Oberoi Launching Cruise and Rail Products

Oberoi Hotels & Resorts has long been known as India's foremost operator of luxury hotels. That remains, but the group is also adding cruise and rail to its resume.

 Luxury suite on the 25-room Oberoi Zahra

Last week, Travel Agent spoke with Vikram Oberoi, joint managing director of the Oberoi Group and son of P.R.S. Oberoi, the group's chairman, as he offered up details on the group's new luxury riverboat set to begin plying the NileRiver this fall, as well as plans for a luxury rail car to rival all others.

"That's the big news," says Oberoi, of the 25-suite Oberoi Zahra, whose eight-day maiden voyage will launch Oct. 2. Voyages will include overnight stays and stops in ports with Oberoi-owned docks (no dealing with crowds and unruly tour operations). Each luxury suite is just over 320 square feet, with two Grand Suites measuring 538 square feet.

For those who truly want pampering, there are four massage suites, each with a steam and shower room. Other onboard facilities include a theater, library, cigar lounge, swimming pool, gym and restaurant with a daily-rotating menu. "Zahra is all about luxury travelers looking for a more relaxed experience," Oberoi says. The group already operates one other boat on the Nile, the Oberoi Philae, and one in Kerala, India, the Motor Vessel Vrinda.

Rail and Hotel Plans

From the river to the rails, Oberoi is still a couple years out, but apprised us of a high-end train that will chug through Rajasthan, India, which the group will debut before the end of the decade. Oberoi assures that "no train will be at that level." Although details are still indefinite, Oberoi says the ultra-luxe train will feature spacious rooms and bathrooms, even a spa, to make the journey as important as the destinations.

Meanwhile, Oberoi is still focused on its bread and butter—hotels. The market for luxury hotels in India is booming and Oberoi has a marathon lead on the competition with 11 properties in India alone. (By contrast, Four Seasons will open its first property in Mumbai later this year, while Ritz-Carlton comes to Bangalore in 2010.)

"Twenty years ago there were not any great hotels in India," Oberoi says. "That's changed. What we've started to do is change the way we sell India."

This includes targeting luxury travelers who are more informed and well schooled on India as a destination, rather than as a history lesson.

The group's philosophy has always been to be the best, not the biggest says Oberoi, channeling the words of both his father and grandfather, Rai Bahadur Mohan Singh Oberoi, who founded the company over a half a century ago. Toward that, most of Oberoi's properties, outside of cosmopolitan areas, contain only between 70 and 100 rooms—urban hotels tend to be a bit larger.

As for Oberoi's theory on luxury, he says it's not about the bricks and mortar, but the people who work within. "They create the experiences and memories for guests," he says. To ensure they do, Oberoi operates its own hotel school where it educates staff and general managers of the future in a two-year program. —David Eisen

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