prices and hotel costs are concerned. However, the Mumbai international airport is the most easily accessible from all over the world, and as many India offices of international companies are located in Mumbai, the city makes for an ideal destination for any corporate event.
But it’s not just the pulse of city life, horse racing and cricket that make Mumbai tick. Elephanta, a World Heritage Site, contains some of the most magnificent sculptures in the region, while the Gateway of India, built to celebrate the visit of British royals King George V and Queen Mary in 1911, offers culture and history for pre- and post-conference tours. Facing the Gate of India is the Taj Mahal Hotel, a landmark in itself on the waterfront, with state-of-the-art accommodation, conference facilities, and even a golf course.
For a different type of retreat, 135km outside of Mumbai, Hans Adventure Holidays, a 3.64-hectare farm situated on a lake, and surrounded by farms, hills and waterfalls, has served as a weekend corporate training destination for such companies as HSBC, Idea Cellular and Johnson & Johnson. Back in the city, the Nehru Science Centre and Bandra Reclamation Grounds also make unique venues for corporate events.
Sunshine India Travels, a prominent tour company can also arrange for groups to tack onto their Mumbai conference or seminar a Goa trip, where the white sand beaches and five star resorts there provide a perfect backdrop for seminars as well as relaxation. Explains Tyagi of Tybros Tours: “Beach parties or events have become very popular, as has the idea of a yoga retreat. All of that is possible in Goa. But if we are talking strictly business, we can also arrange to bring in international team-building specialists or any other type of professional you need. India is opening up, but it’s best to go through a company who has been doing this a while. We can coordinate things here to make sure you get the most out of your event.”
Hyderabad has grown in demand over the past few years as a destination for corporate seminars and conventions, much of that growth due to the city’s prevalence in the outsourcing sector. The Hyderabad International Convention Centre is India’s mopst impressive purpose-built venue and has transformed the city’s fortunes as a meetings and incentives destinations. Boasting the Salarjung Museum – which holds the largest private collection of artifacts – as well as the Nehru Zoological Park and Hussain Sagar Lake (around which the city is built). Additionally, as home to Golconda Fort, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and spectacular hotel and conference centres like the one at the Viceroy, situated opposite Hussain Sagar Lake with a view of Lord Buddha, the city is surely worth consideration for an alternate destination that features a taste of India without the hustle and bustle of a major city like Mumbai.
The ”Gateway to the South“, as well as India’s fourth largest city, Chennai has a number of opportunities for business events travel. Boasting the facilities of a major city, the Marina beach, set on the blue waters of the Bay of Bengal, and the historical and cultural sites like the San Thome Cathedral, National Art Gallery and Fort St. George, Chennai also boasts a well-connected airport with either direct access to many Asian and Western cities, or connecting service through Delhi or Mumbai.
While many delegates at events or conferences in India may be expecting the Indian food like the cuisine of the north that has become most popular across the globe, South Indian cuisine is quite different and divers, with a heavy Tamil influence – known to be hot and spicy non-vegetarian fare (though less spicy or vegetarian versions are also widely available, especially to foreigners for whom these flavours may be new). With such an emphasis on food, cooking courses or day trips to the local markets, are special activities available to groups who choose to trek to Chennai for corporate events or meetings.
For a less hands-on feast, Le Royal Meridien is the city’s preeminent conference and event hotel, with 240 rooms and a dedicated convention hall called the
”Grand Madras Ball Room“, the largest pillarless hall in south India. The space can accommodate 1,500 for a candle or chandelier-lit banquet, so for larger groups looking for a destination in the south, Le Meridien could be a one-stop solution for all of an event organiser’s needs.
The breathtaking forts and palaces against the backdrop of the Bay of Bengal make Chennai a reminder of times long past, but for companies looking to infuse their events with old-world India combined with modern business and first-rate standards of service and facilities, this city is a prime location.
Best known as the IT capital of the world, or the Silicon Valley of India, Bangalore is home to a large population of young people who – as a result of having been thrown together, far from home, with far fewer activities to occupy their time as would be found in – have built a burgeoning scene of arts and cultural events. Film festivals in one of the city’s sprawling parks, photography exhibitions, theatre performances and rock concerts are an everyday part of life in Bangalore, and an aspect of the city that many event organisers have yet to take advantage of. The parks themselves make picturesque locations for any cocktail or dinner event, however, one of the city’s famous tourist sites – the Bangalore Palace, which was inspired by the Windsor Casle and built in the Tudor style – can also be rented for events. Having hosted many an international event, from the Rolling Stones concert to a Bangalore IT.com party, the staff at the Palace Grounds is well equipped to handle any company’s specific needs.
The city’s major drawback is airport connectivity. With direct international flights only from Singapore, and only once-a-day flights from many of the domestic hubs in India, Bangalore takes more effort unless guests happen to be flying in from a city for which Bangalore is a stopover to other Indian airports.
With the myriad of options available in terms of cities, venues, cultural and historical tours, as well as unique offsite locations, India should not be overlooked for company event and meetings travel. Although the smaller cities are less capable of handling large groups of more than 250 people, even lesser-known event destinations are increasing their conference events capacity. New Delhi’s international airport is currently under renovation, and international airlines across the region are increasing their flights and routes to India. With the economy opening up, and the increased interest in corporate event travel into the country, India provides an amazing opportunity for event planners to make their corporate function stand out simply by utilising the historical, cultural and increasingly modern opportunities available across India.
Mumbai, Delhi and Chennai are the most easily accessible, while Hyderabad will soon have a brand new international airport. India’s domestic aviation links are undergoing major changes with the appearance of new low-cost carriers.
The “Golden Triangle” is considered humid subtropical while the south compromises both tropical wet and tropical dry areas. Generally, the winter months (November-March) are pleasant and comfortable. Summer (April-June) can be incredibly hot and at times uncomfortable, but monsoon season (July-October) in the southern region of India can be wet and unpredictable.
Hindi is most commonly understood, with Tamil also widely spoken in the South, and Urdu and Punjab spoken in the North. Many people in the cities know English as well.
A visa is required for travel to India. A tourist visa is valid for three months from date of issue, and individuals can request one, two or three entries. This process can take as little as 12 hours, or up to five days if you are applying for a visa in a country in which you are not a resident.
Prime real estate
The hotel has much to boast about, having served many world leaders in its (in)famous Bukhara restaurant and opened a new wing of modern rooms, but one little-known fact about this stunning property is that it is home to the largest collection of whiskeys in India. Well positioned to meet to the requests of high-profile customers, the hotel caters to the discerning business customer.
Sheraton New Delhi
The staff at the Sheraton New Delhi know how to make every stay a memorable one. Even the event spaces are designed with guest satisfaction in mind. The 221 sqm Function Hall Dynasty features sketches of ancient monuments along the walls, and when attendees are not in meetings, the marble lobby with an open floor plan into the lounge and 24-hour restaurant downstairs provide excellent spaces to gather one’s thoughts.
Hyatt Regency Delhi
With 518 stunning rooms in the upmarket Saket district of New Delhi, just 15 minutes from New Delhi’s city centre, the Hyatt provides seven storeys of rooms, restaurants and meetings and events facilities with an understanding of the details that make meeting and conference travel successful.
ITC Mughal, a Starwood Luxury Resort
Drawing from the Mughal era in every aspect of the hotel’s design and construction, the ITC Mughal is situated on 14.16-hectares of land and boasts views of the Taj Mahal from 17 of its luxurious rooms. A separate meeting centre is capable of hosting up to 750 delegates in a ballroom, or up to 2000 on the lawn. Slated to open the largest spa in India, guests will have the option of relaxing and meditating, or staying active on the hotel’s ATV course.
Your own kingdom
Jaypee Palace Hotel and Convention Centre
This sprawling property feels like a palace, with its three-storey hotel built around landscaped gardens on 10.12-hectares of greenery in Agra. The convention centre is made up of 6,770sqm of meeting space that can be divided into smaller rooms for groups of just a few, or host large, international events.
Rooms with a view
The Oberoi Amarvilas
Located just 600m from the Taj Mahal, this hotel takes you back to an era of kings and emperors, showcasing the best in luxury and high-class accommodations, offering breathtaking views of the Taj from every room. For a retreat with a smaller number of delegates – meeting facilities can hold up to 24 people – the Oberoi is a treat.
Old world charm
Sheraton Rajputana Palace Hotel
Retreat to one of the 218 guest rooms in this ”Pink City“ hotel before meetings in one of the six conference or meeting rooms. Home to Peshawri – the sister restaurant to world-renowned Bukhara in New Delhi – groups can organise a mouth-watering dinner catered by this sought-after restaurant.
Part of history
Jai Mahal Palace
Amidst 7.28-hectares of Mughal gardens, the hotel dates back to 1745, when it was the residence of the Prime Minister of Jaipur State. With only 100 rooms, mid-sized groups will appreciate the ambiance of the stately palace. The staff is happy to put together spectacular, unique theme parties in the conference hall, or on one of the lawns.
The Landmark Hotel
Taj Mahal Palace
With its unrivalled architecture and prime location facing the Gateway of India, Taj Mahal Mumbai caters to groups looking for world-class accommodation and state-of-the art facilities. Banquet facilities can host up to 2,000 people for cocktails or in a reception style, while one of the 12 meeting rooms are perfect for anywhere from eight to 50 people auditorium style.
Lady of the lake
Renaissance Hotel and Convention Centre
This stunning hotel, nestled in along the banks of Powai Lake, boasts the city’s largest convention centre. Whether you plan a gala dinner by candlelight during which guests can enjoy the view over the water, or partake of the variety of cuisine options at the hotel’s well-appointed, sleek restaurants, both business and pleasure are possible here.
Cox & Kings (India)
SITA MICE/Kuoni Destination Management