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Relais & Châteaux may double India properties in 5-10 years

In an interview, Laurent Gardinier, president of the bespoke luxury curation of properties, said he expects the association would double the number of properties in the region, which includes Sri Lanka, over the next 10 years. The name loosely translates to ‘castles and retreats’.

The Relais & Châteaux designation or the fleur-de-lis symbol on its walls has long been a coveted accolade for independent hoteliers and restaurateurs. Of the association’s existing list, around 500 are bespoke, single-owner hotels in about 60 countries, while the remaining 100 represent esteemed restaurants worldwide.

“We are at the beginning of our story in India, and we are sure we want to be more present in countries like India, and there are a lot of locations we are not present in at the moment. But if we don’t find a property that is the right fit and does not preserve local culture, we won’t go there,” Gardinier said.

Most of the time, the association lists 30-50 room hotels with a strong focus on local gastronomy and charges hotels a commercial service to send travellers to them. He said the entire curation of properties clocks about $2.8 billion in terms of sales per annum.

The pandemic forced major hotel chains such as Marriott, IHG, and Radisson to introduce home and villa offerings. These companies are now targeting independent, small properties after the pandemic in response to a growing demand for this type of travel experience.

“Competition is good in any market. But most of these companies have difficulties operating high-quality restaurants in small properties. We don’t because owners are directly involved in our case. So, if I am asked if we fear this competition, without sounding arrogant, I want to say no,” Gardinier added.

But growth has been slow. In 2013, the network had about 520 hotels and restaurants in the same number of countries. Back then, it had about six destinations in India. It now has about nine properties and one independent restaurant. These include Mihir Garh and Sujan Jawai in Rajasthan; Masque Restaurant in Mumbai, Maharashtra; Niraamaya Retreats Surya Samudra in Kovalam, Kerala; Ahilya by the Sea in Goa, among others. It has also parted ways with some hotels here. In the early days, it also had Samode Safari Lodge by Samode Hotels, which is no longer part of the list.

The company also anonymously inspects its properties every two or three years. He said it calls itself a ‘gastronomic organization’ because it also has a list of about 100 restaurants with about 350 Michelin stars.

“In every country in the world, the industry is recovering at a faster pace than imaginable. But the demand for leisure travel is stabilizing now. While we see that 2023 will do well, they may not be as high in terms of demand as 2022 was and will stay at the same level,” Gardinier added.

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Updated: 17 Jun 2023, 05:34 PM IST

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