You don’t have to be an avid or discerning traveller to know that in India luxury stay options are increasing by the day. There are homegrown hotel chains, international hospitality companies and a whole new breed of boutique properties that are trying to woo the luxe traveler. This development in last few years has led many travelers and hoteliers to re-think what exactly defines luxury hospitality.
The answers are varied but if you know your travel, and the traveller, one thing everyone agrees is that it’s the details and personal touches that make a hotel experience what it should be. Exquisite interiors, great restaurants and acres of gorgeous green space are not enough to leave a lasting impression. And it’s my recent stay at ITC Mughal in Agra that left me with these afterthoughts.
ITC Mughal, a luxury collection hotel, is endowed with an excellent location — a stone’s throw from the iconic monument of love — Taj Mahal. It sprawls over 35 acres with lush green gardens and houses 233 rooms and suites. The check-in at the hotel was quite smooth, thought not fast exactly. We were two couples and were given one smoking and one non-smoking room in proximity to each other, as requested.
My first impression of the hotel was good — the lobby was palatial, front-office staff polite and the room looked charming with a well-designed low seating near the window. But as I spent couple of hours in the room, there were glaring shortcomings.
Half of the plug points didn’t work, the iron we asked for didn’t function either. In the bathroom there was no hand shower and the shower gel was supposed to double up as shampoo — a single tube of Fiama Di Wills shower gel-cum-shampoo. We don’t do that at home — use same soap/gel for hair and body, so why would you do that at a hotel?
If it was a four star hotel I would have easily ignored all of this. But you check-in at an ITC Luxury Collection hotel with certain expectations. The service was tardy, as well. A luxury hotel ought to pay attention to details and the staff needs to be attentive to give you what we call a ‘five-star’ experience. I hope someone’s listening.
Step outside the room and ITC Mughal becomes a little more alive and reveals its character. Kaya Kalp — The Royal Spa — spread over 99,000 square feet, is a wellness sanctuary that promises a heaven-like experience. Other than the mesmerizing Taj Mahal, Kaya Kalp is the reason why you should plan a weekend trip to Agra.
If you are ever at Kaya Kalp you must experience their Royal Mughal Hamam treatment. Priced at Rs 6,600, the experience includes use of the private hamam besides body scrub and massage. You will indeed feel like Royalty!
The hotel also has an observatory from where you can see the magnificent Taj Mahal and that’s the corner where you would like to spend some romantic moments, that is if the weather permits.
ITC is known for its fine-dining restaurants. ITC Mughal houses three restaurants Mughal Pavilion, Taj Bano and Peshawari, besides the lounge bar Maikhana and the Bagh-E-Bahar lounge. The gem of course is Peshawari that serves delectable cuisine from the North-West Frontier. The buffet breakfast spread at the Mughal Pavilion was delightful and service prompt.
The hotel deserves an extra star for its spa and food. Had the service and what followed at the check-out not spoiled the experience.
To narrate how my check-out experience was I will have to actually go back to where it started. I had booked one room at ITC Mughal on the hotel booking site Travelguru using an online discount code available on the coupon website VoucherCloud.
I paid Rs 6500 which was a great price for a five star hotel in Agra. The Travelguru invoice was clear and the price was all inclusive. I booked the second room on ITC’s website and paid Rs 7500 for the room. I checked the details and to me it looked like an all-inclusive rate.
When we checked out, I was told I will have to pay Rs 1,000 as taxes for the room I had booked using the hotel website. The bill that was handed over to me at the check-out, didn’t have the details of taxes. Only when I insisted a detailed invoice was generated. In times when hotels are promoting best practices and guarantee ‘best price’ on their website, it was a shock that ITC website was offering a higher rate with hidden charges.
Somehow from hoteliers I have heard so much about the hotel websites ensuring parity in terms of room rates that it came as a shocker that for the same category room I had to pay almost 20 to 30 per cent more because I was booking directly through the hotel site. The staff was unequipped to handle my query regarding the details on the price. So this one would easily make it to my list of worse check-out experiences.
To conclude- Good Hotel? Yes. Great Experience? No.