Raymond Bickson, chief executive and managing director of the luxury chain Taj Hotels, Resorts, and Palaces, gave a master class in hotel branding to a select group of CEOs yesterday. It's a story that few have heard: how that company regrouped, rebounded, and reinvented itself in the wake of the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attack that killed scores of people and nearly destroyed the iconic Taj Mahal Palace Hotel (above).
The Taj brand, with its variety of hotels operating in far-flung international locations and under complex co-ownerships, had become so complicated in the 105 years since its founding that in 2008 the company was ready to unveil a long-in-development rebranding plan. And then, on November 26, 2008, weeks before the scheduled brand relaunch, terrorists attacked Mumbai, killing 170 people, including 32 at the flagship Taj hotel.
Speaking at the American Express Publishing Luxury Summit in Park City, Utah, yesterday, Bickson (left) and two colleagues made an exclusive presentation of a Harvard Business School case study about the transformation of the Taj brand. (American Express Publishing is the parent company of Travel + Leisure.) Their presentation focused not on the tragic events of November 2008 but on the difficulties in constructing a "brand architecture" for a company that had grown opportunistically, almost haphazardly, for more than a century. You don't have to be a hospitality industry wonk to find the story fascinating. You can listen to the presentation here. Use the case-sensitive password TAJLUXSUM2011.
Smart Traveler Mark Orwoll is the International Editor of Travel + Leisure.