Part of the territory that comes along with running a travel site is staying in hotels. We’ve stayed in more hotels than you could easily count, on virtually every continent with the exception of Antarctica- and that’s just in the last three months. But a hotel is not a home. While many hotels have left stunning, lasting impressions (we’re looking at you – Viceroy Bali and Andaz Tokyo) none left a feeling of true sadness upon departure. Until yesterday.
Within an hour of arrival at the Oberoi Mumbai, we knew it was special. It was an instant hit on every level, and having the likes of royalty and Rolling Stones around certainly gave it a “cool” factor. But that’s not what this place is about. It’s an ethos, it’s a culture and the Oberoi Mumbai is unlike anything we’ve experienced. It’s quite possibly the most refined but relaxed hotel in the world.
Now before you go there – this is not about perks. Like many guests, we’ve regularly received kind welcome amenities or small upgrades – but those things are irrelevant here and are non factors and you’ll soon know why. This was about an inimitable feeling. A joy, an exploration and the power of gracious interaction and hospitality. Give yourself to them: and they will give you all they’ve got.
Perhaps it was the contrast between this $250+ a night five star hotel, and a recent stay at the Park Hyatt Sydney, which fetches over $1000 a night. Our only interaction with staff in the Park Hyatt Sydney was the last hour of our last day. It was a call to ask if we were leaving our room on time. When you boil it down: if you have the property, the rooms, the luxury and the facilities – it’s the people and culture of the hotel which define a stay. How many hotels do you remember for all the right reasons?
The Oberoi brand is built on personalization and guest experience. After a conversation with General Manager Anupam Dasgupta, I gained a unique insight into why every guest leaves feeling as if they were the most important person in the hotel. In short: every interaction is a learning experience. A casual chat, an elevator ride or a comment during a meal can lead to an incredible opportunity to make a guests day or leave a lasting impression. And opportunities are rarely missed.
It was the second night at the bar which first blew my mind. After a brief visit the night before, with plenty of faces in the crowd – the staff remembered our drink orders to exacting standards. But then so did everyone. By casual conversations and genuine warmth, the staff learned little details. They used those details to make any gesture possible to enhance our sense of wellbeing and interest in their city. Mr. Dasgupta described this as the responsibility of an old fashioned inn keeper. We were not alone here. Around every corner you could see staff engaging with guests on a one to one level.
But it was the seemingly effortless anticipation which took this stay to a level of excellence I won’t soon see again. Scatter brained, I booked a spice market and cooking class tour without considering that I’d need to check out during the tour. Moments before departing for the tour, I asked about the possibility of a late check out. It had already been done. After finishing the truly inspiring tour, it occurred to me we needed to book an airport ride. It had, of course – already been taken care of.
But perfection requires a complete package, not just warmth.The Marine Drive location is second to none. The rooms are modern, intuitive and exacting. Ripe with luxury and comfort, but lacking entirely in pretentious frivolity. You could eat dinner off the lobby floor. Haze filled views of the Arabian Sea made each sunrise and sunset feel as if we were suspended in an impressionist painting. Cleaning standards were the highest I’ve seen. Within a day, I found myself writing notes back to the room staff. It was the least I could do. They were making such an effort to make my day, I wanted to be a part of theirs. I doubt any guest felt differently.
And the restaurants – just wow. Truly authentic Italian food prepared by a regarded Italian chef in Vetro was fantastic. But then so was an inspiring exploration of Indian flavor in Ziya, curated by Vineet Bhatia, the first chef to receive a Michelin star cooking Indian food – and the “have it your way” – but in a very refined way – approach of Fenix. And the breakfast… well, it’s a good thing most airlines don’t weigh passengers.
I’ll reveal one trade secret I learned during my stay. The Oberoi cares so much about guest satisfaction, their staff (at all levels) are authorized to delight guests with gestures, gifts or mementos at will. Up to limits, there’s no need for sign off. It’s not just ok, it’s highly encouraged. If a guest leaves an impression on you – you can return the favor. This is a relationship, not a transaction.
Anupam Dagsupta described Mumbai as a soulful city and I now must agree. It’s not the greatest city in the world, but the spirit and positivity of it’s people bring an unforgettable charm and beauty. As we wove our way through Mumbai traffic, I couldn’t help but hope that I had made as positive and enjoyable an impact on hotel staff as they had made on us. I’ve never felt that way. Mumbai is not the top destination on my bucket list, but The Oberoi Hotel in Mumbai certainly is.
If there’s a better hotel than this – I’d sure love to see it.
Thank you to: Anupam, Stella, Siidharth, Sagar, Sameer, Nayna, Aditya and the rest of the delightful team, whose names I am embarrassingly failing to recall.